Pilgrimpace's Blog

ken leech


My good friend Ken Leech has died after a long period of ill health.  I want to pay tribute to him and the important influence he has had on my pilgrimage.

There are good reflections on Ken’s life by Savi Hensman here, and Jon Kuhrt here.  There are a couple of good newspaper obituaries here and here.

Details of Ken’s Funeral at St Chrysostom’s, Manchester are here.

I am slightly ambivalent about writing this – there is a tendency towards hero worship in socialist catholic circles.  Ken was a real person.  He needed to be with people yet was shy and private.  His best writing on life and prayer is rooted in authentic and deep spiritual struggle.

I am extremely grateful to have known Ken.  As an undergraduate, my university chaplain put my in touch with the Jubilee Group and I was welcomed into the exciting chaos of that period of Ango-Catholic Socialism.  My first job was working with homeless people in the Crypt at St Botolph’s, Aldgate, on the staff was Ken who had a desk downstairs.  Ken was extremely generous in encouraging and supporting me as I worked out my way forward and struggled spiritually as to what it meant to be working in a very raw place with people on the sharpest end of structural sin.  There was a lot of beer and laughter and funny stories to leaven it all – life was about Kingdom living as well as struggle.

Ken’s clear vision of the inseparability of prayer, effective social action and prophetic witness are vital here.  I have carried them with me since.  Ken introduced me to the Sisters of the Love of God and to the Carmelite tradition.  He was wonderful at connecting people as well as traditions.  I have a clear memory of an afternoon sitting on the floor of Ken’s sitting room in that Whitechapel attic as a crowd of us listened to Dorothee Soelle.  His vision is needed today as we fight the current repackaged brand of Thatcherism and its assault on those who have least in Britain.

His books are such an important legacy.  He had a rare ability to write engaged and engaging theology in a way that was utterly clear and readable (although he would roll his eyes when people thought there were two Ken Leeches – the one that wrote about prayer, and the one that wrote about politics).  The books I turn to the most are Spirituality and Pastoral Care and the small Jubilee Pamphlet The Anglo Catholic Social Conscience.  These pull together Ken’s passion and anger, his humour, his subversive orthodoxy, and his nurture of others, especially young priests.

He spent a weekend with us at St Bede’s, when I was fairly new in post, helping us to discern a vision and way forward as we tried to find a model of social engagement for a Church that was not about delivering projects.  He helped us come up with something that was sustainable and which went with our culture and energies.

He was an exceptional preacher.  I remember his sermon at my First Mass where he spoke of Jesus and brokeness.  Jesus broke bread, broke the rules and boundaries, broke Mary’s heart, lived with broken people, and was profoundly broken himself.  This was the heart of priestly ministry; it was to be the heart of my ministry; it was at the heart of much of Ken and his life.

I was really glad I managed to visit him and Julie, his wife, a few weeks before he died.

Thank you Ken.  Love and prayers.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you for this lovely tribute.

Memory eternal.

Comment by cathy

I am sorry for your loss Andy.
I have been reflecting lately on how blessed we are to have people like this friend of yours in our lives, friends who share what they have found, their fire and light, their heart and soul in the end… and at the same time, how blessed we are for at times being able to stop, look around, and find these people… I am always at awe when I reflect why it is “me” the one chosen to share with them part of their journey.

Warm hugs,

Comment by Cris M

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