Monday, April 2, 2012

Hundreds attend funeral of Thornbury vicar Reverend John Suddards

AS A hearse carried Thornbury vicar John Suddards away from his funeral service, it paused outside the vicarage where the popular clergyman set up home just nine months earlier.

It was a poignant moment for those watching the Rev Suddards leave the town for the last time, departing just as they were getting to know a man described as a dedicated and faithful priest with a great sense of humour.

Nearly seven weeks ago, Mr Suddards, 59, was found stabbed to death in the hallway of the vicarage, sending the town into shock and grief.

On Saturday, nearly 500 people paid their respects and said farewell to him in the church he had quickly grown to love and which was just yards from his home.

Every seat in St Mary's was taken for the service, as family, friends and church members joined other mourners from Thornbury and Mr Suddards' former parish of Witham in Essex to celebrate his life.

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Right Rev Michael Perham, had been at St Mary's in July 2011 to induct Mr Suddards as vicar and returned to lead his funeral service.

Afterwards he described it as a "wonderful Christian act of worship" with "lots of Christian people singing their hearts out" but also with some tears as everyone took the next step in the grieving process.

He said: "This is a very significant moment. More than six weeks ago there was a lot of grief and we have been waiting for today to celebrate John's life and restore a sense of balance."

The church was full long before the service started.

Mr Suddards' sister, Hilary Bosworth, and other family members arrived ahead of a procession of clergymen and women, together with choristers, from Thornbury and Witham, who walked to the church with the Bishop a little before 1pm.

They entered as the hymn, Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise, was sung before a moving tribute was paid to Mr Suddards.

Written by his sister and read by her husband Phil, it recalled Mr Suddards' childhood and his first nickname of Joe Soap, given just after he was born.

Mr Bosworth said his brother- in-law had developed an early passion for history and as a choirboy even mimed for a term after his voice broke so he wouldn't miss out on a trip to Italy.

He trained as a barrister but found law rather "dry", although his role as a junior barrister was challenging and interesting.

Mr Bosworth said: "After an accident, he came to the conclusion that he could help others as a priest more effectively than as a barrister. He believed in being there for everybody and making everyone welcome."

The family recalled his fondness for food and remembered last Christmas Day, after a good dinner, Mr Suddards with a large glass of red wine chuckling at an episode of Absolutely Fabulous on the television.

Mr Bosworth said he was adored by his nephew and nieces and had been due to conduct the wedding service of Hannah and her fiance John in September.

Mr Bosworth said: "It seemed right that his funeral should be here in St Mary's. He would be so touched to see so many people here today. His loss is keenly felt and he is much missed."

After a one-and-a-half hours service, members of the clergy lined the pathway from the church as Mr Suddards' coffin, carrying cream coloured flowers, was taken to the hearse for a journey to Dorset to be reunited with his late parents.

The Archdeacon of Gloucester, the Venerable Geoffrey Sidaway, said: "These communities were rocked by the tragic death of their parish priest and at last we have been able to bring John back to the church he loved and served. In three weeks' time there will be a service of blessing and prayer at the vicarage to signal that we are open for business again.

"In the summer we will also move to appoint a new priest for Thornbury."

He also told how Mr Suddards used to light a lamp in his hall at night as a signal for parishioners that he was there for them if needed.

He said: "We now know that made him very vulnerable."

Donations in memory of Mr Suddards will go to the organisation USPG, of which he had been a trustee, which helps Anglican churches around the world support people in community development.

•�� Stephen Farrow, 47, of no fixed address, is currently on remand, accused of the murder of Mr Suddards and that of retired teacher Betty Yates, 77, of Bewdley, Worcestershire, in January. He is also accused of a Thornbury burglary and is due back at Bristol Crown Court on June 29.

Hundreds attend funeral of Thornbury vicar Reverend John Suddards

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