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Obituary: Canon John Gaunt Hunter

13 December 2019

Canon David Bruno writes:

JOHN GAUNT HUNTER, known by his family as Gaunt, but more widely to others as John, was a hugely valued person and priest to many people — family, friends, and parishioners — during his long and active life. Born in 1921, he grew up in Liverpool, where, together with his beloved brother, Lionel, he lived through the Depression of the 1930s. He later spoke of the pain of seeing his father, a senior marine engineer, walking the city streets looking for work. It was a memory that left a lasting mark on John’s political thinking.

He was educated at the Liverpool Collegiate School and, at the outbreak of the Second World War, he was recruited as a design engineer and became involved in the trade-union movement. After the war, he went to Durham to read politics and economics, and, during his time there, developed a calling to the ministry. At Ridley Hall, where he trained for ordination, he learned the importance of daily Bible reading and prayer, which subsequently underpinned his life and ministry.

John was ordained in 1951 and held curacies at Bradford Cathedral and in Plymouth before becoming Vicar of St Matthew’s, Bootle, in Liverpool’s dockland area, in 1956. In 1962, he went to Uganda to serve as Principal of Bishop Tucker Theological College, where he made lasting friendships and a lifelong connection with the country. Returning from Uganda, he became Vicar of St Michael’s, Altcar, a rural parish in Liverpool diocese and, under successive Bishops, was appointed Diocesan Missioner and Ecumenical Officer.

In the parish, he became a prodigious visitor. Visiting was always a part of his people-centred ministry, and, in every place, this pastoral love and concern brought the reward of congregational growth.

While he was working there, the Call to the North was born, and John became Secretary to this province-wide ecumenical ministry. On his 98th birthday, earlier this year, his energetic ministry in those years came to a marvellous conclusion when his account of this activity was published as The Beginning of Tomorrow (Sacristy Press).

In 1978, John was appointed Team Rector of Buckhurst Hill, in Chelmsford diocese; this was a multi-church parish reflecting both Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic traditions. By this time, he had married Sheila, in her home parish of Newton-le-Willows — the Archbishop of York, Stuart Blanch, previously his bishop in Liverpool, having officiated at their wedding in 1975.

Now, in Buckhurst Hill, John’s home and family became the centre of a wide-ranging ministry and out-reach in the community. Along with Sheila, and his two children, Christopher and Grace Ann, home life was very important. Christopher said at his father’s funeral: “He was determined to be there for his children.”

In the parish, his great passion was house-to-house visiting. He felt responsible for everyone in his parish; connection with people was vital in his ministry, driven by a deep sense of awareness that it was Christ whom he wanted to share with others.

He retired from full-time parish ministry in 1989, and the family moved north to live in the hamlet of Westhouse in the Yorkshire Dales. He then became part-time Adviser in Evangelism for three further years in Bradford diocese.

Retirement for John was no inactive occupation. He read avidly, ministered in the parish, even helping a church that the diocese expected to close to stay alive and flourish. He was awarded an MA in political theology from Leeds University, and, from Lancaster, an MA in history and an M.Phil. He was also a governor of local hospitals.

John relished time with his children and grandchildren in America and South Africa, enjoyed walking and swimming well into his nineties, and remained a prodigious letter-writer throughout his life. He was a delightful, caring, and loving person to the end; even his carers expressed their admiration of him as: “without doubt the nicest, kindest, fun-loving, humorous, thoughtful, and respectful man we have ever had the pleasure of caring for”.

John died at home, with Sheila by his side, on 9 October, aged 98, but he continues to be an inspiration as a person of deep faith and love to all who had the privilege of knowing him.

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