Saturday, 7 November 2009

Canon John Bayley

‘He was a modest man with nothing to be modest about,’ concludes his obituary in yesterday’s Church Times, an affectionate article which catches a flavour of the sort of priesthood which builds up the church.

I lived in John’s parish for the five years before I moved here, and used to meet to say Matins as part of the large group he gathered very early each day. I once made the mistake of beginning to gossip with him about the failings of a member of the Bishop’s Staff, something he quickly (and, I later learnt from others, habitually) deflected by telling me a story of a kindness that priest had exhibited.

He was a Curate here in Grimsby in the mid-1960s and then Vicar of a parish in Gainsborough for five years before serving for twenty nine years (1973-2002) as the parish priest for the area around Lincoln Cathedral, of which he was also an honorary Canon from the age of 36.

The obituary records ‘unobtrusive support to the Cathedral clergy and congregation through thick and thin’ (code for periods of acute trauma in the Cathedral’s life), and it happened to fall to him to preach on the first Sunday when a Dean was present after a long suspension; his sermon attacked nobody, but nor did it allow anyone off the hook of reflecting on his or her own constant need for repentance and reconciliation.

And he was a draftsman and artist of rare skill, so it was a delight that his obituary was illustrated not by a picture of himself (which he would have hated) but by one of his drawings. The exquisite one above is a Jesse Tree from a boss in the Cathedral; David playing his harp is the chief figure emerging from his father's loins, but there are others along the sides. He allowed me to use it in a couple of small diocesan publications which I produced when I was in Lincoln, just one of the things for which I hold him in grateful remembrance.

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