The Revd Jonathan Sedgwick writes:
THE death of David John Benedict (always Benny) Hazlehurst on Boxing Day, just before his 56th birthday, robs the Church of England of one of its most generously (and perhaps unusually) talented priests, and Mel, Isaac, and Iona of a much-loved husband and father. As the Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, said in his funeral address: “Benny was different. From the start, he knew the length and breadth and height and depth of love, and that gives you an exceptional ability to love others as well.”
Maybe something of the pattern of his life could be foreseen in those of his parents. As Benny delighted to tell friends, his father was a priest and his mother had been a nun. When they met, Irene was on extended leave from St Mary’s Convent in Wantage caring for her mother before making her final vows. They, and Benny, firmly believed that years of trying in vain to have children came to an end only after prayer together at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
Benny’s faith and vocation were forged and tested in the challenging parishes in which his father ministered and the struggles that often went with them. But the love of God was always a present reality and especially in this faithful family’s encounters with Charismatic renewal. Benny made faith his own including through the ministry of David Watson, and, aged 16, said “yes” to God’s call to be ordained. So Benny found himself with the faith that never left him: Evangelical, Charismatic, and Catholic.
At Bolton School, in Lancashire, Benny grew in assurance and academic ability, while honing life-time characteristics of independent-mindedness, questioning established views, integrity, a wide taste in rock music, and a wicked sense of humour. After a year as a member of the Scargill Community in North Yorkshire, Benny went up to Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1982 to read maths because, as he said, at interview: “I don’t want to be one of those vicars who only knows about theology.” At Brasenose, Benny encountered the college chaplain, Fr Jeffrey John, as well as Pusey House and the Christian Union (OICCU), on whose executive committee he later served.
He may have put off ordination until 1991, but a flourishing ministry began years before that at school, in parish youth-groups, with Anglican Renewal Ministries, in Hong Kong with Jackie Pullinger, and among the bikers alongside whom he worked as a dispatch rider.
His curacy in Plumstead provided the perfect springboard into the post of Southwark archdeaconry’s estates outreach worker and then Vicar of Christ Church, Brixton. His ministry benefited from his ability to get alongside people in whatever their circumstances, combined with the practical and political intelligence to get things done. He was organising car pools and foodbanks long before they were heard of anywhere else.
Marriage to Mel in 1991 brought them both enormous happiness, especially in the birth of their children Isaac and Iona. It also brought a good deal of suffering in the aftermath of Mel’s terrible bicycle accident in a Brixton street. His exemplary care for Mel, and hers for him, continued until the day he died.
Benny’s Evangelical conviction meant that he always wanted to spread Christ’s love and forgiveness, especially with those on the fringes of society, with whom he always felt a close affinity. This led him into a significant new direction when, after a good deal of soul-searching, Benny came to the conviction that God was as present in the love of same-gender couples as in their heterosexual counterparts. Once that conviction had formed, his integrity demanded that he act on it.
He founded Accepting Evangelicals, whose membership runs into the thousands. He supported, counselled, and blessed many LGBT Christians. Benny saw Christ’s love and presence in our loves and Christ’s pain in our rejection by his Church. Though he stepped back from leadership in 2015, the part that he has played in opening up debate and awareness on these issues among Evangelicals is enormous.
Benny and Mel left London for Dorset in 2005 for parish ministry in Puddletown and then prison chaplaincy. In 2015, he began a new and fulfilling post as Vocations Adviser in the Salisbury diocese.
A gracious, kind, and wonderful husband, father, priest, and friend, Benny touched the lives of hundreds of people, many of whom were present at his funeral in Dorchester on15 January. He also had the most extensive whisky collection of any priest I know.
Benny, your family and many, many friends salute you, thank you, and love you.