Kenneth Leech, Anglican priest & theologian, died at 76

  Dead Famous

Kenneth Leech, born June 15, 1939 and died September 12, 2015, he was a British Anglican priest and Christian socialist in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

Kenneth was born into a secular working-class family in Ashton-under-Lyne in greater Manchester.

As a teenager he became a Christian and a socialist at the same time.

A speech denouncing apartheid at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in 1956 by Trevor Huddleston, a priest of the Community of the Resurrection who had just returned from South Africa, had a particularly powerful impact on him.

He would later write that “If this faith could drive this man to oppose racism with such passion, perhaps it could drive me too.”

Kenneth moved to the East End of London in 1958 when he began his studies at King’s College London.

This move, he later wrote, was the real turning point of his life. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1961 and then went to Trinity College, Oxford. After theological studies at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1965.

He served in urban London parishes afflicted by poverty and confronted issues of racism and drug abuse.

After ordination, he served for two years as a curate at Holy Trinity Hoxton in the East End of London and then at St Anne’s Soho.

While in Soho, Kenneth founded the charity Centrepoint which became the United Kingdom’s leading national charity tackling youth homelessness.

He served as chaplain of St Augustine’s College, Canterbury, then from 1974 to 1979 as rector of St Matthew’s Bethnal Green.

In 1974, with Rowan Williams (who became the Archbishop of Canterbury) and others, he founded the Jubilee Group, a network of Christian socialists most of whom were Anglo-Catholics.

He was director of the Runnymede Trust, a think tank dedicated to promoting ethnic diversity in Britain, from 1987 to 1990.

From 1990 until 2004, when he retired from full-time parish ministry, he was community theologian at St Botolph’s Aldgate, a church located at the intersection of the City of London and the East End.

Kenneth was an advocate of contextual theology. At the heart of his faith was what he called “subversive orthodoxy”; the indissoluble union of contemplative spirituality, sacramental worship, orthodox doctrine and social action.

He argued that this conjunction was a central theme of Scripture, the Church Fathers and the Christian mystical tradition.

His work also drew on the radical and revolutionary strands in Anglo-Catholicism represented by figures such as Stewart Headlam, Thomas Hancock, Charles Marson, Percy Widdrington, Conrad Noel and Stanley Evans.

He respected the contributions of Frederick Denison Maurice, Brooke Westcott, Charles Gore, William Temple and other reform-minded Anglican Christian socialists, but thought them too timid and middle-class.

Although critical of theological liberalism, unlike some Anglo-Catholics he supported the ordination of women and was a champion of gay rights.

His publications encompass guides to prayer and spiritual direction, autobiographical reflections on urban ministry and theological critiques of capitalism and social injustice.

Of his weightiest theological work, True God (published in the United States as Experiencing God), the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre wrote that “there are few other books that state in so comprehensive a fashion what is at stake in believing or not believing in the God of Catholic Christianity.”

Kenneth Leech died in Manchester on 12 September 2015.