Geoffrey Kirk 10 December 1945 – 10 April 2020 (Good Friday)
Stephen Parkinson remembers his friend Geoffrey Kirk
I first set eyes upon Geoffrey Kirk in 1993 – on May Day, to be precise – in a room hidden in the bowels of Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. I had heard of him, of course, for he was one of those who had presided over the birth of Cost of Conscience in his Vicarage back in 1985. The occasion was the rally Walking in the Way, when several thousand of us listened spellbound to the then Fr John Broadhurst, Patrick Cormack MP, Sara Low, the late and much-lamented Fr Alan Rabjohns and more – including a virtual Bishop Graham Leonard – long before we knew what that expression meant! The person we did not hear, and most did not see, was Geoffrey, for he was, so to speak, sitting in the Director’s Chair, running the event. I was one of Fr Brandie’s Stewards from Chichester, sent to ask Fr Kirk some minor question. I walked in and asked the bespectacled man in the loud jumper if he knew where Fr Kirk was . . .
Luckily, some six months later when I became FiF’s second Director in succession to Michael Barwick, GK (as he always signed notes, postcards and the like) seemed to have forgotten the foolish young man who had committed the faux-pas of failing to recognise him, and he seemed content to treat his fellow Yorkshireman as a proper person. FiF produced its Statement on Communion and Code of Practice, which set out how traditionalists might live in the Church of England once women had been ordained to the priesthood. The document bore a number of fingerprints, but in truth GK was its principal author. Just as he had been the principal author of the document in which Cost of Conscience had first proposed the concept of Alternative Episcopal Oversight – which was where the reality of today’s PEVs first saw the light of day!
At the First National Assembly in 1994, he was elected Secretary of FiF. A lunch soon followed (the first of many!), at which he explained that, as the organisation was running out of money, I would soon be out of a job and he would soon have nothing of which to be Secretary. Thankfully, he had a cunning plan, and in June 1995 FiF became a membership organisation and found itself on a firm financial footing. New Directions was launched that month and the first Way We Live Now appeared. But GK could not be limited to just one page a month: what he needed, he averred, was a nom de plume under which he could write more. Looking at his Church Notice Board one day I noticed that his parish was actually S.Stephen & S.Mark, Lewisham – and so Mark Stevens was born. Later, he would be joined by Archdeacon Andrew Armitage-Shanks, Dr William Badger, April Heavisides, Bridget Trollope and P D J Aymes, to name just the ones I can remember!
By May 1996, he had the bit between his teeth. He announced one day over lunch that we should arrange a great celebration of the new Millennium, around Pentecost 2000. I filed the suggestion away where one puts end-of-lunch ideas, but he was not to be distracted. If the Director would not telephone the London Arena forthwith to make enquiries, he would! And he did. Such was the Arena’s attention to detail in that first discussion, they wrote to him shortly afterwards, addressing him as Mr Geoff Kirk – a form of address I treasure to this day! In the event, as those who were present will recall, Christ our Future was nothing short of a triumph, with a congregation of over 10,000, plus 1,000 concelebrants of whom three dozen were bishops and over whom the then Archbishop of York, David Hope, presided. It was without doubt the biggest Christian celebration of the millennium to take place in these islands, and it was GK’s baby!
Two years on, at a meeting with George Carey in York, it was GK who put into the Archbishop’s mind the notion that FiF should set up a Working Party to ‘shadow’ the General Synod Working Party which had started discussion on the proposed innovation of women bishops. And it was that Shadow Working Party, following long conversations over many months amongst its members, and with others invited to contribute to the process, which published, in 2004, Consecrated Women? The book comprised a skilful distillation of all those conversations by Jonathan Baker, but he would be the first to credit GK with much of what undergirded the entire process.
In between times, GK and the Director visited FiF Australia and then FiF North America for their respective National Assemblies. The trips were hard work but great fun and many new and lasting friendships were forged. We set up shop in Canterbury for what remain at present the final two Lambeth Conferences and GK was there each morning at the Daily Press Briefing, exercising his gentle, teasing ministry of intimidation of those on the platform. And throughout all this, he found time to run one of the liveliest and most successful parishes I’ve ever seen! Many, many meals were taken, the best of which were usually in his Vicarage, for he was a most formidable cook and a most delightful host.
And then, at the National Assembly of 2010, GK did what he had been threatening to do for a while: he stood down as Secretary of Forward in Faith. It really was the end of an era. He was, I think, tired of the struggle, and his health had begun to be an issue. Our regular meals petered out, for he now had little reason to come up to town and, after nineteen years in post, I was beginning to plan for my retirement. In a few short months, GK and I went from daily ‘phone calls to only occasional communications when something worth discussing arose. In July 2012, he was received into the full Communion of the Catholic Church as a member of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and, six months later, I retired to our house, hard by Our Lady of Walsingham’s Shrine in Norfolk.
But that is not quite the end of the story. On 2nd May 2017, my wife’s cousin, accompanied by her husband, came to lunch. When we had eaten, I was deputed to convey cousin’s husband on a guided tour of Walsingham, whilst the ladies discussed their family tree or some such. We took our time getting ready for our walk, allowing ourselves to be waylaid by no end of distractions. Eventually, we set off down the road and entered the grounds of the Anglican Shrine through the gates next to Norton’s. We stopped to admire the architecture of the Shrine Refectory, and then moved on, pausing to look at the Orangery. Then I pointed out the outdoor Altar of the Mysteries of Light, and talked a little about its uses throughout the year. As we approached the Shrine Church on our left, we talked about its Campanile and the hymns rung out from it which we had heard earlier in the afternoon. Ahead of us was the Chantry Chapel of the Guild of All Souls, and next to it the steps down to the Church. I rehearse all this in such detail in order to underline the fact that the instant at which my guest and I approached the Church was an entirely random moment in time.
And up the steps from the Church, who should appear in a similarly random fashion but GK, visiting the Shrine (he claimed) for no other reason but that Holkham Hall was closed that day. I hailed him: “Kirk!” “Parkinson!”, he responded. We reminisced for a while.
Only later did I ponder whether our meeting that day had been an example of the Providence of God. I like to think that it was. As Forward in Faith gives heartfelt thanks for his leadership, and I give fervent thanks for his friendship, may Our Lady of Walsingham continue to pray for the repose of his soul.
Stephen Parkinson was Director of Forward in Faith
from 1993 until 2012.