All of us in this place today share at least two connections: our faith, and our friendship with, admiration of, and indeed love for a very special servant of God.
Father Jeremy played an active role in the Governing Body of the Church in Wales, where he had served as an elected and appointed Member since 1982. Some four years ago he was appointed a Member of the Panel of Chairmen of that Body, and indeed he chaired part of the last meeting, in September 2011, with his usual courtesy and good humour.
As the Right Reverend the Bishop of Swansea & Brecon remarked in his eulogy at Fr Jeremy’s Requiem Mass: “Delivering crisp and gently wicked one-liners was part of Jeremy’s stock in trade and even when they came from others in his direction he much enjoyed them.”
I know we will all agree that Jeremy greatly enjoyed life as a priest and leader. Outside of the churches under his guidance – Christchurch, St Peter’s Llanwenarth Citra, and Holy Trinity – Jeremy also served as the Diocesan Children’s Adviser and was a Bishop’s Visitor to church schools within the diocese. He encouraged many vocations to the priesthood, and was a valued spiritual director, pilgrimage leader and at all times a most generous host.
I was personally a recipient of his persuasive talents when he suggested – and rarely did Jeremy suggest anything that had not been carefully planned – that I meet with the Most Reverend Dr Rowan Williams, our Archbishop at that time, to discuss the financial problems facing the Church in Wales. As a result of Jeremy’s intervention, I agreed to assist and was appointed to chair the Representative Body. Almost immediately thereafter the Archbishop in question was translated! I hope this hasty move neither reflected the size of the task nor my ability to cope with it!
As a staunch traditionalist, Jeremy was appointed to a small panel of the Governing Body which drafted a Bill for the appointment of women bishops in 2009. His amendment, which called for the reappointment of a provincial assistant bishop, was defeated (I am very pleased to see the Right Reverend Bishop David Thomas with us today). It has been widely acknowledged that the defeat of this amendment contributed greatly to the defeat of the Bill itself at that time. He was always unfailingly courteous to those who did not share his views, even when some told him that “there is no place for you in this church”.
But in our church, this church, the Priory Church of St Mary, there was certainly a place for him, and indeed it was transformed during his 18-year incumbency. When he arrived there were no facilities for meetings and events, and he immediately set about putting in train a project to build an adjoining Priory Centre and to repair and refurbish surviving parts of the old Priory. Successful in fund raising and helped considerably by the Heritage Lottery Fund, he received the support of The Prince of Wales who became Patron of the St Mary’s Priory Development Trust. His Royal Highness officially opened the facilities for both church and community activities in 2000.
In 1999, a year before the completion of the Priory Centre, the wonderful Tithe Barn came onto the market and within three weeks Fr Jeremy led the raising of £100,000 to buy the building. The once severely dilapidated 12th Century barn is now a remarkable heritage centre explaining both the history and development of this church and the town to the many tourists, local visitors, and – importantly – to schoolchildren. It also houses the magnificent Millennium Tapestry created by the endeavours of some 60 volunteers led by Sheila Bevan, and so enthusiastically supported by Fr Jeremy. Successfully restored as a community resource for church and town, the Tithe Barn was opened – again by our Patron, His Royal Highness, in 2008.
Soon after Jeremy’s arrival, the magnificent collection of tombs and monuments in the Herbert Chapel described by Dr John Newman as, I quote: “one of the outstanding series of medieval monuments in the British Isles”, received his full attention. They were desperately in need of restoration. Volunteers from the local history society had formed a fund. Fr Jeremy became involved in inspiring and propelling the venture forward. The campaign to restore the church and its nationally important collection of medieval monuments is regarded as one of the great conservation triumphs in Wales since the Second World War. The Heritage Lottery Fund provided a most generous grant of £430,000, more than ever offered previously to a Welsh church.
He also recognised the significance of the much-neglected Jesse Tree, carved in the 12th Century from a single oak, and described in a BBC series as “the only great wooden figure to survive the wreckage of the British Cultural Revolution”. In 2003 Jeremy arranged the loan of this figure to the Tate Gallery for their exhibition “Gothic Art, 1400-1547”. I am also told that the Smithsonian Museum showed great interest in purchasing it.
He also turned his skill as a musician to encourage and rebuild the significance of the musical tradition, identifying Tim Pratt as Musical Director of a fine church choir that they created together.
In 2008 he became a Trustee of the Friends of Friendless Churches with whose work in Wales he had been closely associated for several years. Like everything that he turned his attention to, he enthusiastically embraced this charity which is supported both by CADW and by the Church in Wales.
Our prayers over these past few months for the repose of his soul and for the sureness of his journey will, I am sure, be answered. We must uphold his legacy by living our lives encouraged by the way he lived his own.
Jeremy was a quite extraordinary and inspirational person. How fortunate we all are that our lives have been touched and enhanced by his presence, and by his concern for us all.