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Obituary: The Revd Bill Kirkpatrick

12 January 2018

Bill Kirkpatrick, profiled in the Church Times, 18 August 1967

Bill Kirkpatrick, profiled in the Church Times, 18 August 1967

The Revd Dr Malcolm Johnson writes:

THE Revd Bill Kirkpatrick, a non-stipendiary priest, counsellor, and nurse who died, aged 90, on 4 Jan­uary, was a maverick who did not fit easily into church structures.

In 1979, in his Earls Court base­ment flat, he founded Reaching Out, a hearing-through-listening service freely available to all. Bishop Ellison of London gave his blessing, and two Trusts of Sir Maurice Laing gave him a salary, and rent for the flat. He walked the streets day and night, and people in need came to his flat to talk. Among these were rent boys;
so in 1985, thanks to the Rufford Founda­­­tion, he set up a project to help young men in the sex industry: Richie, Bill’s partner, helped launch Streetwise Youth.

Bill’s early life, described in Mary Loudon’s book Revelations (1994), was extremely unhappy; that may explain his great empathy with those in need. Within a month of his birth, he was placed in a private orphanage whose family name, Kirkpatrick, he took. This was in Vancouver, Can­ada.

Aged 15, William John Ashley Kirkpatrick left school, and worked in the home with old people, until he came to England six years later. In London, he worked in Selfridges, sell­ing pots and pans, and then at Foyles bookshop. After two years as an air steward, he decided to train
as a nurse; so in 1957 he went to St Charles’s Hospital in Ladbroke Grove, where he received the hos­pital medal, and then specialised in psychiatric nursing.

After a severe breakdown, he was baptised and confirmed in 1965, and began priestly training on the South­wark Ordination Course, and then at Salisbury Theological College. He was ordained deacon in 1968, and priest three years later.

As a worker priest, he was a nurse at St Clement’s Hospital, Bow, in east London, and it was at this time that I met him. He told me that he wanted to be a friar; so, as Brother Aelred William, he tested his voca­tion with the Society of St Francis, guided by Mother Mary Clare of the Sisters of the Love of God from Fairacres. His spiritual life strength­ened greatly dur­ing this time.

After four years, he returned to London, became an Honorary As­­sist­ant Curate at St Cuthbert’s, Phil­beach Gardens, and began Reach­­ing Out. By 1983, he realised that 75 per cent of his work was with people who were affected by HIV/AIDS, and he joined the Ministers’ Group. I had founded this as an ecumenical support group that would also ar­­range Services of Healing, as well as lectures and talks by such people as Bishop Swing of California. It was then that I saw Bill’s compassion in action.

In 2007, Bill suffered a serious mental breakdown (psychosis), com­­pounded by dementia. He was hospitalised for nearly a year, and then moved to 3 Beatrice Place, a nursing home for patients with severe de­­mentia. The staff lovingly cared for him and supported him until he died there. Friends, particularly Verena Tschudin, have kept everyone in touch with him. His ashes will be taken to Fairacres.

Bill had two partners, Jim, who after 20 years then married, and Richie, who died after 20 years.

Bill was always interested in com­plementary medicine, the spirit­uality of care, and interfaith dialogue. His books included AIDS: Sharing the pain (1988), Cry Love, Cry Hope (ed. 1994), and Going Forth: A practical and spiritual approach to dying and death (1997).

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