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Archbishop William Temple said that Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was "the finest priest" he had ever known.

"If to be a priest is to carry others on the heart and offer them with self in the sacrifice of human nature - The Body and the Blood - to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ - then Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was the finest priest I have ever known."


They gave me this name like their nature, Compacted of laughter and tears, A sweet that was born of the bitter, A joke that was torn from the years Of their travail and torture, Christ's fools, Atoning my sins with their blood, Who grinned in their agony sharing The glorious madness of God. Their name! Let me hear it -- the symbol Of unpaid -- unpayable debt, For the men to whom I owed God's Peace, I put off with a cigarette.

Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, the seventh of nine children, was born in Leeds on 27th June, 1883. Educated at Leeds Grammar School and Trinity College, Dublin, Studdert Kennedy graduated in classics and divinity in 1904. He became curate in Rugby and in 1914 the vicar of St. Paul's, Worcester, the poorest parish in the city.

On the outbreak of the First World War Studdert Kennedy volunteered to become a chaplain to the armed forces on the Western Front. Given the nickname "Woodbine Willie", for his habit of distributing cigarettes to soldiers, he was loved and respected by the men for his bravery under fire. He once advised a new padre: "Take a box of fags in your haversack and a great deal of love in your heart."

Studdert Kennedy wasn't your normal sort of priest. For one thing, he didn't mind using bad language when he needed to. he opened an address to a gathering of the men of the British 4th Army School at St Pol in northern France in 1917 with the words "I know what you're thinking, here comes a bloody parson".

That sort of language didn't go down well with some of his listeners, but it was the normal language of the troops he was talking to, and it is said that for thousands of men and women of his day Studdert Kennedy was the only man who could make God and Jesus Christ real, expressing the most profound truths in language that could be understood and appreciated by the simple and uneducated.

In 1917 Studdert Kennedy won the Military Cross at Messines Ridge after running into No-Mans-Land to provide comfort to those injured during an attack on the German frontline. He wrote several poems about his experiences and these appeared in the books, Rough Rhymes of A Padre (1918) and More Rough Rhymes (1919). Llewellyn H. Gwynne, Deputy Chaplain General in France, had these verses printed for the army, among which they enjoyed popularity. Archbishop William Temple said that Studdert Kennedy was "the finest priest" he had known.

In 1922 Studdert Kennedy was appointed as parish priest of St Edmund King and Martyr in Lombard Street, London. His experiences during the war persuaded him to become a Christian Socialist and a pacifist, about which he wrote in several books including Lies (1919), Democracy and the Dog-Collar (1921), Food for the Fed Up (1921), The Wicket Gate (1923) and The Word and the Work (1925).

Studdert Kennedy also worked for the Industrial Christian Fellowship (ICF), with which he became involved in public speaking tours of Britain. In 1928 a newspaper reported that his talks were so emotional that at his packed meetings "women wept and men broke down".

Studdert Kennedy speaking at Tredegar ICF Crusade in 1928.

Studdert Kennedy is one of the best-known and loved chaplains of the First World War, remarkable for his humble willingness to simply stand alongside the fighting men and do what he could to lessen their suffering.

The asthmatic and heavy smoker Studdert Kennedy hadn't been at all well when he came to Liverpool for an ICF crusade speaking engagement. He was taken ill during the engagement, and died that night at St.Catherine's Vicarage on 8th March, 1929.

As his body lay in state in Liverpool, over 1,700 mourners paid their respects in a single day. Studdert Kennedy once wrote, "Nobody worries about Christ as long as he can be shut up in churches. He is quite safe there. But there is always trouble if you try to let him out." Studdert Kennedy loved a dangerous God that he wrestled with on the battlefields of the First World War.

Over 2000 lined the streets of Worcester for Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy's Funeral in 1929.

"Solomon In All His Glory"

Still I see them coming, coming, In their ragged broken line, Walking wounded in the sunlight, Clothed in majesty divine. For the fairest of the lilies, That God's summer ever sees, Ne'er was clothed in royal beauty Such as decks the least of these. Tattered, torn, and bloody khaki, Gleams of white flesh in the sun, Raiment worthy of their beauty, And the great things they have done. Purple robes and snowy linen Have for earthly kings sufficed, But these bloody sweaty tatters Were the robes of Jesus Christ.

"Lighten our Darkness"

Lighten our darkness, Lord, in bygone years,

Oft have I prayed and thought on childish fears,

Glad in my heart that, when the day was dead,

God's four white angels watched about my bed.

Lighten our darkness! Kneeling in the mud,

My hands still wet and warm with human blood,

Oft have I prayed it! Perils of this night!

Sorrow of soldiers! Mercy, give us light.

Lighten our darkness! Black upon the mind

Questions and doubts, so many paths that wind,

Worlds of blind sorrow crying out for sight.

Peace, where is Peace? Lord Jesus, give us light.

Lighten our darkness! Stumbling to the end,

Millions of mortals feeling for a friend,

Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?

Flame through the darkness, Lord, and give us Light.

Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy


Lead us from death to life,

from falsehood to truth.

Lead us from despair to hope,

from fear to trust.

Lead us from hate to love,

from war to peace.

Let peace fill our hearts,

our world,

our universe.

Satish Kumar

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