The Revd David J. Hopkin writes:
BEFORE ordination, Peter John Rivett worked for the Inland Revenue in the Tax Office. By all accounts, he was very able, and it was commented, before he left to take up training for ministry at Cranmer Hall, Durham, that he would have become a “high flier”, with, no doubt, a financially lucrative career ahead of him. Peter, though, like many of the followers of Jesus of the past — not least St Matthew, the tax collector — left behind his profession in the secular world, for leadership in the Church of God.
Peter heard God’s call as a young man, through contemporaries and others with whom he lived and worshipped at St Stephen’s, Twickenham. When Peter revealed his intention to offer for ordained ministry, his vicar, the Revd Wilfred Burton, responded: “I’ve been waiting for you tell me that for a long time.”
Working for the Tax office was not in vain, however, because this was where Peter met the love of his life and wife-to-be, Susan. They were both fellow members of the Christian Union. In 1968, Peter was accepted for ministry and went into theological training. He and Susan obtained permission from their bishop to marry, and they were married at Holy Trinity, Claygate, in Guildford diocese, in 1969, on the day of the village fete.
Peter served his title at St John’s, Newlands, in Hull, with Michael Vickers, who later became Bishop of Colchester. Peter’s first incumbent-status posts were on tough council housing estates in Hull and then in South Oxhey, in Watford.
In both places, Peter and Susan did feel at times “under siege” in their vicarage. They both recalled how, more than once, windows were pelted with ice balls or with mud, obscenities were shouted through the letterbox, and they dared not venture out at night. Their children found it tough — standing out as “the posh kids” in one place and then, perhaps, not being “posh enough” in their rural Wiltshire parish, where Peter worked before the couple felt the call to work overseas.
This calling led them to Zambia with USPG, although it should have been Zimbabwe, but, because of increasing tensions there, this could not happen. Peter’s job description had been “chaplain to a boys’ school with responsibilities for sport”; anyone knowing Peter would understand how inappropriate the sport part of this responsibility would be. Fortunately, when he and Susan arrived in Zambia, the sport part of the job description had disappeared.
He and Susan lived at the Mission Station in Mapanza, in the Bush, 70km down a dirt track from the nearest town of Choma. Their nearest hospital was 27km away — a mission hospital run by Mennonites. This is significant, because Peter and Susan were the only ones in the village who owned a car, and so their duties also included being the ambulance service for parishioners.
Peter was later made Canon of Holy Cross Cathedral, Lusaka, and latterly also served as archdeacon, covering many miles across the diocese, conducting services sometimes with more than 1000 people in attendance. People often travelled many miles, often on foot, to be there — especially for weddings or baptisms. The latter were more often than not conducted in a river. Such was his workload that, apparently, three clergy replaced Peter when he left Africa.
He and Susan came back to the UK in 2012, to retire to their house in Bewdley. In the same year, they made the decision to move closer to family in Penistone, South Yorkshire, where Peter ministered ever after. In retirement, he was greatly appreciated and loved — becoming very much involved in all aspects of ministry within the team ministry here, but also ecumenically. We will also remember Peter as a man of prayer who, with Susan, always encouraged others to pray.
During lockdown, Peter contributed regularly to our parish’s WhatsApp group, sharing both his ornithological passion with pictures of birds and detailed explanations, and spiritual contributions — prayers and reflections. Through this forum, his ministry continued to inspire many.
No matter how difficult or challenging ministry had been, Isaiah 40.28ff — “they will soar on wings like eagles” — read at Peter’s funeral, had always spoken to them both and given them strength to deal with what came their way — even the diagnosis of inoperable cancer. We are thankful that when he died, peacefully at home, Peter knew God’s love and grace, and that, during his life with Susan, was never shy of sharing the experience of their gospel faith and light with others.
Our thoughts are with his family: Susan; Tim, Kat, Mags, and Jonathan, and his grandchildren, Abbie and Noah. May this good and faithful servant, Peter, rest in peace. May he soar on wings like eagles, in the company of the angels.
Canon Peter Rivett died on 21 March, aged 78.