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26th January 2009
John Field
John Field died on 17 January, aged 76. A thanksgiving service is being planned for him in Rochester Cathedral.

Obituary: John Field

John Field served for five years as National Moderator for Reader Training and was one of the first honorary Lay Canons of Rochester Cathedral. He was a Reader in the Church of England for almost 50 years.

John became a Reader in the Salisbury Diocese in February 1960. He and his wife Heather had moved to Wiltshire when he joined the staff of a boarding school on the edge of Salisbury Plain, and John realised that there was a need for someone to assist the chaplain of the school in administering Holy Communion. In those days, apart from priests and deacons, only Readers with the Bishop's special permission were allowed to do this.

Looking back in the 1990s, John recalled: “The prospect of speaking from the pulpit was daunting. My first sermon was delivered in March 1960 to 300 teenagers who had walked a mile to church (as they had to every Sunday morning) and I needed to challenge those who chose to sit behind the huge pillars to avoid getting involved!” He tried to speak as if without notes, but the headmaster told him, “I knew you were reading that …”

Years later, John said: “I still find it daunting to preach, and the need to try to reach all the congregation and to encourage people to think about the faith is as great a challenge as it ever was with a captive congregation of youngsters.

“So why do some of us do it? Because we feel compelled to do so. It is part of our sense of calling.”

John’s work as a Reader continued in the Diocese of Canterbury when in 1964 he and his family moved to Kent so that he could head the science department at Dover Grammar School for Boys.

Five years later he became headteacher of a secondary school in north-west Kent and was licenced to the Diocese of Rochester.

As well as being a headteacher, John was also involved with training adult leaders in the Scout movement and with training senior managers in the education service. This experience somehow naturally paved the way in 1988 for him to accept the role of Director of Reader Training in Rochester, planning and organising the training of those preparing to be Readers in the diocese.

In 1994 John went to Lambeth Palace for the launch of a book, To Live and Work to God's Praise and Glory, which he had co-authored for the Mothers’ Union with Sarah James, then Warden of Readers in Rochester. A series of six studies for parish groups, the book includes a preface by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Also in 1994, the Church of England needed a National Moderator for Reader Training, willing to work with people in 43 dioceses to enhance the training provided by these dioceses and to oversee the cross-moderation of the various schemes, all of which have to comply with national criteria.

By now retired from paid employment, John took on that job and until 1999 went once a week to Church House in Westminster.

As National Moderator he also travelled the length and breadth of the country (including regular visits to York, Preston, Sheffield, Retford, Stourbridge, Cambridge, Barnstaple, and Wimbledon), meeting the diocesan bishops, making new contacts, spreading other people’s good ideas and running local training events and conferences.

This gave John opportunities to visit most of the cathedrals and many tourist attractions. A Reader conference in Newcastle in 1996 made possible what he described as a “memorable and very inspiring visit” to Holy Island (Lindisfarne).

In 1996, part way through his “tour of duty” as National Moderator for Reader Training, Sarah James moved to Gloucestershire and John was asked to take over from her as Warden of Readers. So he combined the two jobs for just over three years.

John’s role as Warden of Readers included listening to people’s accounts of their faith journeys when interviewing them to see if they were suitable for Reader training. He also brought a lay perspective to diocesan committees and was committed to working for a climate of collaborative ministry.

When he relinquished the diocesan Warden of Readers post in 2002, John was honoured with farewell speeches and generous gifts at the annual conference of the Diocesan Readers’ Association in Rochester. He preached a sermon in Rochester Cathedral and his brother Christopher directed a specially convened choir that sang items he had written for the occasion.

In 2001 Rochester Cathedral made John one of its first honorary Lay Canons, but he was required to vacate the stall in the choir when he passed his 70th birthday less than a year later and he was appointed Lay Canon Emeritus.

When he became ill with pancreatic cancer in the summer of 2007, John reacted in characteristic fashion by continuing with his duties as a Reader – preaching, conducting funerals and other services - and with his many other contributions to the organisation of church activities in the parish of Fawkham and Hartley in Kent. Indeed he conducted his last funeral on the day before he died.

John Field died on 17 January, aged 76. A thanksgiving service is being planned for him in Rochester Cathedral.


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