Address from Kit's Funeral

This is an approximate transcript of the speech by Kit's children, Heather and Dominic Widdows, read as part of the preparation for communion.

Heather: I'd like to begin by thanking you for being here today and for the love Gillian, Dominic and I have been enfolded in since Kit's death. I think I speak for everyone when I say how soul wrenching it is to know that Kit is gone — and "it can't be true" is the first response! The hole he has left is huge — just how big will become clear over the months and years as we try to reshape lives without him. Whether exasperating or amazing us Kit was always the biggest presence in any room — there really is only one Kit — he is irreplaceable.

Dominic and I would like to take a few moments to talk to you a little about the Kit we knew — and share both our devastation at his death and our gratitude for all he taught us.

Dominic: John Christopher — Kit — Widdows was born in 1946 and died in 2007, but no pair of numbers could set limits on Kit. Look around his study and you'll see that Kit's world reached from the Big Bang to the present day as a springboard to the future, from galactic clusters to DNA and subatomic particles, with the story of humanity — and focussing this, the story of Jesus — as the ever moving centrepiece. Kit's parents were a great influence, on his faith, his devotion to service, and his love of learning. One example: when Kit was bedridden for several months with heart disease as a boy, they had the "Eagle" magazine delivered. Each installment had a fact sheet on some topic, which Kit's father John (who many of you knew) carefully glued onto the wall so Kit had something new to read. Though the whole experience was awful for a young boy, by the age of six, Kit knew all the world's longest rivers, capital cities, the US States, Roman Emperors, and many of us will remember Kit as a treasure trove of information — which he could always be prevailed upon to share! His education took him from Eldwick Primary School on the edge of Ilkley Moor, to Bradford Grammer Shool to Trinity College Cambridge, where he studied natural sciences at the feet of Sir Isaac Newton. Telescope addict and computer whizz-kid, Kit looked set for a stellar career with NASA or the Royal Observatory.

God had other ideas. By 1969, Kit married to Gillian, was training for the priesthood. Kit and Gillian served in Washington DC, Sunderland, Birmingham, Halifax, Newcastle, and many other places. While Heather and I were growing up in Halifax, a single weekend could see him researching ancient traditions for new acts of worship, practising the guitar, showing the cubs how to do the Rubik's cube (before the book came out!), building us a treehouse and a meccano telegraph to the kitchen window, taking off for a sick communion or a hospital visit, meeting at the Town Hall to discuss political district boundaries, cooking for a friend (if Kit cooked for you, you knew you had been cooked for!), printing service sheets in the days when to most people computers were something out of Blake's Seven and Doctor Who, but to Kit they were already another tool in his life quest to break down barriers between God and His people.

(The following paragraph was skipped in the speech due to time constraints, but is included here at Gillian's request.)

Kit campaigned for social justice and progress. First a political agent for the Labour Party, he joined the SDP in the quest for a Middle Way, years before there seemed to be any hope for a middle way in British Politics. Within the Church, Kit struggled against limiting ministry to the priesthood, against limiting the priesthood because on gender, and against limiting loving relationships based on sexuality. But however passionate, Kit knew his own standpoint and valued that of others — at the height of the miner's strike in the early 80's, I remember his sermon about the great traditions of Conservatism and Socialism, and how they were both rooted in parables that Jesus told. He was passionate about affirmatives, not negatives. We had guitars in church — some people said "we're not that kind of church", and left. We had incense in church — some people said "we're not that kind of church", and left. I know that he mourned each person hurt: but he would never let one person's prejudice block another persons growth. The range of Kit's talents was a miracle. The passion with which he devoted them to the love of God and his neighbour was humanity at its best.

Heather: Dominic's picture shows just how varied Kit's interests and talents were — he was a genuine polymath — so rare in today.s age of specialisms. As it says on your service sheet Kit was a family man, a friend and a priest. He was also a poet, a teacher, a theologian, a writer, a walker, a historian, an astronomer, a new testament scholar, a painter and a camper, with a passion for stamps, steam trains and all things yellow!

This diversity of talents and interests gave Kit a unique ability to move between different circles — it was hard to put him in a box — he was not a 'type' and therefore had an ability to speak to all 'types' and connect and communicate with people from all walks of life and with all agendas. These different groups of people formed the structure of Kit's world — they were in a way his different families:

To name but a few:
He had his church families — his much loved St Tom's family; his St Hilda's; St Andrew's and St Chad's families. His ecumenical and interfaith families as he, with others, worked together in love to reach understandings and cut across faith and culture divides. His city families — the City of Newcastle which he loved; his work in Biker, in the environmental forum, the Arts council and with the Lord Mayors of Newcastle, working for social justice. And I could go on.

For Kit these families overlapped — he was equally at home in Biker as he was in Civic occasions in his role as Lord Mayor's Chaplin. As comfortable as a white man looking after deprived black teenagers on a black beach during racial segregation as doing an after dinner speech at the wrangelers or Cambridge association. For Kit the mission was the same — to share laughter, joy and love and work for a better world. In this he was selfless and generous and together he and Gillian opened their home and their hearts in a daily and continual giving to the people they served and shared with. Over the years I was often told — "how good you are to share your parents with us" — as if somehow by loving everyone else Dominic and I were less loved. But it wasn't like this as the love Kit and Gillian had for each other and for us and for the world was all part of the same — love given and returned in abundance — love shared and generously given breeds more love.

