from Signs of the Times No. 36 - Jan 2010

Richard Truss

a tribute at his memorial service

For me Simon and the MCU are just about inseparable. I joined by walking in on a conference off the street in Oxford. Simon seems to have arrived by divine right in that his grandparents were members and he was indoctrinated - if a modernist can ever be indoctrinated - by his grandfather.

Fairly early on in our MCU careers we both found ourselves on the Council which in those days met in the splendour of Committee Room 1 at Church House Westminster. I can't remember how we found ourselves there. I suppose there was an election, although I think we were supposed to give a more youthful feel to a superannuated council. We were the two token young Turks. It has been ever thus - I assume it's because a liberal faith is a sign and a result of maturity.

However, it was an intimidating assembly and it was difficult of not impossible to say anything which measured up to the scholarly meetings which sometimes bore an approximate relation to the agenda in front of us. It was here that I came to appreciate Simon. First of all he was a layman. Not the only one on the Council but very much in a minority. He was someone who did a job in the real world. Of course we clergy do too, but at an MCU Council it could be quite difficult to discern this. We got so easy find ourselves meandering through the intricacies of process theology, or extolling the halcyon days of Henry Major, or with Professor Frend, renewing our faint acquaintance with the Arian or Nestorian heresies. Simon brought us down to earth in a good way. He was in industry and understood balance sheets, and the need to grow and to have clear aims and objectives. He could also see the funny side of it all, as he could of the Church as a whole.

He was of course, you might say, much later to let the side down by getting ordained himself. But what a relief that he stayed essentially the same. He became, I know, a great priest at various places round the Peterborough diocese, continuing helping out right up to the time of his death.

But I won't picture him in that role, but at an MCU Council or Standing Committee, never pushing, but always challenging and supportive. A man of real wisdom, which as in the book of Proverbs, is a practical quality. His suggestions and advice were always worth listening too and acting on. I will also picture him at every MCU Conference, early in the morning with armfuls of the newspapers that he had been down to the newsagent to collect - a typical practical service. I will also picture him with Christina on the front row at every lecture. A very un-Anglican place to sit but there were practical reasons for it. He never until recently missed a conference and when finally he did there was something very important missing. But above all I will picture him with that nice generous smile on his face. He was always there for you, someone you would look forward to seeing again, and someone you would like to have by your side.

I know that every member of the MCU who knew Simon, would want me to pass on our sympathy with our prayers to Christina, Rosalind and Helen and all the family, together with our collective thanks for all he gave for so long to the MCU.

Nicholas Henderson

former MCU General Secretary

I can't quite remember when I first met Simon but I know that it was at a Modern Churchpeople's Union summer conference. It fact MCU and Simon are inseparable in my memory.

Simon together with Christina were almost an institution in themselves and we shall all miss Simon and our thoughts and prayers are with Christina and Rosalind and the grandchildren at this time.

I suppose that Simon epitomised a Modern Churchman for I can't but help think of him in that context. He was liberal, radical and always prepared to see the funny side, or more precisely the preposterous, especially in the Church of England. Here was a man who could embrace study, science and philosophy and emerge with a faith intact and strengthened. A broad thinker, completely at home with the idea of equality, a supporter of women's ministry but one who wouldn't stand for hypocrisy or duplicity of which there is, naturally, so much in the Church. His ecclesiastical anecdotes are too authentic to repeat here without being in danger of litigation but used to enthral all of us gathered for a drink at the bar!

In all this I think he was the archetypical Anglican of the sort that 450 years of post Reformation struggle and development has produced. Honed and shaped to be 'liberal' by which I mean not the pejorative use that has come to be used by opponents of any change but generous, open, concerned and reasonable without ever sacrificing integrity or compromising truth.

When I first met him he was actually still a layman but I never saw him in a light other than that of one who had conferred upon him holy orders. By this I mean there was something of God about him, authoritatively in the words of Julian of Norwich, as one who understood the meaning of her phrase that 'all will be well and all manner of things shall be well'.

I was invited to read a lesson at Simon's funeral service and I plucked up courage, prompted, as it were by him, to say two things. First, that he was a man and latterly a priest whose views were fearlessly guaranteed to send a frisson of terror down the spines of those who would constrain the faith to a narrow and circumscribed path and secondly, that in many ways he was subliminally my mentor. His was guiding hand through much of my own ministry.

In his going I feel a personal loss that is more than a simple bereavement. I imagine that I am not alone in such a sentiment for we have all lost someone who has been the bedrock of our journey through life. In that sense perhaps we should note that his great scriptural namesake Simon Peter was given the 'keys'. That's not as a Pope, Simon would have nothing of that, but as one who had come close to God in this life and who surely rests with him now in the next.

Peter Mills

MCU Treasurer from 1977 to 2007

When I joined MCU in 1969, Simon and his family were among the first to welcome me, and it was their friendliness that made a large contribution to my enjoyment of the annual Conferences.

In later years as treasurer, I knew that I could always rely on Simon for support. He would explore the annual accounts in close detail, but if he then spoke, it would invariably be to offer constructive and helpful comments. It was always good to know that he was around.