I’ve been asked to speak about Chris who I’ve known with Roz since 1979. It was then he became my colleague in the inner city parish of St Luke’s, Holbeck in Leeds. We have been good friends ever since.
As I begin to share Chris story and his character I have a familiar image of him in my mind. We’re meeting and he approaches me with a warm smile on his face and his arms beginning to open ready to give me a big hug! (PAUSE) Many of you will know the same image well. His love was tangible. His enthusiasm at times almost overwhelming! My dear wife Rosemary who died 20 months ago and who loved Chris dearly told me of such a hug offered in the centre of a very busy supermarket one day. It startled the shoppers and truth be told slightly embarrassed Rosemary but she knew his overflowing goodness and saw it – as so many of us have done.
Chris – or John Christopher Burch to give him his full name – was born on February 4th 1950 in Middlesex Hospital in Westminster. The family lived then in Wimbledon – oh if any details are wrong, don’t blame me blame my sources.
Martin and Rosetta were his father and mother and Chris grew up the eldest of four children, with Rosemary, Anthony and Charles following him. Chris loved his family and family life was always so important to him.
He was educated at Marlborough House a preparatory school he loved and then at Eton College, paid for our of a family trust. Not sporty Eton wasn’t always an easy experience for him but he went on to Trinity College Cambridge where he got his Honours degree in Electrical Engineering. It was while he was at Cambridge he first got a sense of vocation to ordained ministry but he had been sponsored for his studies by GEC and he went to work for them at Marconi Elliotts in Rochester. It was there I was told he actually designed a part for the failsafe mechanism for the Concorde computer, reducing it in size.
More significantly for us it was there he first met Roz at St Philip and St James Church, Walderslade in Chatham. There are others here today he met at that time. He was active in church life and Director of Medway Youth for Christ there.
Roz told me that she was studying at the College opposite to where Chris worked and they met at lunchtime. He would also – a true romantic – write poetry for Roz ,while queueing for the use of the enormous computer at work.
Encouraged by the Vicar Ken Gardiner Chris went forward for ordination training at St Johns College Nottingham. Roz felt for a while she was losing him as he devoted himself to his preparation for ministry in Nottingham and she was still studying in Kent. But the next year you(LOOKING AT ROZ) began your Applied Social Studies course at Sheffield and the courtship blossomed.
In 1975 Chris and Roz were engaged and in July 1976 Chris was ordained in Sheffield Cathedral early in the month and Chris and Roz were married in St Philip and St James church at the end of the month July 30.
For his ordained ministry Chris caught a vision of working in deprived areas, with a commitment to urban renewal and development. ‘ How will they hear the gospel?’ He would say, ‘ If the gospel is true then it must be true for the most vulnerable, the most deprived ,the most poor.’ This commitment to the gospel of justice and mercy ran right through all his years of ministry.
That fitted in well with our own commitment at Holbeck when Chris and Roz came to be with us. But I also saw alongside that a great care too for good worship and rich music. That also was there in his inner city ministry – his love of the music of the Fisherfolk and the Community of Celebration and his participation in Handel’s Messiah as a soloist and Stainers Crucifixion and of course in his work with worship and music at Coventry Cathedral – and Braunstone – and with Octave, our choir today.
Chris had two inner city curacies – at St John’s Park with Harold Everest and St Luke’s Holbeck with me. It is clear that Chris learned much from Harold Everest’s work in the local community and his campaigning ministry on issues of urgent need. When Chris applied for the position at St Luke’s, one of his referees told us, ‘ He was very good in pubs! ‘ Your words, Audrey, greatly appealed to us and Chris led the way for pub ministry for us too.
Both Chris and Roz presence and ministry were much appreciated at St Luke’s. Chris with his preaching and teaching gifts – as well as his work in the community – and Roz freshly qualified in Social work with her practical concern for need and disability. The congregation was delighted when Roz started wearing a badge that said, ‘ Mums the word’ but they were disappointed that Martin was born after Chris and Roz had moved to St Agnes Burmantofts.
The date was March 17 1982. Bex was born two years later on May 5 1984. Burmantofts was a special time for the family. They were there for 13 and a half years. The family life grew too in more senses than one: there were six new babies in the church community in 1982, the year Martin was born and six new babies too the year Bex was born in 1984.
