Fr Ken Leech (b.39), a great priest, prophet and writer in the Church died yesterday in the evening (12th September). We were sorry to learn of the death of this great priest, and friend of St Chrysostom’s.
The funeral liturgy and eulogy can be found here.
Ken was born in a working class family in Manchester, and from an early age felt a call to priesthood. He often told how as a young man he came to St Chrysostom’s to attend a vocations conference which set him on the path to become a priest. In 1958, as a student, he went to live in the East End of London. For him that was to be ‘a real turning point,’ he wrote:
The East End has shaped me more than any place. Much of my time there, since 1958, has been involved with fighting fascism, working for decent housing, trying to create communities of resistance and solidarity.
Fr Ken became the leading representative of Christian Socialism in England. He served the majority of his ministry in the East End as priest, community theologian, author and pastor. Throughout his ministry he tackled homelessness and drug dependency. He was founder and director of the Soho Drugs Group, a founder and director of Centrepoint, and director of the Runnymede Trust 1987-1990. A convinced socialist and radical Anglo Catholic Fr Ken loved the fun and ‘twinkle’ of Anglo Catholicism while at the same time challenging what he described as the ‘gin, lace and backbiting’ sub culture. He was a firm supporter of LGBT rights and a Catholic ministry ordaining women as priests and bishops.
Ken coined the phrase ‘subversive orthodoxy‘ to describe his ministry and outlook. Archbishop Rowan Williams, commenting on the lack of radical prophecy in the Church of England has said We need a voice like this … speaking with unsubdued feeling about the gospel. The plain truth is that no one else writes with such authority about the pastoral (and prophetic) task in our church.
Fr Ken retired to his home area and in 2011 suffered complications during surgery, from which he never fully recovered. He has been tenderly cared for in his later years by Julie, his wife. Recently Ken and Julie have been worshipping at St Chrysostom’s and Fr Chris anointed Julie and Ken and gave them Communion a few hours before he died.
Fr Ken has been a great inspiration to Fr Ian in his ministry and Fr Ian was pleased to be able to be with him and Julie for a while before Ken died. Several years ago Ken gave a lecture at St Chrysostom’s on an influential priest in his life, Fr Gresham Kirkby, and more recently told us of a special holy place in his life.
We thank God for Fr Ken’s prophetic and challenging ministry in the Church, we pray for the repose of his soul, and pray especially for Julie, Carl his son, and all who mourn him.
From a leaflet, Action for Revival, Fr Ken wrote in 1974: If spirituality and prophecy are not held together, both must decay. There must be contemplation and resistance, holiness and justice, prayer and politics. For our vision is of a God whose holiness fills heaven and earth, and who has called all people into freedom, justice and peace within his new order.