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Canon John Heidt, R.I.P.

2009 October 29
by Gordon Reid

CanonHeidtMuch will be written about Fr John Heidt in the coming days. He was a remarkable Anglo-Catholic priest, who served in both the Church of England and the American Episcopal Church, ending his ministry as Canon Theologian of the Diocese of Fort Worth.

I want to write just a few personal memories of Fr John, which I’d like to share.

First, we arrived at Oxford at the same time. I came south from Edinburgh and John and Katharine his wife flew over from Texas, and we met in the drawing room of the Warden of Keble, Dr Austin Farrer. John and Katharine had been given the apartment at the top of the Warden’s Lodging for their time in Oxford, and very soon their hospitable kitchen was a meeting place for many of us. It was there I met so many of those Americans who are still my friends now that I live in their country. Austin introduced us, saying something like: “Well, you are both exiles from foreign lands; you can have many a happy hour criticizing the English!”

John was an anima  naturaliter theologica as well, of course, as naturaliter catholica. He loved nothing more than to sit up to the wee sma’ hours debating (over many a glass of wine) any and every hot topic exercising the Church of the 1960′s. And the strange thing is, these were almost the same topics that are exercising the Church today. John had a gift of being able to write on such subjects and explain them to non-experts, and to this end he was always happiest when he was editing theological magazines, some of which he even founded. Such publications came and went, but John was always a willing contributer. He has kept this gift to the end, dying as editor of “Forward Now!”, the monthly magazine of Forward in Faith – North America.

For fifteen years, Fr John was Vicar of Up Hatherley in Gloucestershire. This is one of the few Anglo-Catholic churches in the Diocese of Gloucester, and Fr John soon had it full to the doors. He did this by a combination of his outgoing personality, the warm welcome he and Katharine gave to anyone who called at the Vicarage, and his willingness to try unusual forms of worship. I will never forget the astonishment on the face of the visiting Bishop who was to preside at a High Mass of Thanksgiving for some significant occasion, when – instead of Elgar’s “Ecce Sacerdos Magnus”, for example –  he entered the church to a vibrant rock band, drums rolling and cymbals clashing. I’m certain this was not Fr John’s favourite style, but at the party afterwards (and this was no coffee hour, I assure you!) I met the rock singer and discovered that –  leather jeans, earrings and all – he was about to go to seminary and train for the priesthood. And all because Fr John Heidt had convinced him that was the most exciting job in the world and that God would show him how to use his musical gifts in his ministry.

I am sure many other such stories can, and will, be told, now that Fr John has gone on to mediate between Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas, to check up on how many angels can really dance on the head of a needle, and enquire what Francis Xavier really thinks about the South India controversy –  not to mention what God thinks about Bishop Iker!

He has gone on in the hands of a loving Father who is welcoming him home as one who loved and served him to the utmost of his ability here on earth. And there will already be those waiting for him who owe their own faith to Fr John, just as there are many still here on earth who thank God for his witness. And that includes me.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Rodney permalink
    October 29, 2009

    Fr. Reed,

    Thank you for the wonderful write up on Canon Heidt and for sharing a few of the many stories that will surely be remembered among those who knew him – and with a smile!

    I had the pleasure of first meeting him when his son, Fr. Michael Heidt, became our rector at St. John’s in 2004. He had the most wonderful personality and a brilliant mind. Canon Heidt was also what is in such short supply these days in Anglicanism, an unapologetically staunch defender of our rightful claim as part of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church (and with no desire to swim the Tiber).

    For anyone who is interested, Canon Heidt had a blog for some time that gives a sampling of his mind, humor, and, most importantly, faith in Christ and His Church. Here is the link:

    http://fatherjohnheidt.blogspot.com/

    May he rest in peace and rise in glory!

    Rodney

    • Rodney permalink
      October 29, 2009

      Sorry, Fr. Reid, for absentmindedly spelling your name wrong on the previous post!

  2. Fr Michael Foster SSC permalink
    April 15, 2010

    I first met Fr John Heidt at St Mary’s Magdalene in Oxford, when I was a student at St Stephen’s House, and got to know him a little more through the generous hospitality of Dr William Oddie who was a fellow student. In-between terms I would stay for a week or more at William’s house, where Fr John would be a regular guest. It was that natural hospitality that made a lasting impression upon me – here were some very genuine and committed Christians, where hospitality was not contrived, but part and parcel of their Christian living.

    Post my three years in Oxford, I had lost all contact, but when my SSC mailings arrived with the membership roll, I would see Fr John Heidt’s name there to remind me of my time at Oxford.

    When Ft John was at St Philip and James, Up Hatherley, I was at Holy Jesus, Lydbrook, a village in an area of poverty, and low incomes. The Church, like that in Up Hatherley had become a thriving place – After School Club, Holiday Play schemes, three part time Children’s Officers, and a full time Community Care Worker, had developed from the energy which began through a lively Parish Mass. Both Churches had passed the three resolutions (No Woman to preside, No Woman to be Incumbent, and extended Episcopal oversight. The vote was 100% at Holy Jesus), and came under the Flying Bishop! These were the only two Churches in the Gloucester Diocese to have passed all three resolutions. I did have a quick chat by telephone with Fr John in that period; when he told me he was off to the USA. As I had been at Holy Jesus for nine years, I filled in an application for Up Hatherley, but was never considered. The last thing a Bishop wants is a Priest who might lead a Church to pass or maintain the Resolutions, especially the 3rd one. Having failed to gain yet another post where the Church had voted the first two resolutions in, I was told by a member of the interviewing panel privately, the Bishop had taken the view that the resolutions may have guaranteed the gender of the Priest, but not his views. I did eventually gain a move to a Catholic multi-Parish Benefice, with a sympathetic Bishop. I noticed that neither of our two former Gloucester Diocese Parishes comes under the extended Episcopal oversight. In an interregnum you need strong PCCs to resist the pressures to rescind the Resolutions.

    It was by chance I spotted your blog announcing Fr Heidt’ death. I was surprised by the news, as in my mind Fr John was an institution, who would always be around. His loss saddened me, as this side of Glory, there will never be the potential at least for me to have said to John, that his loyalty (that of a faithful servant) to the Anglican Church, despite the pressures to go where life is easier, where your fellow travellers share your views, has been an inspiration to many who struggle in serving in Churches to which God has called them, but which are now part of institutions, which to my mind, can no longer claim to be a part of the historic Catholic Church. Fr Michael Foster.

  3. sarah derrick (was gibbs) permalink
    July 8, 2010

    Iwas very close friends with father johns daughter teresa and we always used to help in the hall after service i lover the usic he imtroduced to the church it made is cool and fun i have wonderful memories of him with a drink and cigerette what i kind loving man he wil be missed my love and thoughts with his family x x x

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