DAVID DIAMOND was one of the most remarkable parish priests in the Church of England. His sudden death last week at the age of 56 has shocked the community of Deptford, south-east London, where since 1969 he had been rector of St Paul's Church.
Diamond was born in London in 1935 and grew up in Streatham. He was educated at the Strand Grammar School, and, after a short-service commission in the Army, at Leeds University and St Stephen's House, Oxford. He was ordained in 1962 to St John's Tue Brook, Liverpool. As a curate in Liverpool in the mid-Sixties Diamond had founded a remarkably successful youth club, with 800 members. In Deptford he found a magnificent but derelict church with a handful of worshippers, and little link with the community. It was a desperate situation, with the building ripe for closure. His achievement was not merely to make the beautifully restored church a flourishing centre of faith and worship, but to rekindle hope in an entire community, one of the most run-down in London.
In 1969, the diocese of Southwark was noted for its radical 'south bank' theology, largely influenced by John Robertson of Honest to God fame. A heavily resourced and publicised experiment in parish ministry in Woolwich, conducted according to the spirit of those times, had recently ended in apparent failure. Bishop Mervyn Stockwood had the vision to try a quite different approach by appointing Diamond to Deptford.
He was, unfashionably, an out- and-out Anglo-Catholic, an incense, biretta and Benediction priest. When others were tearing off their dog-collars and dropping ecclesiastical titles, he revelled and delighted in his priesthood. But not in a solemn or starchy manner - the people of Deptford came to share this delight, knowing him as their father in God. This was especially true of Deptford's many young offenders and there were few prisons where his arrival would not be greeted by delighted shouts of 'Farv', as he was universally known.
Diamond's approach was that everything was for the whole community, not simply for a church 'club'. Everyone belonged in the Church, because everyone was loved by God. He had no time for any introverted church 'fellowship' that cut people off from their neighbours in the community.
He was a great organiser of community events and the Deptford Festival became famous, with its street parties, royal visits, flamboyant firework displays and fun for all on the grandest scale. The pensioners' outing, for example: there had to be a thousand pensioners. A cannon would be fired and 20 coaches would set off, with the narrow high street lined by every infant and primary school, cheering and waving flags, the procession led by a brass band. It brought everyone together and made everyone feel they mattered, that Deptford was a great place to be.
Fr David was no academic theologian, but his remarkable ministry expressed deep theological insight. In the Sixties the Church was concerned at the divide between sacred and secular, and the radical element resolved the division by abandoning the sacred as a distinctive sphere. Fr David adored the sacred and he adored the secular, and he led others - a whole community - to see how the sacred could adorn and grace the secular. The centre of the Deptford Festival was always the Festival Mass and people with no background or previous interest in Christianity came and knew that it was somehow for them. It was a combination of spectacular fun and deep devotion. In it, one felt, God was reclaiming His creation. That was the hallmark of David Diamond's ministry. He was a man of extraordinary generosity.