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Obituary: The Ven. John Burgess

14 June 2019

The Ven Ian Stanes writes:

THE Ven. John Edward Burgess died peacefully at the Royal United Hospital, in Bath, on 9 March, aged 88. He was Archdeacon of Bath for 20 years, from 1975 to 1995, and, during that time, had played a significant part in the Court and Council of Bath University and chaired the buildings committee, for which he was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal, in 2003.

He was born in 1930, and was educated at Surbiton County Grammar School. After working for five years with Shell Chemicals, he went to London University, where he obtained his degree and an Associateship from the London College of Divinity, before being ordained deacon in 1957.

He served two curacies, in Bermondsey and Southampton, and, in 1958, married Jonquil, with whom he had two children. He became Vicar of Dunston with Coppenhall, in Lichfield diocese, in 1962, and, during that time, served as Chaplain to Stafford College of Technology. He was then appointed Vicar of Keynsham in 1967 and Rural Dean from 1972 to 1975, before becoming Archdeacon of Bath.

It was during this time that he became a member of the General Synod, and latterly chaired the group responsible for courses for training new archdeacons. He also became involved with the University of Bath, a post that continued beyond his retirement, his particular interests being ethics and buildings.

In Bath & Wells diocese, where he served four bishops, in addition to carrying out the usual archidiaconal duties, he chaired the Board of Education and the trustees of Partis College, Bath, a sheltered-housing scheme for widows of clergy.

He retired in 1995, with his wife, to Bradford on Avon, where he continued his ministry at Holy Trinity.

He had particular interests in church law, the history of railways, Formula One motor racing, and scientific developments.

At the thanksgiving service for his life, many tributes were given. A former Director of Education from Bath & Wells described how one of the bishops, who became Archbishop, described John as a person of wisdom and knowledge, and one who was approachable, understanding, and sympathetic.

From the university, we heard how John had left his mark by overseeing an unprecedented building programme and capital development, for which he was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal and a life membership of the University Court.

We also heard from one of his curates at Keynsham, who described John as not only profoundly wise, with a razor-sharp intellect, but also great fun to work with. In fact, many will bear witness to his great sense of humour.

On his retirement, he wrote to his bishop about the duties of an archdeacon, and included the words: “An ounce of encouragement is worth more than a pound of criticism.”

The former chair of the board of finance said: “I equate John’s ministry with that of Barnabas, the loyal friend and companion, whose work behind the scenes enabled St Paul’s ministry to thrive.” Barnabas the enabler is described in Acts as “a good man, full of spirit and faith”.

Truly the same can be said of John Burgess.

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