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Obituary: Prebendary Patrick Dearnley

04 December 2020

The Rt Revd Dr Colin Buchanan writes:

PREBENDARY Patrick (Pat) Walter Dearnley died in hospital on 12 November, aged 86, after a brief illness. He will be greatly missed by the astonishing numbers of friends and colleagues with whom he sustained contact through letters, emails, and phone calls over years and even decades.

Pat’s discipleship of Jesus Christ began in childhood and led in due time to ordination. As a convinced Evangelical, he was a student at the London College of Divinity. From ordination in 1964, he served three assistant curacies; being single, he sought no settled homelife and, without personal ambitions, was content to minister and learn. His aim grew to reorientate the Evangelical constituency to an engagement in love with the underside of society.

He was not alone. In 1967, the National Evangelical Anglican Congress renounced pietism, and committed itself to this world’s material welfare as integral to its gospel. There resulted an inter-denominational Evangelical trust — the Shaftesbury Project — to give both intellectual depth and practical impact to this revived concern. Pat began as the Trust’s pioneer worker in 1974, basing himself in Nottingham in association with St John’s College. During this time, he led a tutorial group in the college, taught social theology, and was later elected to the College Council, where he brought wisdom and kindness to the task.

In 1977, he became Priest-in-Charge of Emmanuel Church, Holloway, a parish of widespread poverty and social need in north London. He took on, for a second curacy, Pete Broadbent, now Bishop of Willesden, who shared his vision, and was elected for Labour to Islington Council. While faithful to his parish, Pat always had one eye on the needs of the nation and the impact of the unjust social structures. And so, when Faith in the City was being published in 1985, Archbishop Runcie appointed him to be his Officer for Urban Priority Areas (UPA) and to work with the advisory group, chaired by Bishop Tom Butler.

Bishop Butler now writes: “I soon realised that he was a dedicated, effective, and hard-working visionary whose vision for the regeneration of UPA areas and churches basically stemmed, not from any political ideology, but from an uncomplicated Christian faith. In the next five years, his basic decency and faith would make him an effective ambassador to Bishops, clergy, laity, MPs, representatives of local government, business, trade unions, and voluntary organisations in every part of the country.

”He helped to create and then serviced a network of diocesan link officers, holding five central consultations with them involving also some members of the original Commission. He was one of the midwives who, in 1987, helped to create the Church Urban Fund, which had already raised some £18 million by the time that he went on to other work in 1990. When he left, the Advisory Group wrote of him, ‘He more than any other has inspired, and personally kept, a living faith in the city.’”

Working from Church House in London, Pat had ample opportunity to indulge his métier as a newshound, and, while fully observing confidentiality, he always managed to be first with any titbit of church news and to revel in then imparting it to others. He also worked across the nation for Hyndman’s and Simeon’s Trustees. His day off each week was devotedly given to his widowed mother, till she died in 1989. But his five years ended with illness, and his next move was in doubt.

Church historians would reckon those five years as the high point in Pat’s life, but Pat himself had a high point still to come, one that he valued above all else; for, in autumn 1990, at the age of 56, and contrary to all expectations, he proposed to Dorothy (Dot), whom he had known for nearly 20 years from his curacy in Leeds, and the knot was quickly tied.

Through David Sheppard’s initiative, they went to St John’s, Waterloo, in Liverpool, a humdrum parish ministry. Retirement to Ilkley came in 1999. Pat and Dot were deeply engaged with their parish, not least with generous hospitality, but he was still communicating far and wide, and ready to help wherever he could. This included about six months as the stand-in cleric at Bradford Cathedral, during 2004 and 2005 when it had no dean or residentiary canon.

As a friend of nearly 50 years who lived locally to him in his retirement, I enjoyed his continued probing at the idiocies of the Church of England and his unceasing critique of our political structures. And I recognised that to him the years of matrimony were the best years. Then, when his time came, he went in full faith in his Saviour and — marvellously, for these afflicted times — with his beloved Dot beside him as he went. His funeral is on 8 December in Ilkley.

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