Saturday, March 07, 2009

John Fenton: Independent Obituary

Regular readers will know that I have been blogging everything I can find on the death of my beloved former tutor Canon John Fenton, adding also my own reflections. Now one of the great British New Testament scholars of the twentieth century adds his own fascinating obituary, a little later than all the others, in The Independent, with thanks to Frank Cranmer for alerting me to it:

The Reverend Canon John Fenton: Gregarious priest, teacher and scholar of the New Testament
Dennis Nineham

The obituary contains many delightful reflections that will strike a chord with anyone who knew Canon Fenton, and the following is an enjoyable characterization:
He is hard to describe because he was a sui generis, an unusual combination of opposites: a free spirit with his feet firmly on the ground; a speculative theologian who had something very earthy about him; a thoughtful man with bold ideas who advanced them with great diffidence; affable and outgoing but with a strong interior life; a deeply devout man who knew how to enjoy himself and help others to do the same.
I must admit that it is interesting to me to hear the reflections from churchmen about Canon Fenton's theology and devotion. I was somewhat impervious to the theological musings myself, except in so far as they nurtured my own scepticism.

Nineham's piece is not a eulogy but is a proper, warts-and-all obituary, with observations like the following:
He was a thoroughly good teacher and a striking and memorable preacher who always held his congregation's full attention, though a tendency to dwell at length on human shortcoming, very much including that of his hearers, occasionally caused some dismay.
I find that a little surprising, but perhaps I didn't have enough experience of Canon Fenton's sermons. He was well loved as our college catechist, as far as I can recall (Memories of John Fenton). I think "thoroughly good teacher" is a serious understatement too. He is one of the best teachers I have ever had, with a rare and remarkable understanding of the importance of encouragement. There are other remarks in the obituary which are a little unfortunate and which I will not quote here, but overall it is a worthy tribute to a great man.

1 comment:

Steve Hayes said...

I thought Nineham's obit was pretty good, though he passed over Fenton's time at St Chad's with one sentence, and that was where I knew him.