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Obituary: Canon John Hodgkinson

12 July 2019

The Ven. Christopher Laurence writes:

UNTIL he embraced atheism, John Hodgkinson, who died on 11 June, aged 91, was an outstanding Vicar of Kendal for 19 years. He had been swimming in the Sea of Faith movement and had concluded that the Church was mistaken to interpret the resurrection as implying a life after death. He thought that the idea of heaven was a distraction from seeing transcendence in the real world. (Though he enjoyed the writings of Richard Holloway, he considered him to be not a proper atheist).

No longer able in conscience to recite the Creed, at the age of 62 he took early retirement into the barn-conversion home he had built with his own hands. Relieved of the burden of official subscription to what he considered the unnecessary add-ons of the Creed, he remained a willing celebrant at weekday eucharists and a much-appreciated occupant of rural pulpits, preaching only what he honestly believed. He was always a much-loved pastor and, in spite of or perhaps because of his doubts, was often invited to conduct humanitarian funerals. He took his last funeral only a few months ago.

His lasting memorial is the Grade II* listed church of St John the Baptist on a housing estate in Lincoln (Features, 8 February; Letter, 1 March). It is the outcome of many hours of discussion with the architect, Sam Scorer, who wanted to understand and give form to John’s concept of Christian worship. It is a prayer-worthy space for a congregation in a banked horseshoe-shaped arena.

John was a Renaissance man who mastered many crafts. His churchwarden at Old Brumby, Scunthorpe, taught him the skills for building. But when he was not doing heavy-lift building operations he was creating fine musical instruments, mainly lutes and viols. He was himself a devoted musician, playing the larger viols that he had made, until he was finally reduced to learning his small treble viol. He also acquired the skills of bookbinding and specialised in restoring 18th-century volumes.

A keen local historian, he wrote books that added to the knowledge of the past of Kendal and its parish church.

Alongside so many skills, one might assume, those of a parish priest might have suffered, but his time in Kendal was a creative period in the history of the parish church, when he developed and led many colleagues, lay and ordained, with whom he shared the church’s ministry. Even after 30 years in retirement, many of his former team and a large congregation gathered to enjoy the service of his own devising, rich in music and poetry, for his funeral. His wife of 69 years, Jean, survives him, together with their three children and a spread of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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