Hallo again to all.
Last week in this space we quoted a few stanzas of a poem by Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, and in a footnote we referenced an article about him by Jonathan Gurling, in the Church Times. The sentence dividing the introduction from the body of that article asks:
'So, who was this man? How, as an ordinary parish priest, did he achieve a huge national following? And why did the interest in him evaporate within a generation?'
We were intrigued by the question, and although we enjoyed the Church Times article about Studdert Kennedy, we wanted to know more. It didn't provide a satisfactory answer to the second question. For some reason, the man intrigued us, and his fate — near oblivion — intrigued us even more. We wanted to learn more about the reasons why you had probably never heard of him before reading Anglicans Online last week.
We found this lecture given at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, entitled 'The Pastor and the Suffering God'. It helped us better understand why Studdert Kennedy was so popular and why so many people flocked to his funeral. He published several books, including poetry, theology, philosophy, and reflections on war. Most are still in print. The British Army published this article on the 80th anniversary of his death; naturally it highlights his military service.
That Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy is still remembered today is testimony to his extraordinary talent and rare ability to make God a reality to the ordinary soldier. He was a skilled orator who could attract large crowds, make people laugh or reduce them to tears; he also published many poems and a novel.
But the truth is that (like almost everyone else) he is not still remembered today. We suspect if we were to challenge you, our reader, to name ten people born in the same quarter century as Studdert Kennedy, who were not your own relatives or kings or prime ministers, you probably couldn't do it.
The Army article quotes the Guardian obituary: 'His message came upon him as on a prophet. He shrank from it, dreaded it and it exhausted him.' We suspect part of Studdert Kennedy's magic was that he really believed he was ordinary, that he was Everyman. His message was not about himself. His effectiveness did not depend on his power or his ego. He led people to form a more tangible relationship with God, but he left himself out of the process.
As we near the end of this year's Easter season, we continue to watch the battles for power being fought by the Famous People of the Anglican Communion. We confess we are able to remember the name of almost every current primate, and we could certainly name all of the bishops and priests and theologians who have held press conferences in the last five years. We make it our business to keep track of their goings-on, because we are somehow convinced it is important, that it is news, that it is relevant either to the Body of Christ or to the Future of the Church. The life and death of Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy serves as a quiet reminder to us that the measure of worth is not necessarily success or victory, and the measure of success or victory is not necessarily fame.
He seemed to know:
See you next week. Did you notice, by the way, that in the photograph above, the subject named in the caption is not actually shown in it? We see only the spellbound faces of his audience; Studdert Kennedy himself is not visible. We're quite certain that's the way he wanted it.
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