Obituaries

Revd John Howe Greene BD AKC

1922 - 2012

This obituary has been compiled from contributions made by: Sir Frank Sanderson and Alan Baldock, Burwash; Geoff & Sonia Rix, Lodsworth and Petworth; Peter Hurcombe, Hurstpierpoint.

John Greene was born in 1922 and was brought up in Liverpool, where his father ran the family building business. It was here that John developed his love of carpentry and joinery – skills which he used throughout his life for the benefit of many people.

John studied at King’s College, London, where he was President of the Students Union and from where he obtained his Divinity degree in 1949. He and Lois married that same year. He was ordained at Lichfield Cathedral and served his Curacy in Drayton in Hales, Lichfield from 1949-52 and Stoke-on-Trent from 1952-56. His first Incumbency was as Vicar of Wilnecote in Staffordshire between 1956 and 1962.

Lodsworth

Following a period of illness, John next served as Rector at the Parish of Lodsworth with Selham in the Diocese of Chichester. It was whilst at Lodsworth that he discovered the joy of bells and change ringing, learning to ring on the 4 bells in this village church. By 1966 he had augmented the 4 to 6 and rung in the first peal on the bells, his first peal, in which his daughter Gillian rang the treble. The tower became a strong 6 bell ringing centre and in 1968 John rang inside to the record-making 43 Surprise Minor peal in which Chris Fynes rang both the 2nd & 3rd and also conducted.

John’s pastoral care in the parish is still remembered by the village over 50 years later. He started the parish magazine Outlook, using an old Gestetner copy machine, housed in the upstairs spare room of an eminent parishioner. Outlook is still running today. Another of John’s innovative projects was the building of the South Door, to enable parishioners to get to service without walking through the ropes. He also commissioned what was then a modern (and considered controversial by some), stained glass window for this new entrance.

Burwash

His next calling was to Burwash in 1969, where John was Rector of St Bartholomew’s for over six years. With their children Gillie and Nick, John and Lois left a profound legacy in the Parish and made many life-long friends. His incumbency here coincided with the implementation of the new Alternative Liturgy; he initiated the Parish into this new form of worship whilst maintaining the Book of Common Prayer for the 8am Communion and for a monthly Matins and Evensong.

John’s practical skills proved to be very useful, in re-arranging the High Altar and reredos, in making the long beams between the pillars to hold the Christmas candles and a large star for Christmas, which hung in the Chancel arch. The star eventually moved with him to Petworth.

Following the sad death of Mark Lavers in the 1967 Hither Green railway crash, Mark’s mother donated a light in his memory. John arranged that this should become the Aumbry for the Reservation of the Sacrament and the wooden door on the Aumbry was made by John becoming a lasting memorial to his time in Burwash.

Revival of the Sunday school, reinvigoration of the Parish Broadsheet and working parties to clear the Rectory garden jungle, were all instigated by John. He was also responsible for the ‘Nun-runs’, when Parishioners went to collect the Nuns from Dudwell St Mary convent for 8am Communion, as was tidying up the Churchyard prior to the arrival of the sheep!

One of John’s lesser known talents was also called into service whilst at Burwash, when he brewed the beer for his daughter Gill’s wedding!

Bellringing at Burwash flourished during John’s incumbency, with regular Sunday service and practice ringing taking place and a number of recruits being taught. As many as fifteen ringers were listed as members of the Sussex County Association in some years.

As with his Christian faith, he wonderfully and gently passed on his knowledge to others. He continued to advance his own ringing skills by attending other ringing practices in the area and by ringing peals on eight bells, some ten being rung whilst he was Rector. He was very proud to be elected as a member of the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths in 1972, for whom he rang 3 peals. He joined two other members of the Burwash band (Fred Lambert and David Reed), who were already members.

Petworth

In 1975, the Petworth ringers were very pleased to learn that John was coming back West to become Rector of their parish. He was welcomed of course with a peal. Shortly after his inauguration he was appointed Rural Dean, with the very difficult task of combining parishes in the Deanery, an appointment for which his thoughtful care for people and an outgoing personality equipped him well.

The tower was one of his recreations, his time off, away from the issues of the day. He liked nothing more than a strong practice night, a welcome for visiting bands and ringing as part of the parish events. He usually came to ring briefly before service and would always come and ring for a wedding. The time the bride and groom took to walk down the aisle was sufficient for him to get from the vestry, up the stairs and take the 6th.

