Obituary: The Revd Matthew Baynes

12 October 2018

Dr Gordon Johnson and others write:

“ALL SHALL be well and all manner of thing shall be well” are difficult words to believe in the midst of grief.

But for the family of the Revd Matthew Baynes, these lines, his favourite saying from Julian of Norwich, have been a source of comfort since his death, on 28 September, aged 56.

Matthew Thomas Crispin Baynes was born into a family in which decent Christian living was a given. His parents were both teachers: Robert, a distinguished historian and soon-to-be headmaster of the Stationers’ Company’s School, and Delphine, a literature teacher, actress, and play director.

As a child, Matthew had an imperturbable but ethereal quality about him, bright and enquiring. Nicknamed “busty” for his curious nature, he had a habit of taking things apart to see how they worked — although he never managed to put them together again in quite the same way.

He could be impish and mischievous and, when introduced to the woman his godfather was to marry, he asked her age, did a quick calculation, and commented how rare it was for a man to marry someone older than himself (even if only by a few months): ironically he was to do the same. These qualities would later develop into a gentle sense of humour.

He grew to be a robust rugby-playing teenager. He sang well and was swept up with the life of his church — John Keble, Mill Hill, Edgware, in north-west London. Any anxieties about the church were instantly laid to rest with the ministries of Rennie Simpson, John Ginever, and, during Matthew’s most impressionable years, John Dennis.

From his comprehensive school, Matthew went to the University of East Anglia to study history, where he was inspired by the teaching of Paul Kennedy, a master of foreign policy. This broadened Matthew’s outlook and gave him an international perspective on humanity. It was here that he grew fond of the work of Julian of Norwich; he would later give his wife a book of her essays.


After graduation in 1983, he spent a year at St Christopher’s Hospice, Sydenham, with Dame Cicely Saunders.

Encouraged by Robert Atwell, now Bishop of Exeter, Matthew realised his calling. He deepened his theological knowledge by taking a second BA at Cambridge, then at the forefront of research in Christian theology. Queens’ College and Westcott House also instilled in him a love of the great Anglican metaphysical poets (favourites of his mother) and broadened his appreciation of religious understanding.

Matthew began preparation for ordination at Westcott House in 1985. In his second year at Westcott, he spent a summer in America with an American pastor, Bill Starr. He returned to England with more than just a renewed love of the Church: two months later he proposed to Bill’s daughter, a sparky American, Bryony.

He served his curacy in London under Chris Foster, now Bishop of Portsmouth before moving to parishes in Berkhamsted and Coseley.

Matthew loved the drama of the liturgy and did it well: he read all services beautifully, giving the words real meaning. He abhorred fanaticism and he was disdainful of the vicious politicking of synods and committees. Being realistic, he accepted the world as it was, sometimes with a tinge of sadness, but sought first to understand, that ways might be found to make things better.

In 1999, Matthew and his family — now including three children — moved to Bredon, where Matthew would lead the parishes in the Bredon Hill Group for the next two decades. He married countless couples, and was known for his habit of giving each couple a unique reminder of their day — from lavatory paper to a telephone shaped like a shoe.

He was at heart a family man, with a wicked sense of humour, and known for his eclectic cooking skills.

In 2010, Matthew joined his older brother, Simon, as a member of the General Synod. Matthew was seen as a faithful pragmatic liberal member of Synod; the pair were once called the “arch-liberals”, a label of which they were quietly proud.

In 2015, Matthew’s chronic kidney disease, which he had been managing for the past 20 years, worsened, leading Bryony to donate him one of her kidneys. For the next 18 months, parishioners nicknamed Matthew the Duracell bunny, and he was regularly seen biking through the village in his hi-vis jacket, with Abe the dog running alongside.

Last April, Matthew was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. He coped with the disease with great courage, faith, and humour. Two days before his death, he said he was not angry, but regretful. Matthew died at St Richard’s Hospice surrounded by those who loved him most, including his beloved dog.

His ashes will be buried at St Giles’s, underneath a tree that he planted with Bryony. And, on the plaque beneath the tree will be the words of Julian of Norwich. His funeral service will be at St Giles’s, Bredon, on 20 October.

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