Fr Ken Leech, an encourager of our work at St Chrysostom’s, spoke recently in our series of talks ‘Prophetic Voices,’ on “Fr Gresham Kirkby, Priest and Anarchist.”
Fr Kirkby was an independent and radical Anglo Catholic priest who for over 40 years was parish priest of an East End parish, St Paul’s, Bow Common. His first post was as curate, not far from St Chrysostom’s at Our Lady of Mercy and St Thomas of Canterbury, Gorton.
At the heart of Fr Kirkby’s theology and priesthood was the view, that the “Kingdom of God is the regulative principle of theology.” He was fundamentally a priest of God’s kingdom and if that meant challenging worldly authority, so be it – even if it meant going to prison (he was imprisoned for civil disobedience offences in 1961).
Suspicious of bishops and ecclesiastical authority, Fr Kirkby designed and had built St Paul’s, Bow Common as a simple place of ‘liturgy in the round,’ thus stressing the equality of all. There was no priest’s stall, and all the furnishings were on the same level and moveable, except the central altar. Like the pioneering Vicar of Thaxted, Fr Conrad Noel, Gresham Kirkby was a liturgical pioneer with a sense of the dramatic.
Fr Kirkby is a representative of a type of priest sadly becoming rather rare – the radical Anglo Catholic priest prepared to challenge the establishment. His ‘prophetic voice’ encourages the church today, and the individual christian, to be radical, challenging, and pastoral.
The Guardian obituary of Fr Gresham Kirkby, written by Fr Ken Leech can be found here.
Fr Kirkby’s essay, Kingdom Come, can be found on the Anglo Catholic Socialism site here.