Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Past Vicars of St Peter's (3) - Fr Edward ('Ted') Finch

Father Edward Finch (RIP) - Vicar of St Peter's 1959-1970
June 2009 - Obituary by Revd Chris Elliott, former curate of St Peter's
Edward Finch was born in 1923. When he left school he joined the Royal Navy and served on a converted fishing boat on convoy watch. During his time in the Navy he felt a call to ordination and studied for a degree in Sociology at London University before going to Salisbury Theological College which was still run as a semi-monastic community so wives and families were never allowed near the place, fairly recently married, his wife, Muriel and young child were consigned to a rented house in Dorset.

His title was served in Wealdstone, where former youth club members still remember with gratitude his pantomimes which were subsequently taken on tour to East Grinstead (where he served his second curacy, and to Walthamstow, where he was Vicar of St. Peters-in-the-Forest from 1959 until 1971.

It was here that his ministry took real shape as the redundant Victorian Vicarage, nestling, as was the church, in the southern tip of Epping Forest came to house many activities serving the parish, the deanery and the borough. This was Peterhouse nd was part of the vision that Ted had for the church. The then Medical Officer of Health for the London Borough Waltham Forest spoke glowingly of the Social Responsibility Centre established by Ted and others in Peterhouse as an “Equal partnership between Church and State”. Here were full time staff meeting emergency requests from Social and Mental Health Workers, here were “Learning to Earning” conferences for 6th formers; here were volunteers being trained to help with local clubs for the elderly and disabled; here were Lay Training Courses for members from churches throughout the borough studying the Bible, Church History, Ethics, Care of the Sick and Dying, human relationships and so much more that is now assumed into diocesan courses. And then in the evening, when all these activities died down, the house would hum to the ministrations of the Youth Club, when upwards of a hundred or so would descend to enjoy the coffee bar, the music, the pool table and just relax (and smoke!)

Nor was the parish neglected, compulsory wedding and baptism classes were a regular feature, and baptisms were always conducted in the midst of parish worship – unusual for the 1960’s. Wednesday night was Church Night – once a month Mothers’ Union, once a month the Parish Meeting to which ALL were invited, usually there was no agenda, and anybody could raise any subject whatever, and often the agenda for the PCC, two weeks later, was formulated, and enacted. It was always a lively parish in which all, young and old had a part to play.

Ted, (“the late Vicar” as he was called because he always was rushing from one thing to another, rarely arriving on time), was deeply committed to the Social Gospel, persuaded the parish and the diocese of Chelmsford that a parcel of land close to the church Hall should be turned into sheltered housing. From this parochial seed eventually sprung Springboard Housing Association (Now subsumed into Genesis) which by 2005 had 5000 housing units served over 10,000 people in East London, Essex and Hertfordshire. At the time of his death
Ted was still Life President – of which he was rightly proud.

In 1971 he was persuaded by Bishop Tiarks to take a residentary canonry at Chelmsford and develop this work across the diocese of Chelmsford. This involved oversight of many “moral welfare” organisations, mother and baby homes, and the like. Many of these regarded themselves as local and independent and resented any hint of diocesan control, so Ted’s skills of listening, bridge building, and negotiation came to the fore, as over the next fifteen years he walked on egg shells but also developed the work of the Department of Mission building teams of folk across the diocese that had specialist skills in social care, evangelism, housing, and (after 1978) fostering links with linked dioceses in Kenya and Trinidad and Tobago.

In 1985 Ted moved sideways. The last recession had deeply affected him and the lack of a realistic response from the Church. With the Interface Association he turned his attention to the restoration of Moulsham Mill close by the Army and Navy Pub on the old A 12. This was a dilapidated water mill belonging to Marriages Flour. It was a landmark locally, and under Ted’s leadership it provided an opportunity for unemployed men and women to gain skills and crafts to improve their job prospects. Today it still runs as a building housing small businesses, retail outlets, charities and community groups.

In the midst of all this Ted took a Masters degree in Sociology. He wrote a thesis on the status of Migrant Workers which led to some work with the United Nations as consultant to two committees, one allocating grants to a variety of welfare projects, the other in responsible tourism, ensuring that profits from tourism went to local communities affected by tourism.

His gospel was a simple one, of care for the downtrodden, of a faith in a Saviour who was himself down trodden and who blazed the trail of new Life as a gift for all.

Ted died, after a short illness in February, and a Service of Thanksgiving for his life was held at Pakenham, Suffolk, on 24th April 2009.
Ted leaves a widow, Muriel and five children, Ruth, Helen, Claire, Peter, and Richard.

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