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Obituary: The Revd Peter Watkins

20 May 2022

Jonathan Stockland writes:

THE Revd Peter Watkins was full of life and projects when he died suddenly from a heart attack on 3 April, aged 88, in the Charterhouse.

He was educated at Charterhouse School, was an army officer during his two years of National Service, and studied theology at the Uni­­versity of Oxford and then at Wycliffe Hall Theo­logical College before ordina­­tion. Tall and broad-shouldered, with abund­ant eyebrows and a wonder­­fully sonorous voice, a fine athlete, and of a scholarly bent with a tendency to absent-mindedness, he seemed to fit the caricatured depiction of the much-maligned Anglican clergyman of old. But it gives no real substance of who he was.

Peter was, above all, Peter, no matter the circumstances in which he found himself. He was a man of deep integrity, based on his con­­vic­tion that he was God’s person. This confidence carried over into his relationships with people, whom he likewise regarded as God’s own. Inclusive and accepting, Peter rel­ated to everyone equally. This al­­lowed him to be a connector, not a networker, never drawing attention to himself, but, rather, bringing people together to spark off each other creatively.

This showed in his modesty and his disarming reticence about his own achievements. (The only time I ever heard him come near to boasting was about sporting memories: the time he raced against the mile record-holder Sydney Wooder­son, and a remarkable goal he scored at school.)

His loyalty was a byword, as many of the aged and infirm and maverick can confirm; and his personal door was always open. This typified his 48 years’ ministry at St Matthew’s, Ealing, where his pastoral care was outstanding, as was the building of a community congregation of all ages and backgrounds, many of whom he baptised, married, and buried.

The children, from both Sunday School and at Drayton Manor School, where he taught, were his all-time favourites, always treated with respect and a shared sense of hu­­mour.

His relaxed leader­ship was typical, too, and no more so than in his ability to deleg­ate church ad­­­min­­­­istra­tion re­­spons­ib­ilities and the range and free­­­­dom he gave the musical direc­­­­tion of St Matthew’s and its ex­­cellent choral so­­ciety.

Peter loved life, all of it. This was evident as you entered his vicarage, where you were greeted by a huge smiling photo of Marilyn Monroe; musicals were among his favourite pas­times, although he visited the ballet, art exhibitions, and con­­certs with equal en­­­thusiasm. A poetry group held in a pub was a regular venue. His gloriously over-occupied and un-curtained study re­­vealed his range of interest from social studies and London church history to orni­thology and books on language.

He himself wrote 13 books, several in collaboration with Erica Hughes. Books were his con­­stant compan­ions, but his daughter, Jess, said that his greatest delights were the com­­pany of friends and family: writing letters prolifically, ten­­aciously keep­ing in touch, and hav­­ing a social life that put his chil­­dren’s to shame.

Among his many other interests, he was a rabid Chelsea supporter: he cheered from the terraces; he and Ted Dexter also enjoyed the grey­­hound track, and Peter shared his father’s love of racehorses. The Christ­­mas hockey matches on Ealing Common were legendary, as were his well-attended gatherings in the vicarage, whenever he could find an excuse to celebrate.

His churchmanship was a relaxed middle-of-the-road Anglicanism, with the Book of Common Prayer its backbone, the liturgy intoned in a commanding voice. But dogma was not central; he developed his own interpretations of creeds and beliefs. Peter having decided that “a Christian is anyone who says they are,” his second son, Sam, said that St Mat­­thew’s particularly welcomed athe­istic Christians.

His elder son, Ben, added: “He em­­braced all creeds, disagreeing with all of them with magnificent equan­imity.” Never­­theless, it led to much healthy questioning and con­­versations with Peter, and to many convinced Christians.

He leaves three children, Ben, Sam, and Jess, and six grand­chil­­dren, of whom he was immensely proud. We shall all miss him terribly.

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