As I put pen to paper, I am still in profound shock and disbelief. It is still hard to believe that a person so full of life and love has died. So, I am writing these words, in part, to help me come to terms with this desperately sad and difficult news.
Looking back, I have known Keith for nearly 30 years. When we first met, he was a sacramental Baptist minister giving a talk in a Methodist Church on the communion of saints. But it was as university chaplains in the early 2000s that we really connected and became firm friends. I can still vividly remember our times together at Higher Education Chaplaincy Conferences at High Leigh, when most of the other delegates assumed that we were a couple! For one conference, we agreed that we would dress properly for the final dinner and turned up in dinner jackets, much to the consternation of our colleagues. On another occasion we managed to persuade an Orthodox chaplain to allow us to try on his vestments. So, there we were, the three of us in a High Leigh bedroom, arrayed in liturgical finery, giggling like school girls.
Keith was a complex character with many seeming contradictions. He was written off by more than a few and misunderstood by many others. Whilst his foibles and pedantry could be irritating to the point of exasperation, underneath it lay a generous and vulnerable heart. His deep convictions about justice and inclusion, especially around race and sexuality, shaped a pastoral ministry that embraced every person with an equal dignity and respect. I think what made him such a gifted chaplain – and often a pioneer in establishing chaplaincy in new contexts – was his curiosity and desire to get to know new people. So, so many benefitted from his pastoral care, including me.
I have to confess that I was upset when Keith decided to seek re-ordination in the Church of England. It certainly wasn’t the first time a friend had gone over to Canterbury, but it was made more difficult because of what Keith has come to signify for me. We often found ourselves together in ecumenical gatherings, a small Free Church minority in a sea of Anglicanism. It was always a delight to see how Keith dealt with the effortless superiority we too often encountered on such occasions. His pride in the Reformed and Non-Conformist traditions was a true inspiration to me, and I admired his commitment to Reformed order and Catholic spirituality.
In so many ways, Keith was both anti-establishment and non-conformist, despite his love of monarchy and established religion. I think we connected on that level, sharing a profound sense that we didn’t ‘fit’ into whatever boxes others tried to create for us. It enabled a ministry that flourished at the edges, but such ministry can also be very lonely and isolated. All vocation needs true fellowship and a community to belong to, and I think Keith found his in British Anglicanism. I was truly delighted when his gifts were recognized in the election to the episcopate in Argyll and the Isles. The clergy and people of that diocese had a true pastor of the flock in their bishop and Keith even managed to combine episcopacy and non-conformity in serving as a bishop of a non-established Anglican Church!
I am sure this will only be one of many, many tributes in recognition of Keith’s wide influence. He leaves an enormous hole in the lives of so many people, especially Jen and his daughters. My heart aches for their loss.
News of Keith’s death came as a shock and the heartbreak is a sign of how much I loved this awkward, cheeky, generous, warm, infuriating man. I will miss him terribly, especially those times when a witty aside or camp retort would reduce both of us to fits of giggling. My tears of sadness are a reminder of the tears of laughter we so often shared together.
Go forth, now, dear friend and brother,
upon your journey,
into the arms of the God who created you, into the presence of the One who redeemed you,
in the name of the Spirit who strengthens you. May the angels bring you safe to the New Jerusalemand may you dwell with
all the saints in light and peace. Amen.