Always a developer of a parish, John organised the much needed restoration of Petworth’s fine Brindley and Foster organ, by Bishops of Ipswich, a huge and expensive operation even back then. St Mary’s church music was taken to new heights when John persuaded David Owen Norris, an excellent musician, to become Music Director. John was also involved with the start of the Petworth Music Festival which is still running today, stronger than ever.

His carpentry and wood carving skills were much in evidence in the joint stools he made for St Marys, which are still in use. He also carved signs for Egdean and Sutton churches.

Not long after he announced his intention to retire, he took the Annual Divisional Ringers’ Service at Wisborough Green. In his address he spoke movingly of how much ringing had meant to him; the fellowship he’d encountered and the generosity of understanding he had received from other ringers as he made his way from adult learner to change ringer. However, the thought and time he gave to the people of the parishes in his care must not be overlooked or forgotten. He was a real friend and is well remembered.

Hurstpierpoint

Life can be very strange, sometimes. I often think back and wonder at the way that my life has developed, and the small incidents that have later become quite significant. One such occasion was a peal of Lincolnshire for the local Rector at Burwash in 1972. I had not met John Greene before, but he was clearly a very keen ringer, and we scored the peal without too many mishaps.

A few years later, the Priest who married Kate and I in Bristol in 1967, and who was a great personal friend from my early days in Gloucester, retired, and moved to Burwash. Here, he assisted the Rector, John, in his Parochial duties. Eventually John moved to Petworth, and over the years, I met him on a number of occasions there. In 1988, he retired.

I remember at the time, my next door neighbour telling me that he was moving and that we were to have a retired priest to live next to us. When I asked where he was from I was told Petworth. He was quite startled when I said, “Good heavens; are we to have John Greene to live here?” Sure enough in due course John arrived, and I welcomed him to Hurstpierpoint, where, of course, he joined the local band. I was Tower Captain at the time, and the band was very strong. John progressed to ring London and Bristol, and often “four spliced” on a Sunday morning.

However, it was as my neighbour that John will always be particularly remembered by me. We never lived in each other’s pockets. Indeed, particularly in the latter years as we became more infirm, we often didn’t see each other for several days at a time. But in those early years John was a bundle of energy. He was a very gifted man, practically, and could turn his hand to anything. The people of Petworth had presented John with an electric saw amongst other things, on his retirement (Bless them!) and it wasn’t long before John bought a shed which he converted into a splendid workshop, and he proceeded to make all sorts of quite wonderful things.

He always said that I never gave him an easy job to do! He made and installed the handrail on the spiral staircase to the belfry in Hurst. This involved some intricate measuring and then bending steel tubes to shape before fixing them to the wall. Many of us have been so thankful for this assistance over the years. On a personal note, John made for me a curved cupboard door to fit under the hand basin in the downstairs loo; a fitted box for some stone chessmen that I had bought, and probably the piece de resistance, a magnificent chess board, which was beautifully inlaid – an exquisite work of art. He wanted to make a box to put it in, but it had to fit under my settee. So John took up sewing, and made a magnificent hand-stitched leather case to house it – yet another example of his wonderful talent.

Between 1988 and 2000, John rang 53 quarter peals at Holy Trinity in Hurstpierpoint, in methods ranging from Plain Bob Doubles to Cambridge Surprise Major; over half were Grandsire Triples.

He was a much respected member of the Sussex County Association of Change Ringers and was elected to Life Membership in 1988. He rang 28 peals, 24 of which were for the Sussex Association. He was also a member of the committee which carried out the last revision of the Association’s form of service.

John served the village for nigh on twenty years as an assistant priest and at one time as acting Chaplain to Hurstpierpoint College. He was active in the Church until at least 2006, helping with a number of interregna, before eventually his health deteriorated. His dear wife Lois worked tirelessly as she had always done to support and nurture John as he grew weaker, until she too succumbed to heart problems, and was taken into hospital. John entered a Nursing Home in Haywards Heath, where after a visit by Lois and Gillie, he passed away peacefully on 16th February 2012.

John was a lovely man, a dedicated and caring priest, and a great friend. He will be sorely missed. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to Lois, Gillie, Nick and his six grandchildren.

At his funeral, the address was given by the Rt Revd Gordon Mursell. As a young man, he lived in Lodsworth when John was the Parish Priest and was much helped and inspired by him. He ended his address with the following words. “We thank God for John’s quiet, undemonstrative but utterly transparent faith, which sustained him and inspired so many of us; for the care and commitment he brought to everything he did, and everyone he knew; for his terrific sense of humour; for his sheer humanity and warmth; for his loyalty, his integrity, and his love”.

We are indeed privileged to have been considered his friends.

SUE ELRICK
Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex

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