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Obituary: Canon John Dilnot

13 November 2020

The Very Revd Christopher Armstrong writes:

CANON John Dilnot wore his intellect lightly. He admitted to being bookish but not academic, although he could give most senior clergy a good run for their money.

It was not in academia that John’s influence was felt directly, but in the humbler networks of the local church, where his encouragement of younger clergy to retain and to develop their intellectual appetites paid huge dividends for the wider Church. Warm, generous, meticulously well-organised, and peppering all with a donnish sense of humour, he was more at home in communities than batting alone in rural parishes.

John William Dilnot was born in Kent — a man of Kent — and left that county for only 12 years for his higher education at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and early ministry in the diocese of Lichfield. He returned to Kent to befriend his widowed mother, who was in poor health.

His marriage to Bridget was an unhappy time and left them both bruised and exhausted. His bishop thought that divorce would end his career. That could have been so, but his ministry flourished and was widely regarded in both rural and urban parishes as well as through his honorary canonry at Canterbury Cathedral.

John was cast in the Catholic mould, which sometimes he found irritating, but it formed in him a strong spirituality. He took the discipline of his vocation seriously and laboured away in a string of rural parishes which gave him little joy. His peers trusted him, however, and he was elected rural dean. The canonry followed.

He finished his stipendiary ministry at Folkestone Parish Church — a town that he regarded as “fallen” — but, nevertheless, he found the work challenging, if lonely. By this time, he had learned to make effective space for others in his busy parish schedule, and his hospitality was both generous and legendary.

John leaves two children, both of whom excel in their respective professions. His legacy also includes a string of clergy who owe their intellectual and spiritual fulfilment to his sensitive and visionary encouragement. It is not surprising that this lonely man lived out his final years in sheltered collegiate accommodation within easy reach of the cathedral, where, to the end, he struck his poor prayers on those gathered stones.

Canon John William Dilnot died from the coronavirus in Arrowe Park Hospital, Birkenhead, on 11 October, aged 84.

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