Obituary: Canon John Goodchild

22 March 2019

A correspondent writes:

BORN in Northern Ireland, Canon John McKillip Goodchild spent his youth in Sussex, and was educated at Eastbourne College, from where he went to Clare College, Cambridge, to study maths.

He wrote: “Since I was about ten, I had had a feeling that I should be a pastor, but I did not tell anyone. After my first year [at Clare], God said: ‘Continue maths and you will do well, but you will always know it was not what I really wanted for you.’ I switched to study theology, passed in the first class, and was accepted for ordination.”

John chose to widen his experience before ministerial training. He taught maths, and organised the Scouts at the Dennis Memorial Grammar School, in Onitsha, Nigeria. In 1967, schools were shut, owing to the Baifran war. He left through Cameroon, before Federal troops closed that border.

At Wycliffe Hall Theological College, Oxford, he enjoyed tutorials with Maurice Wiles and Charlie Moule, and applied for ordination to the Bishop of Liverpool, Stuart Blanch, whose preaching had impressed him. A curacy was arranged at St Andrew’s, Clubmoor. There being no houses for curates, he took rooms with an enrolling member of the Mothers’ Union. She spent her morning shopping and brought home news of anyone who was ill; John then planned his visiting accordingly.

In his third year, he was asked whether he knew of anyone who could teach at Trinity Theological College in Nigeria. His immediate reply was “me”; so he applied to the Church Missionary Society, who duly sent him out. The students were sitting the London Diploma in Theology, the set texts being from Athanasius and Augustine. John read them on the plane. The students all passed.

His work here progressed, with the development of a diploma related to the West African context. In 1974, he was appointed college principal.

It was in Nigeria that he met Ann Travis, CMS matron of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, a few miles away from the college. They were married in 1975, and became a team. She handed over her duties at the hospital, and taught courses at Trinity on “How to be Healthy”, and “Visiting the Sick”, and supervised groups taking services on the wards as part of their practical pastoralia. One day, John asked one student how the patients had responded to his talk: “One of them died.”

In 1982, John identified a successor as college principal, and he and Ann returned to England, with their son, Colum. Such was their life there, that Colum, who was then aged four, said in response to the news that they were to leave: “You go to England. I will stay here with my friends. They will feed me.”

John’s first parish was St John’s, Ainsdale, in Liverpool diocese. Parishioners remember his study being crammed with books, and his influence on the church’s spiritual development. He became Rector of St Andrew’s, Maghull, devoting himself and his pastoral care to his church family.

Ten years later, in 1998, John took up a post as Principal of the Norwich Diocesan Ministerial Course and Director of Ordained Local Ministry Training. A colleague, the Ven. Clifford Offer, remembers him as a “creative Christian thinker and teacher, always one for building people up, both personally and in the faith”.

He retired to St Michael-in-the-Hamlet, Liverpool, where his preaching continued. It was here that he celebrated his 40th anniversary of ordination. The collection at this service paid for a new lavatory and kitchen for the church. It was a reminder to John of a clergy conference that he had attended in Nigeria. When he asked, “What has your church done about evangelism?”, the first reply was, “We have installed a two-seater latrine.” A latrine was a necessity for the three-hour-long services there.

The current Principal of Trinity College has written of him: “John was a strong Christian soldier, teacher, leader, mentor, and administrator; a great evangelist. John touched many lives for God, and will always be remembered by the present great men of God he mentored and taught.”

From the 1980s onwards, John was a regular on the Church Times letters page; friends have commented that his contributions will be sorely missed.

Canon Goodchild died on 29 December 2018, aged 76.

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