As a vicar is murdered after opening his home to strangers in need of help, we look at the risks that come with such charity.
The Vicar of Dibley confirmed for television audiences a long-standing stereotype of life in rural Anglican parishes. While not without its challenges – eccentric churchgoers, tricky parish councillors, local busybodies – it was presented as reassuringly middle-class, cosy, safe and far removed from the front line of the inner city vicarage, as featured in that other small-screen favourite, Rev.
Clergy, though, have long protested that the distinction is a false one, and that the reality of their daily lives is more complex, challenging and frightening than either. The murder this week of the Reverend John Suddards tragically brings home their point.
The 59-year-old unmarried vicar had arrived last July at the parish of St Mary’s in the quiet medieval market town of Thornbury in south Gloucestershire. It was to be, the former barrister had said, a “retirement posting”, closer to his extended family in Dorset than his previous incumbency in Essex. But that didn’t mean he was cutting any corners in his ministry. In a sermon last October, Mr Suddards spoke of what he called “his Christian duty” to open the door of his vicarage to all vulnerable strangers and offer them shelter and support. “It’s a bit risky,” he added, “you don’t know who you’re letting in to your home.”
He appears to have paid the highest possible price for that Christian duty. Avon and Somerset police are following up the theory that one of his callers stabbed him to death, leaving his body to be found by builders on Tuesday morning. It is a murder, says the Archdeacon of Gloucester, the Venerable Geoffrey Sidaway, that once again highlights the dangers routinely faced by clergy. “Many on a daily basis open their homes and churches to people, and clearly that can put them in a vulnerable position.”
The Church of England, with its national role, has long insisted that it must be a presence in every area of the country, whether it be peaceful villages dominated by beautiful churches, or down-at-heel urban areas where only a tiny minority are churchgoers. The welcome on offer is the same in all places, available for anyone who needs it regardless of their belief. Keep reading
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