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Obituary: The Ven. Lawrence Peat

29 March 2018

A correspondent writes:

THE Ven. Lawrie Peat, who died, thankful for the life he had been given, on 16 March, aged 89, grew up in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Through church contacts, he began working at the Church Missionary Society, before being called up for National Service. Although he returned to CMS, he became more interested in the theatre. It was a rich time for religious drama after the war, and he joined the Pilgrim Players, a touring group who often performed in factories during the lunch hour. He played the devil during a short West End run of The Gates of Hell. He married Sheila in 1953, and became the Players’ advance-booking agent, touring the country in a caravan.

To his surprise, a vocation to the priesthood was discerned. He remained unconvinced, and went to his selection conference relaxed about the outcome, thoroughly enjoying the experience. He was recommended for training, which he undertook at Lincoln Theological College. He wasn’t an easy student, and found the academic work a challenge. Yet it helped to forge his churchmanship. He was a generous liberal with broad interests, and willing to think through his faith. He was sustained by, and valued greatly, thoughtful worship within the Anglican tradition.

Lawrence Joseph Peat was ordained deacon in 1958, and priest a year later, and served his title at St Peter’s, Bramley, a thriving urban parish in west Leeds. Here, doubts about his vocation were dispelled, as he and his growing family settled into parish life.

After a short first incumbency, at All Saints’, Heaton Norris, in Stock­port, where his innovation of parish holidays encouraged many people to make their first trips abroad, he returned to St Peter’s as Vicar. He often reflected that this was the most fulfilling period of his ministry. It was demanding — the days were long and hard — but it was enriching. Lawrie was an imaginative and creative incumbent, always willing to embrace new ideas and listen.

The parish was at the forefront of new developments in the Church. He was a powerful advocate of Anglican-Methodist unity, in opposition to his Bishop, and helped create the Rodley Ecumenical Project. The parish grew, not just numerically, but in influence in that community. The parish magazine, its quality reflecting Lawrie’s interest in presentation and the printed word, was widely read, and a new Bramley Parish Centre became the focus of community activities, including the first playgroup in Leeds, led by his wife, Sheila.

Eventually, Lawrie felt a change was needed, and, in 1973, he was appointed the first Team Rector in the Southend-on-Sea Team Ministry in Essex, a long way from Yorkshire. He established a new team ministry for the town, not an easy task — difficult decisions had to be made — but he left having made what his archdeacon described as “an impossible job possible”. His concern for the wider community was again to the fore, and helped to create one of the first adult-literacy schemes.

Having served in two urban par­ishes, Lawrie was appointed Vicar of three rural parishes north of Kendal in 1979. The contrast couldn’t have been greater: there he described learn­ing what it was to be a parish priest, for he knew everyone, and they knew him. He came to know something of the rhythm of the farming community, and gradually became more widely known in the diocese, and served as Rural Dean of Kendal for five years.

In 1986, he was appointed Team Vicar in Kirkby Lonsdale; this was a fresh chance for him to work in team ministry. His gifts and experience, however, had been valued by the Bishop of Carlisle, David Halsey, who invited him to become the Archdeacon of Westmorland and Furness in 1989.

This post enabled him to draw on his richness of experience, and he was greatly valued by his colleagues as a wise and thoughtful friend and counsellor. As a member of the Bishop’s staff, he was never afraid to ask awkward questions.

He retired at the age of 67, and spent his retirement in several homes in Linda-in-Furness, Kendal, Lytham St Anne’s, and, finally, Leeds. In each place, he contributed something to the community, was a much loved member of the congregations with which he worshipped, and was able to con­tinue to exercise his consider­able gifts as a preacher. On his leav­ing a parish, one parishioner wrote of “the windows you never failed to open in your sermons”.

When he left theological college, his principal, Oliver Tomkins, later the Bishop of Bristol, gave him these words as he embarked on his ministry: “Wear yourself out carefully.” This he did, supported by his beloved Sheila, who was a constant support and encouragement to him. He would often cite the support that she had given as the reason that he was able to achieve all that he did.

Lawrie had six children, 19 grand­children, and seven great-grandchildren.

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