This brings me to my Kit — My Daddy! And here I falter — as whatever I say it will be wholly inadequate to tell you anything of what Kit meant to me. In so many ways Kit defined me — who I am — how I feel — the ways I respond to people and the world — and of course it's no accident that my work is Global Ethics. Growing up I wasn't "Heather", I was "Kit Widdows' daughter". — when I remet my now husband Matthew 15 years after leaving home he placed me by asking "are you THE vicar's daughter". And so I am the vicar's daughter, and in so many ways I am shaped and made by Kit and I hope a carrier of his vision. He was a great believer in the human potential for goodness and greatness. If only human beings could be their best selves. He took seriously being made in God's image. He was an optimist.

Growing up I was secure in the knowledge of my Dad's great love for me which gave me the freedom to explore and to set off on my own journey — knowing he would catch me if I fell. I have now lost his waiting arms — the physical embodiment of his love and my security — I can no longer run and bury myself in his chest — as I have done time and time and time again when the world got too much for me. Some here will remember a church camp in Cluny near Tazie in the mid-80's. In the middle of the night a siren went off — I, in panic, believing that the nuclear war had begun — got out of my sleeping bag — out of the teenager tent — across the camp — into Dad's tent — into Dad's sleeping bag — before the first whale of the siren had abated. If I was going to die - I was going to die in Dad's arms where I would be safe.

Dominic: (While we both inherited so much from Mum and Dad, the ability to sleep soundly was somehow not passed down in equal measure. I was actually sleeping in the same tent as Kit at the time, stayed asleep throughout, and had the night's events recounted to me the following morning.)

My Daddy — My Genius Daddy — My Teacher in Everything. Finding something Daddy didn't know was hard; finding anything Daddy admitted he didn't know was harder; finding something Daddy wasn't interested in was impossible.

I became a mathematician and an engineer, as much my father's influence as global ethics was to Heather. Another precious memory is repeatedly asking "Are we nearly there yet?" on car journeys, a persistent child's question that you know can be met with a number of constructive and not-so-constructive answers. Rather than try to shut me up, Daddy took the opportunity to teach me how to reason that a quarter plus a quarter was a half. Then we went another sixth of the way, which (after much patient explanation from Daddy) we agreed was two thirds. After a few more car journeys, we had worked our way though adding fractions, lowest common denominators, percentages, even multiplying fractions — and by the time we could even divide fractions, we were able to time our passage from milepost to milepost, divide the distance by the time, and work out if the number we arrived at matched the reading on the speedometer.

And it was all play, learning with Kit was fun. Many of you will remember his sense of fun and sense of humour — you couldn't be with Kit for long without encountering it. Kit made people laugh, made people smile, and made people groan with some of the certifiably worst jokes known to mankind.

"Why do elephants paint their feet yellow?"
("I don't know.")
"So you can't see them when they're floating upside down in custard. Have you ever seen an elephant floating upside down in custard?"
"Of course not. Now you see what a good disguise it is!"

There is no measuring Kit's loss, and we feel this especially for Elinor and Clara, who only experienced a tiny fraction of the love a whimsical joy with which they so clearly filled him. Kit was fully intending to retire and be the world's best Granddad, and this loss is already the hardest for us to bear. Here I would like to introduce a plea for your own memories of Kit. As well as the memorial book, you should have found coloured cards with your service sheets. These are for your memories of Kit for little ones — Kit the Jester, Kit the Entertainer, Kit who told those awful awful jokes that you couldn't help listening to — so Clara and Elinor can know their wonderful, whimsical, silly silly Granddad.

Heather: All Kit's actions and ways of being in the world flowed from his beliefs. His belief in the power of Love to transform people and the world. This belief was worked out in his commitment to social justice — be it Drop the Debt or housing in Newcastle. His belief in social action was born from his devotion to making God's kingdom come — for him the Kingdom is now — and is our responsibility. The phrase "no hands but our hands" is one he used time and time again in services and liturgy through the years.

His activism and dedication to justice was a manifestation of his personal faith — the inner Kit. And it is this inner Kit — the Kit of faith and doubt — which I.d like to finish with as this is fount of all the other Kit's. Talking about the tenets of Kit's faith in a few minutes is almost impossible. Kit was not a fan of statements of belief or creeds believing words to be inadequate to capture the truths of eternity and love — the word he believed in was the Word made Flesh. For Kit the only certainty was that if you are certain you know the truth you are undoubtedly wrong. In this he was — as in so much — following his Jesus, to comfort the distressed and distress the comfortable. Kit was a seeker after truth, a traveller of the heart, passionately committed to the journey. This road was not an easy choice — Kit gave no glib or simple answers — offered no clich s — but he did invite you to travel with him on his challenging but enlightening path. And his journey now continues — as he said to Gillian but recently — he is a devotee of the Peter Pan school of theology — death is a great adventure.

So, fellow travellers of Kit, I invite you like Kit — to seek for truth and goodness and to strive for justice and peace. In following in your own path I am sure you will feel Kit's presence and find solace and laughter in your memories. You may also find yourselves walking with Kit's companion — a much loved friend and soulmate — not in this instance Gillian, but Jesus. Those of you who have read Kit's novel — the fourth witness — will have met Kit's Jesus — those who have not I would invite you to do so. Jesus was always alive and near for Kit — struggling in his own journey and travelling with Kit — guiding and calling. Kit was in love with Jesus and strived to follow him and share his love and it is this we now enact.

Dominic: Sir Christopher Wren is immortalized in St Paul's Cathedral by an inscription bearing the words "If you seek a memorial, look around you". (Of course, I know this because Kit took me there.) The same words are a fitting expression of Kit's legacy - "If you seek a memorial, look around you". Right now. Not at the stone and the wood of this building — at the people around you, at the person sitting next to you, at the Word made flesh. As we share this memorial, look around, look ahead, and let us love one another.

The sharing of communion from person to person followed, in the way that Kit shared communion in his most relaxed moments, with family and when camping.