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Obituary: The Very Revd Dr Alan Jones

by
16 February 2024

Diocese of California

A correspondent writes:

GROWING up in Wimbledon Village after the Second World War, Alan William Jones was known as “that poor boy”. He lived in a bleak, cold-water flat, behind the Dog and Fox stables. His father, Ted, a beery bricklayer, died suddenly when Alan was 12. Alan attended the village school, and then Rutlish School, where he flourished. He was blessed with a beautiful treble voice, was a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral, and sang at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Despite his non-worshipping family, Alan was determined to follow his calling. When his grandmother in Suffolk heard that he wished to become a priest, she said: “I hopes to Christ ’e don’t!”

Alan gained both his first degree (1963) and his Ph.D. (1971) from the University of Nottingham; his thesis explored the Catholicism of Herbert Kelly, who founded the Society of the Sacred Mission. He graduated from the General Theological Seminary, in New York, in 1965, after which he served in England. He was received into the Episcopal Church as a priest in 1967.

From 1968 to 1971, he taught at Lincoln Theological College. He then spent the next ten years as the Stephen F. Bayne Professor of Ascetical Theology at the General Theological Seminary, in New York, during which time he founded the Center for Christian Spirituality.

In 1985, Alan was appointed Dean of Grace Cathedral, in San Francisco, a post he held until 2009. Here, he gave pastoral support to those suffering from AIDS, and set up an interfaith chapel in the cathedral narthex. He was also behind the beginning of the modern labyrinth movement in 1991, creating two Chartres-style labyrinths, one inside, and the other outside the cathedral. And it was Alan who oversaw the building campaign after the 1989 earthquake

In May 1990, he made a return visit to England, to give the Eric Symes Abbott Memorial Lecture, in Westminster Abbey. He spoke of his multiform Christianity — being English/American, Protestant/Catholic, Orthodox/New Age. This was revealed in his spiritual books and sermons, which were notable for their scholarship, depth, and humour.

He was highly regarded in both the Episcopal Church in the United States and in wider circles, and was a strong supporter of the ordination of women. He was a close friend of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other clergy around the world. When Archbishop Robert Runcie invited Alan to return to the C of E as a bishop, however, he declined, saying that he could not put back his clock fifty years.

Alan died on 14 January, aged 83. He is survived by his wife, Virginia “Cricket” Price Jones, and his three children from his first marriage, Lena, Charlotte, and Edward.

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