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Obituary: The Revd John Cooper

18 March 2022

Canon Hugh Williams writes:

I FIRST met John Cooper, known by many as Henry, on an ordination retreat in Ealing, west London, in late June 1974, before we were to be made deacon in St Paul’s Cathedral, in a three-hour service including 40 candidates. The next year, Henry and I were ordained priest in St Mary Abbots, Kensington, by the Bishop of Kensington, with half the number. We served our titles in west London, our parishes either side of the Great West Road: Henry in Osterley, and I in Heston.

Before ordination, Henry had been a bank clerk in Eastbourne, his birth town, and he was responsible for the bank’s annual sweepstake for the Grand National and the Derby. Clearly, he was good at it, because his colleagues named him “John Henry” after the famous gambler of that name.

Henry’s ordination training began in 1970 at the Bernard Gilpin Society in Durham, which had been set up in the 1950s by the House of Bishops to give those ordinands who had been working since leaving school a classical general education, before moving on to theological college. Henry then went to Wells, before its amalgamation with the college in Salisbury.

Henry was an excellent cook, and entertained friends most hospitably. His great love was cricket, and, for some years, he would umpire public schools’ cricket on Saturdays. He once said to me: “Remember the name Alastair Cook. He will play for England one day.” He was also an avid reader and a stickler for the Queen’s English. He was not averse to correcting the English of his friends; I was no exception.

From Osterley, Henry went, in 1977, to serve a second curacy at St Stephen and St Thomas, Shepherd’s Bush, before taking on his own parish at St Peter’s, Paddington, in 1982. Henry left London diocese in 1989 to become Vicar of Darwen, in Blackburn diocese. One of his curates was Mark Sowerby, a former Bishop of Horsham and now Principal of Mirfield Theological College. Henry always said that he had had a mitre in his rucksack. Henry made sure that all his curates trained as religious-education inspectors for church schools.

From there, in 1996, Henry was appointed Vicar of St Michael and All Angels with St Edmund, Northampton, whose PCC had passed Resolutions A and B of the Act of Synod, allowing for extended episcopal oversight. Upon realising that the majority of the congregation were not actually in favour, however, Henry resigned in 1999, explaining to me in a telephone conversation that he had “taken the King’s shilling” — i.e., a lump sum — and a C of E pension.

Throughout his ministry, wherever he was, Henry had a succession of lodgers, some 40 in all, who greatly appreciated his gift for hospitality and friendship. He enjoyed holidays abroad, and, in particular, Luxor in Egypt, which was a favourite destination.

On retirement, Henry lived in a C of E Pensions Board house in Bedford, and helped out in parishes in the dioceses of St Albans and London wherever there was an interregnum. Later, he moved to Hampstead, to a top-floor flat of a house for retired clergy.

As it had very steep stairs, my wife, Jo and I later persuaded him to apply to become a Brother of the Charterhouse, where I was Preacher and Deputy Master at the time. He took our advice and moved to Charterhouse, where he happily settled into the community, becoming a valued member of it. He was a loyal and good friend to all whom he met and to whom he ministered. May he rest in peace.

The Revd John Cooper died on 23 December 2021, aged 74.

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