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Obituary: Canon Paul Lucas

11 January 2019

The Revd Dr Daniel O’Connor writes

THE testimony to Canon Paul de Neufville Lucas, who died on 28 November, aged 85, was in neither weighty synodical speeches nor weighty books, but in the many who attended his funeral in Salisbury. His off-beat friendliness evoked affection.

Born in Durham, a grandson of a bishop and the son of the city’s archdeacon, Paul enjoyed as a boy the hidden corners of that great cathedral. At Winchester, he began a lifetime’s enthusiasm for woodwork, and, after a history degree at Christ Church, Oxford, he taught in what is now Zimbabwe. Ordination was no surprise to those who knew him.

After training at Cuddesdon and a curacy at St Stephen’s, Westminster, he became Chaplain of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where marriages included that of Stephen and Jane Hawking, at which he officiated, and, in 1968, his own to Rachel le Fleming, a friend from his Durham childhood To Paul’s admiration, Rachel brought a radical strand to their ministry.

In 1969, they moved to Greenside, an ex-mining parish in County Durham. Their first two daughters, Anna and Mary, were born at this time. It should have been an entirely happy move, but a pentecostal faction harassed Paul and the parishes, the diocese proving unhelpful. The chaplaincy of Shrewsbury School from 1973 to 1978 was a relief; a third daughter, Ruth, was born there. They returned to parish ministry in Bath Easton in Bath & Wells diocese. One Christmas, Paul exploited a disastrous fire that gutted the church, by bringing in straw bales and animals for an imaginative nativity. He also created the Bath Easton Maze.

His final years of ministry were as Canon Precentor and Residentiary at Wells. There, he loved the music, instituting promenade concerts in the nave, and, recalling his Durham childhood, he cherished the building itself. A colleague said that his sermons were “always something to look forward to, unusual, witty, intelligent, and steeped in scripture, and history. He often left one in the air at the end, asking you to think it out for yourself.”

He spent nearly 20 years at Salisbury in his retirement. One priority was a shed for woodwork, though he assisted at the cathedral and parish churches — including his favourite, St Thomas à Becket, in Tilshead — and lectured occasionally at Sarum College. The events of last year brought out two Pauline characteristics.

His glorious quirkiness produced the theory that a hedgehog had crawled from Porton Down, carrying the deadly toxin on its prickles, a theory not widely supported. Salisbury swarmed with police, and Paul made a daily round, speaking and listening to them. It is said that many have felt the better for meeting Paul, and no doubt many of those policemen would agree. To call him eccentric will not do; for, above all, the centre was sure.

Rachel and Paul spent many holidays with family and friends at Lindisfarne, source of Durham’s light, and it is right that his ashes should be scattered there.

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