Renewal was in the air, both in church and the neighbourhood. Vocations to ordained ministry were found , faith was shared and lively worship offered. Pam Harvey Church Pastoral Aid Society regional officer made St Agnes her spiritual home and was an informal mentor to Chris as well as a vigorous contributor to church life and outreach. John Bentham,Colin Cork and Heather Jamieson were colleagues there too.
The pioneering project the Ebor Gardens Advice Centre was launched with Chris chairing it and Roz running it with Kathryn Magnall. It continues to this day and is one of the projects the family are inviting us to support today. Please do so.
While there Chris undertook a M.Phil on Spirituality in the Inner City, writing up what he had long thought and believed.
There were so many lessons Chris learnt there which continued to inform his ministry after his move to Coventry and finally to Braunstone.
At Coventry as Precentor he was responsible for the cathedrals worship and music and the life and work of the choir. There were choir trips to Japan and Germany and South Africa. He had a good colleague and friend in Vivienne Faull, later Dean here of course and now in Gods own county at York. During that time at Coventry Chris started meeting twice a year for mutual support with Douglas then at Bristol cathedral and myself then at Wakefield Cathedral. We shared our encouragements and struggles. Chris made many good friends at Coventry both in the congregation and the City. Roger Hughes from the City Council worked with Chris on an Anti Poverty strategy and how to support Advice Centres throughout the city. In his last 3 years in Coventry he took on the additional role of Chaplain to the clergy of Urban Proirity Areas.
7 years in Coventry led Chris with Roz to his final appointment as Vicar of St Peters Braunstone and 12 and a half very happy and fulfilling years. With such good colleagues in Chris Florance and Ruth Souter , his dream team as he called them and others who worked with him in church and the community.
The church grew in confidence and in initiative as well as in numbers and across the generations. Here it seemed both church and neighbourhood benefitted from all the lessons he’d learned through the years and the deanery and diocese benefitted too.
I love the story of how when Chris first came to Braunstone he told the congregation somewhat amazed that they have acquired a former Cathedral Precentor as their Vicar that ‘ You are my choir now ,’ but then Chris always sought to encourage if he could.
In his years at Coventry and then at Braunstone he developed his involvement in Bridge Builders and its work on mediation and reconciliation in the church. This grew from his relationship with the Mennonites and the Anabaptist Theological Study Circle. As chair of the Bridge Builders Trustees he was due to begin some fundraising, beginning with his old school Eton. Can we take up this virtual work ourselves by giving generously in his memory today. My second plug for the offering.
My time is running out and I haven’t mentioned his passion for railways as his retirement home bears witness, or for his love of fell walking often with myself and my wife – oh and with bacon butties, a good pub and real ale of course.
And I have said hardly anything about you Martin and you Bex. You both know in different ways his great love for you, unconditional was how you expressed it Bex. He rejoiced in your successes and shared your disappointments but he had no agenda for you as you said Martin except that in your own way you would flourish.
With you Roz Chris shared more than 40 years of marriage with the love of his life. And you know he loved you always for the strength of your character and the ruggedness of your faith. You helped make him a fundamentally happy man.
No one is perfect and nor was Chris. He had his struggles at times with his relationships and with his faith. I remember him tell me once that in some particularly dark days in his journey with God he kept going by just saying the Lords Prayer very slowly each difficult day. But his life and faith have borne rich fruit and many of us here and elsewhere are the richer for that.
I’d like to close this tribute with some words of Rohan Williams about holiness. He says it can be misunderstood. He mentions a phrase in one of Evelyn Waughs novels when a character is described, ‘ She was saintly but she wasn’t a saint.’ She was very strict, devout and intense but made people around her feel guilty, frustrated, unhappy and worse. ‘ In contrast, ‘ Rohan Williams says, ‘ Holy people actually make you feel better that you are…the holy person enlarges your world. Makes you feel more yourself, opens you up, affirms you. They are not in competition; they are not saying, ‘ I’ve got something you haven’t .’ They are showing us something that it’s wonderful simply to have in the world.’
As we give thanks for Chris to day we are thankful for all that he has given us and all the ways he has enriched our lives and we pray for Gods richest blessings and mercy on him now in the love of Christ.