September 21, 1923 – January 1, 1999.
Honorary Assistant Curate of the parish of St Michael and All Angels, St Michael’s.
John Gray would have been thrilled to see St Michael’s packed and bursting at the seams, with people even having to stand at the back. However, his delight would probably have turned to horror to know all the people were there not for a concert but for his funeral. Such was the man. St Michael’s was everything to him. It was his life, his love and his family for over 40 years. How appropriate that in death he was buried in the churchyard at the East end near to the founder, Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley, where he will be a part of the future of St Michael’s, as well as such a big part of its past.
John died on New Year’s Day, aged 75. He had not been in the best of health for some time, but his death came as a massive shock to everyone. He was one of those people who didn’t seem to age, somebody who would be around for ever. The fact that the church was packed for his funeral service showed the respect and affection in which he was held.
The service was taken by the Rev. Duncan Dormor, Priest-in-Charge at St Michael’s, and the address given by the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Rev. John Oliver. The Bishop said it was no exaggeration that John had saved St. Michael’s from quite likely closure by his determination, enthusiasm and pastoral care and all that he had done for the church since the College closed in 1985. And he emphasised that St Michael’s future was ensured.
The Bishop said: “John Gray was in some ways a lonely figure, a private person, almost without family or personal friends in a conventional social sense. But there are many hundreds of his former pupils and his parishioners for whom John was a real and true friend, who remember him with deep and enduring affection, who have a very strong sense of loss and bereavement at his sudden and unexpected death. He served St Michael’s, college and church, with devotion and distinction. He shared his faith with generations of young people, he kindled and nurtured a love of art and a deep appreciation of it.”
Also present at the service were the Bishop of Ludlow the Rt. Rev. John Saxbee, who led the prayers, and his predecessor who had ordained John, the Rt. Rev. Ian Griggs. Former members of the College, teachers and pupils, turned out in strength as did villagers and parishioners and many other friends from Tenbury and further afield. College old boys and members of the Birmingham University Liturgical Choir helped to make up a choir ~ and former pupil Simon Holt played the organ. Psalm 139 was sung, the hymns were ‘Dear lord and Father of mankind’, ‘When all thy mercies’ and ‘Ye choirs of new Jerusalem’. The lesson, read by Canon D.H.Boyling, was from John 14 and at the end of the service the choir sang the Nunc Dimittis to the setting in Bb by Stanford. After the Committal everyone retired to the parish hall for tea and refreshments.
John Gray was born and brought up in Bromsgrove and educated there and at the Royal College of Music. He was a musician and artist but above all a teacher of great commitment and devotion to his work. His teaching career began at a prep school in Derbyshire and he spent some years as a Methodist lay preacher in the Uttoxeter Circuit.
John started at St Michael’s College in 1957, appointed by the then Warden, the Rev. Dick Stride. He taught art, religious knowledge, Latin, swimming and rugby and started up the Pioneers, the college’s Scout-type organisation. He also sang bass in the college’s famed choir. He left the school in 1984, a year before it closed, and set up his studio in Tenbury, teaching art.
But St Michael’s was always his main concern in life, and knowing its need he set himself on the path to becoming its priest. As John himself said: “When one door closes another opens.. .I see the hand of God in the pattern of my life.” He had been licensed as a Reader in 1970, now he was conscious of a call to ordained ministry, and he was ordained a deacon in ‘1989 and became curate of St Michael’s a year later. PCC secretary Mary Thorpe said at the time: “He has given us hope for the future through his enthusiasm and love of St Michael’s Church His help to visiting clergy has given us continuity at a time when it was so desperately needed following the closure of St Michael’s College.”
We will all miss him.
Former pupil and head boy at St Michael’s College, secretary of the SMC Society.
Article reproduced from ‘The Sword’ Magazine