08 March 2013

With the Saints in Lent (24): Edward King and GA Studdert Kennedy, 8 March

Bishop Edward King (1829-1910) ... saintly theological educator and bishop

Patrick Comerford

Two saintly figures from the Church of England at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century are commemorated in many Church calendars today [8 March]. Bishop Edward King (1829-1910), a saintly theological educator and bishop, is commemorated in the calendar of Common Worship in the Church of England. The Revd GA Studdert Kennedy, better known as “Woodbine Willie,” is commemorated in the calendar of the Episcopal Church and in the calendar of Common Worship in the Church of England.

Bishop Edward King (1829-1910):

Edward King was born on 29 December 1829, the second son of the Ven Walker King, Archdeacon of Rochester and Rector of Stone, Kent, and grandson of Walker King, Bishop of Rochester.

He was educated at home by his father and a private tutor. At the age of 19, he went to Oriel College, then the headquarters of the Tractarian or Anglo-Catholic Movement.

When he was ordained in 1854, he became the curate of Wheatley, near Oxford, where he soon earned a reputation as an effective pastor and counsellor.

A quiet corner in Ripon College Cuddesdon, outside Oxford ... Edward King was chaplain, lecturer and later Principal of Cuddesdon Thological College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1858, he became chaplain and lecturer at Cuddesdon Theological College (now Ripon College Cuddesdon), near Oxford, which had been founded in 1854. In 1862, he was appointed Principal of Cuddesdon and spent 10 years there, making the college a worshipping community where individual and communal spiritual life flourished.

He encouraged his students to read Patristic writings, but insisted their preaching could never be effective or worthwhile unless it was rooted in a life of prayer and of love for their parishioners.

He taught them that a priest must pray regularly for every member of his parish, individually and by name. He must call on every member once every two months, and must get to know them well enough to understand their problems and know where they stood in need of prayer.

He said: “Christ lives in his saints. We know his life in them. St Paul prayed to know the Power of the Resurrection, though he knew the fact. If you are to preach, you must make up your minds that you are sent, and sent by God. Without the gift of love, you will never be a preacher. Nothing anonymous will ever persuade – the faith and conduct of the preacher give life and power to his message. Thus preaching is different from mere feeling. You may teach mathematics or geography without being fully convinced. But in delivering the Gospel message, if it is to be a living life-giving message, there must be in the preacher a sense of message and the desire to deliver it.”

He never allowed his students to fall into the trap of supposing that a Christian ought to strive to have no interests other than religious ones. He said: “A brief prayer is also possible during work and play, but in the main you should be satisfied with commending your work or play to God, and then yourself into it heartily.”

Ripon College Cuddesdon ... King transformed the college and the lives of the students by his own life and personality (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

King transformed the college and the lives of the students by his own life and personality. He made those around him aware of the presence and love of God.

One of his students wrote afterwards of King’s influence: “It was light he carried with him – light that shone through him – light that flowed from him. The room was lit into which he entered. It was as if we had fallen under a streak of sunlight, that flickered, and danced, and laughed, and turned all to colour and gold.”

He remained at Cuddesdon until 1873, when he was appointed Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology at Oxford and a canon of Christ Church, Oxford.

He was the principal founder Saint Stephen's House, Oxford, now a Permanent Private Hall of the University of Oxford, which became a leading Catholic theological college in the Church of England. By then, he was one of Edward Pusey’s closest friends and as a leading member of the English Church Union.

In 1885, Edward King was appointed Bishop of Lincoln, succeeding Christopher Wordsworth, nephew of the poet William Wordsworth. There he enjoyed the fact that his diocese was the original home of John Wesley, whom he greatly admired [see 3 March].

As Bishop of Lincoln, Edward King was outstandingly effective, and he was described at the time as “the most loved man in Lincolnshire.” The private letters of his contemporaries contain many testimonies to his personal holiness and to his loving concern for others. He sought out those whom the Church had failed to reach, and spoke with them about God’s love declared in Christ. Whenever possible, he did the work of a prison chaplain, speaking with everyone from pickpockets to murderers.

In the liturgical controversies of the late 19th century, Bishop King was denounced for celebrating the Liturgy with practices not permitted by the directives in The Book of Common Prayer. The charges brought against him in 1888-1890 included:

● having lighted candles on the altar;
● facing eastward towards the altar, with his back to the congregation, during most of the Eucharistic prayers;
● mixing a little water with the wine in the chalice;
● using Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us”) as a hymn before receiving the Holy Communion;
● making the sign of the Cross when blessing the congregation;
● making a ceremony of cleansing the Communion vessels afterwards.

None of these practices is controversial today, but at the time they were regarded as too “High” in many Anglican circles.

King was tried by a Church Court presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson, and the appeal was heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Some of his practices were ruled against, but others were permitted although the ruling said they had no theological significance. For example, lighted candles were permitted on the altar, but only when they were needed for illumination.

Bishop King, who won the affection of people of all classes for his reverence and saintliness of character, died in Lincoln on 8 March 1910.

The Edward King Centre, beside Lincoln Cathedral, is a retreat centre run by the Diocese of Lincoln which hosts a variety of quiet days and residential retreats. The centre is part of the Old Palace, which was the home of Bishop Edward King from 1885 to 1910.


