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Obituary: Canon Patrick Appleford

21 December 2018


The Ven. Michael Fox writes:

MOST people will know Patrick Appleford simply as a hymn-writer going back to the 20th Century Church Light Music Group, which he founded together with Geoffrey Beaumont (his former chaplain at Trinity College, Cambridge). There was much more: he had a long and significant ministry as a priest, the last 43 years of which were spent in Chelmsford diocese.

Born in Croydon and schooled at Hurstpierpoint College, West Sussex, he found a vocation while at Trinity College, Cambridge, and then trained at Chichester Theological College.

Patrick Robert Norman Appleford served his title in Poplar, in east London, from 1952 to 1958. He then took up the post of Chaplain of Bishops’ College, Cheshunt, where John Trillo was Principal. In 1961, he became Education Secretary for SPG (to become USPG) in London, where he met his wife, Ann.

In 1966, they moved, with their son, Mark, to Lusaka in Zambia, driving overland the 2000 miles from Cape Town up to Lusaka, where Patrick became Dean. He retained a strong affection for the people of Zambia and all the friends made there for the rest of his life.

On returning from Africa, Patrick took a rural parish in Hereford, while he did further educational training. Trillo, by now Bishop of Chelmsford, invited him to become Director of Education in the diocese in 1975, and he remained there until his retirement in 1990.

The Board of Education oversaw three areas of work: schools, youth chaplaincy, and religious education. In all these, Patrick built able staff teams, and gave them the encouragement and freedom to do impressive work. His experience in Lusaka, where many of the diocese’s parishes were basically ministered to by the catechist, convinced him that a protective clericalism was inimical to the gospel, and that only a trained, committed, and praying laity would foster new life. Of perhaps his best-known hymn, “Living Lord”, he said: “I wrote it for the youth club in Poplar. I was trying to show Jesus was not a dead hero but a living lord.” So he was desperate to encourage such a growth.

One way into that growth was to devise an adult education course for anyone interested. (Reader training and the like came under the diocesan ministry team, but informal adult education was the responsibility of the Education Board.) The Course in Christian Studies (CCS) is perhaps his most important legacy to the diocese. When he put lay people from all sorts of ecclesiastical traditions together in a group, the theological and social preconceptions had to be faced, and a clear focus on the core of Christian belief and practice examined. It is no surprise that the course rapidly became the route for interested laity into ministry of all kinds; very few ordained Chelmsford clergy, pastoral assistants, and evangelists did not find this course their way through.

To make resources available to back up learning, Brian Beattie took on the setting-up of three resource centres in Redbridge, Southend, and Chelmsford (the last eventually becoming the diocesan bookshop) to give anyone — from Sunday-school teachers to youth workers and CCS students — easy access to learning materials before there was Amazon. Towards the end of his period as director, he in­­sisted to the Bishop, the Rt Revd John Waine, that the clergy gatherings at Caister ought to be matched with a lay residential; typically, Patrick was happiest at the piano, playing and encouraging joyful, clear communication of the faith.

I became Patrick’s parish priest in 1976, and for the next 12 years he was an invaluable touchstone for the direction that All Saints’, Chelmsford, took. After a gifted clergy team moved on, Patrick would turn up on a Saturday night and say: “Buy me a beer, and I’ll do a mass for you in the morning.” The resulting conversations in the pub were always enlightening and frequently hilarious. In 30 minutes one evening, and on the back of an envelope, we reorganised the diocese with a freed-up lay ministry and 250 stipendiary clergy. That was at a time when the diocese was desperately trying to get down to 450.

While most churchgoers can identify a few of Patrick’s hymns in most of the well-known hymn books, few realise that his setting of the Series 3 eucharist (regularly revised to fit liturgical changes) is quite likely to be the default mode in their parish, particularly if they do not have choirs capable of leading more complex music. It is still the most widely used in Chelmsford diocese.

On retirement, he had more time to give to music, took a course in composition, and wrote three cantatas. The Way of the Cross was performed in Chelmsford Civic Theatre, Follow the Way in the cathedral, and Messiah comes to Town in several local schools and churches. Several of his most recent hymns are available for download from the cathedral website.

As a result of 50 years of hymn- writing, a collection was published in 2007, essentially an 80th-birthday piece. Patrick had been working in this past year with a group of friends on a collection of short pieces, each illustrated with one of his hymns. He lived to see it in proof, and it will, it is hoped, be available at his memorial service in the new year.

In retirement, he enabled a eucharistic presence to remain in rural parishes around Chelmsford, where he continued to live. The first years were taken up with caring for Ann, as her Parkinson’s disease progressed, and this brought them ever closer. He loved the U3A, and his poetry group, as well as Scrabble nights with friends old and new. Mark and his family live in Australia, and visits, latterly by the grandchildren, were highlights of a life lived with and for others.

A fellow priest said, on hearing the news of his death, “I feel empty.” It was a tribute to what he meant to so many of us. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

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