Respects paid to well-loved vicar Bodiam and Ewhurst vicar, Gordon Winchester

Rev Gordon Winchester
Rev Gordon Winchester

Tributes have been paid to a much-loved vicar who has died.

Reverend Gordon Law Winchester passed away, aged 66 on June 12.

Residents from the parishes of Bodiam and Ewhurst this week paid their respects.

Church wardens of Bodiam, Deborah Clayton-Hatfield and Graham Peters said: “Gordon had a unique gift of uniting all members of St Giles and the wider community of Bodiam, including Bodiam Primary School, with his understated manner, good humour and genuine interest in everyone he met.

“He was a man whose insouciant and inclusive manner belied a robust theological intellect. He embraced technology, understanding that to do so enabled him to reach out even more thoroughly to his parishioners. However even Gordon’s IT skills were tested during one memorable service when the unreliable electric organ delighted the parishioners with the theme tune to Mission Impossible rather than the ordained pre-communion hymn.

“As always, Gordon took it all in his stride with a wry smile and an apology that he was not in fact Tom Cruise.

“Gordon’s smile, his wisdom and his unfailing support to all of the Bodiam community will be cherished by many generations who had the privilege to know him.”

Born in Aberdeen but brought up in Buckie, a fishing village on the Moray Firth, Rev Winchester studied music at the Royal Scottish Academy.

After graduating, he played the violin for the academy of the BBC Orchestra and later, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, where he and Judy met.

He enjoyed his life as a musician but felt the calling to ministry, and he left the orchestra to go to theological college in Bristol. Half-way through his studies there, he and Judy married.

Rev Winchester was ordained in 1982 at Chester Cathedral and began his ministry as a curate in Cheadle, Cheshire, after which he was appointed to the English-Speaking Church in Amsterdam.

The family returned to England in 1988 and Gordon became curate of Holy Cross, Hove where he stayed for more than seven years.

He and Judy then moved to Wandsworth where he ran a busy London parish.

Resident Denise Wilkes said: “Gordon was a great communicator and I enjoyed our chats over the garden gate, his stories about village life and his enthusiasm for France was very evident.

“He would always make time for you and never gave the impression he was in a hurry, even though I am sure he had lots to do.

“His twinkle in his eyes lit up when he discussed passionate subjects and I know he cared greatly for the community. I shall miss him and when I walk through the village. I know his spirit will be there and visualise his many walks he had with his dog.”

Glynne Topham said: “A modest and compassionate man who endeared himself with a gentle wit. He loved his fellow human beings, and was greatly loved by them.

“Whether preaching or walking his dog, he exuded Christian joy, and was widely held in warm affection.”

John Barnes, deputy warden of St Mark’s, said: “Gordon was someone who reached many people in Staplecross and Cripps Corner. He attended the various Staplecross School services held in St Mark’s Church and therefore met many of the children and local families.

“It is evident from the comments on the Staplecross Village Facebook page that he was greatly loved and appreciated.

“Gordon enjoyed walking, especially with his dog, when he met parishioners who might not attend church regularly, but were seen as part of his flock.”

Ian Stephenson, resident in Ewhurst Green and member of the parish council, said: “Gordon was a kind, loving man with the ability to connect with people.

“I am not the most regular of church attendees and therefore it might be surprising for me to say that I shall miss his sermons.

“When he entered the pulpit I used to look forward to what he had to say and always left church wanting to be a better person after listening to his words. I shall miss him greatly.”

Jo Goodwin, church warden at St James The Great, Ewhurst Green, said: “I have such happy memories of Gordon and Judy. I was taken to meet them in 2005 by Ben Reeve to see if I would meet the ‘approval of the new rector’ to be a church warden.

“They were in the kitchen unpacking as they had just moved in. Apparently it was alright, so after that famous grin we never looked back. A very happy working relationship.”

Peter Smith, also church warden at St James’ church, said: “We had not long moved to the village when it was mooted that the rectory was very poorly insulated and cold in the winter.

“Judy, particularly, was feeling the cold. So a private anonymous fund was set up by generous benefactors in the village to install a wood burner and provide logs.

“Initially Gordon and Judy were both delighted, but even more so when he was unwell last winter. We heard that he could get comfortable sitting in front of the wood burner doing his Sudoku.

“We feel as a parish we were truly blessed with his 12 years with us.”

Rev Winchester’s funeral is at St James The Great, Ewhurst Green today (Friday) at 2.30pm. All are welcome but there will be a private family-only burial after the service. No flowers please, but anyone wishing to make a donation to Hospice in the Weald can send it to c/o C Waterhouse & Sons, High Street, Burwash, East Sussex TN19 7ET.

Ring 01435 882219 or email funerals@cwaterhouse.co.uk.

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