The Reverend Prebendary John Slater 01/07/04
The Revd Mark Oakley remembers one of London's best loved priests who died on Sunday 27 June 2004.
John Slater, born in 1945, began life as a Lancashire boy who went to Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School before going to Kings College London to read History. He knew he wanted to be ordained from a quite early age and his later studies at Westcott House, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and at Union Theological College, New York, began a lifelong passion for theology and biblical scholarship.
John was ordained deacon in 1970 and priest in 1971. He served as Curate of All Saints’, Margaret Street, and quickly earned a reputation for being an intelligent and inspiring preacher. He was also known for being one of the most handsome priests in London! John went on to serve as Vicar of St Saviour’s, Warwick Avenue (1977-83), and then as Vicar of St John’s Wood (1983-01). He was appointed Area Dean of St Marylebone (1992-01) and a Prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral (1999). In 2001 he became the parish priest of St George’s, Hanover Square.
John was very much a Catholic Anglican, nourished and excited by the tradition of Christian faith, and he was also full of liberality, intellectual generosity and was a natural explorer of ideas. He was fond of quoting John Henry Newman that “to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”. He knew that the soil of tradition has to be turned over to be made fresh and for growth to take place. He preached sermons as if his life depended on it. His rhetorical style was passionate and emphatic, the listeners felt that the Gospel was communicating to both head and heart. The worship of God was of primary importance to John and he would often say that the Sunday liturgy was the highlight of his week. He loved music and the resonance of words. He also encouraged his parishes to celebrate their life together with great parties with wonderful food and plenty of bubbly. Although essentially a private man he was sparklingly sociable, hospitable and welcoming to a fault.
In St John’s Wood John was very supportive of Jewish-Christian dialogue and the Liberal Jewish Synagogue became a close friend of St John’s. He had a deep love of Jerusalem and spent time there on a study leave. He was also a proud Chaplain of the King’s Troop and nothing made him prouder than the shell that had been fired on the anniversary of the Queen’s coronation that the Mess gave to him when he left. John also trained many curates through the years and many of us stayed in close touch with John and still often catch ourselves from time to time doing or saying something directly influenced by John.
The remarkable thing about John was that he was at heart very modest and found it difficult to accept just how widely loved and admired he was. His parishioners all very quickly came to see John first and foremost as their friend. He was fiercely loyal to people and at times unable to see other’s faults. He was stubbornly committed to families he had conducted marriages and burials for, to the point of insisting on taking a funeral in Kent for a man whose relatives he had previously buried, even though he was terribly ill at the time and needed a lot of assistance. He maintained friendships with an enormous variety of people across the world.
He was someone who embraced life as fully as he was able and he was very much invigorated by studying the culture, politics and ideas of humanity through the generations (very much a case of Cicero’s homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto: I am a man; and I consider nothing that concerns mankind a matter of indifference to me).
The day John died was very special. He was anointed in the morning and in the afternoon, surrounded by those he cared for, he died peacefully as the Lord’s Prayer was being said. He was 59. He had served the Diocese of London for 34 years (he never worked, he used to say, further than a mile from Marble Arch) and he goes on his journey with the affection and gratitude of all of those he has encouraged and strengthened by his ministry and friendship. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.