O God, our heavenly Father, who raised up your faithful servant Edward to be a bishop and pastor in your Church and to feed your flock: Give abundantly to all pastors the gifts of your Holy Spirit, that they may minister in your household as true servants of Christ and stewards of your divine mysteries; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

The Revd Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, ‘Woodbine Willie’ (1883-1929)

The Revd Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy was an Anglican priest-poet with an Irish family background and education. He was born in Leeds on 27 June 1883, one of nine children of the Revd William Studdert Kennedy (1825-1914), Vicar of Saint Mary’s in Quarry Hill, Leeds, and his wife Jeanette (Anketell).

The Revd William Studdert Kennedy was educated at Trinity College Dublin and was the Rector of Saint Doulagh’s in north Co Dublin for 14 years until he moved to England. His father, the Very Revd Robert Mitchell Kennedy (1798-1864) was Dean of Clonfert and Precentor of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. Woodbine Willie’s mother, Jeanette (Anketell), was from Co Clare.

Kennedy earned a degree in classics and divinity in 1904 at Trinity College, Dublin. After a year at Ripon Theological College, he became a curate in Rugby and then Vicar of Saint Paul’s, Worcester.

At the outbreak of World War I, Kennedy volunteered as a chaplain to soldiers on the Western Front. He was decorated with the Military Cross after he ran through shells into “no man’s land” to obtain supplies of morphine. Along with the spiritual comfort he gave to the wounded and the dying, he was famous for handing out cigarettes to the soldiers, who called him “Woodbine Willie.”

But his turning point came when he stopped talking to and started listened to the troops. Through his magnetic preaching, he publicised their views on wanting to end war, their dislike of the monarchy, and their desire for the end of poverty. He was sickened by what he saw as needless slaughter, and after his discharge in 1919, he spoke throughout Britain opposing war and calling for an end to unemployment and poverty.

A skilled poet, Kennedy published several volumes of religious poetry. He also wrote poems based on his experience as war chaplain, published in the volumes Rough Rhymes of a Padre (1918) and More Rough Rhymes (1919).

His courage and has compassion for the soldiers he served can be heard in his poem “Woodbine Willie,” a gracious, moving account of the men who gave him his nickname:

They gave me this name like their nature,
Compacted of laughter and tears,
A sweet that was born of the bitter,
A joke that was torn from the years.

Of their travail and torture, Christ’s fools,
Atoning my sins with their blood,
Who grinned in their agony sharing
The glorious madness of God.

Their name! Let me hear it – the symbol
Of unpaid – unpayable debt,
For the men to whom I owed God’s Peace,
I put off with a cigarette.

He also published a collection of sermons, I Believe: Sermons on the Apostles’ Creed (1928).

His later poems and prose works express his Christian socialism and pacifism. He became a great social evangelist calling for reform. He gave away his possessions and donated the large royalties on his poems to charity.

He eventually worked for the Industrial Christian Fellowship. When he addressed the Anglo-Catholic Congress in London in July 1923, he said:

“It is not enough to make the devotional life our main concern, and allow an occasional lecture or preachment on social matters to be added as a make-weight. The social life must be brought right into the heart of our devotion, and our devotion right into the heart of our social life. There is only one spiritual life, and that is the sacramental life – sacramental in its fullest, its widest, and its deepest sense, which means the consecration of the whole man and all his human relationships to God.

“There must be free and open passage between the sanctuary and the street. We must destroy within ourselves our present feeling that we descend to a lower level when we leave the song of the angels and the archangels and begin to study economic conditions, questions of wages, hours and housing. It is hard, very hard, but it must be done. It must be done not only for the sake of the street, but for the sake of the sanctuary, too. If the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament obscures the Omnipresence of God in the world, then the Sacrament is idolatrous, and our worship is actual sin, for all sin at its roots is the denial of the Omnipresence of God.

“I have been to Mass in churches where I felt it was sinful – sinful because there was no passion for social righteousness behind it. When ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make long prayers I will not hear you; your hands are full of blood ... Cease to do evil, learn to do well. Seek judgement. Relieve the oppressed. Judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

“Remember that medieval ritual was a natural expression of medieval life, which, at any rate, tried to consecrate all things to God – tried to build the Kingdom of God on earth, and dedicated all arts and crafts, all human activities to him. In that setting it meant much; apart from that setting it means nothing, and worse than nothing – it is a hollow mockery. The way out is not to destroy ritual, but to restore righteousness, and make our flaming colours the banners of a Church militant here on earth ...”

On one of his speaking tours on their behalf, he became ill, and he died in Liverpool in 1929. When he died in 1929, he was exhausted although he was only 45. The Dean of Westminster Abbey refused him a burial at Westminster Abbey because, he said, he was a “socialist.” Still, poor people flocked to his funeral in Worcester.

Later, his close friend William Temple, who had been a member of the Labour Party, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1942. Studdert Kennedy remains a powerful influence on the pacifist cause, and his many writings have inspired figures such as Desmond Tutu and J├╝rgen Moltmann.

‘When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by./ They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die’ ... Selfridges in the Bullring has become a modern architectural symbol of Birmingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Indifference, by GA Studdert Kennedy

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do,’
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.


Glorious God, we give thanks not merely for high and holy things, but for the common things of earth which you have created: Wake us to love and work, that Jesus, the Lord of life, may set our hearts ablaze and that we, like Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, may recognise you in your people and in your creation, serving the holy and undivided Trinity; who lives and reigns throughout all ages of ages. Amen.


II Samuel 22: 1–7 (8–16) 17–19; Psalm 69: 15-20; I Corinthians 15: 50–58; Luke 10: 25–37.

Tomorrow (9 March): Saint Gregory of Nyssa.

● Bob Holman’s new book, Woodbine Willie: an Unsung Hero of World War One, is published by Lion Hudson later this month on 21 March.

No comments: