Obituary: Canon David Paton

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT MAY seem impertinent to add a footnote to Alan Webster's comprehensive and sympathetic obituary of Canon David Paton (20 July), but to your own description of him as 'priest, missionary and writer' should surely be added 'theologian and prophet', writes Michael De-la-Noy.

I knew David Paton only during his last two years as secretary of the Missionary and Ecumenical Council, when I was a young and ignorant assistant information officer at Church House, but it was palpably clear to all of us who were in any way engaged in the radical endeavours of the late Sixties that David Paton's knowledge, experience and breadth of vision placed him head and shoulders above most of his contemporaries.

If in doubt on almost any subject then being hotly debated in the General Assembly or the World Council of Churches one's footsteps were automatically directed to David's door.

But when Alan Webster tactfully mentions that 'the Church never quite knew what to do with him' one is tempted to rub in the fact that Paton came to epitomise that fatal lack of nerve which so disfigured Michael Ramsey's time at Canterbury. Ramsey had only to lift a finger to ensure that David Paton was not so much rewarded with preferment as given an appropriate platform from which to engage in his prophetic mission, and that meant at the least a residentiary canonry at Westminster Abbey or St Paul's. Or why not a deanery? But lack of intelligent patronage at that time meant that Paton's immense talents, like those of far too many others of whom the Establishment was frankly nervous, were in large measure wasted.

Paton resigned as Secretary of the Missionary and Ecumenical Council before being assured of a new job because he believed it was right at the time to make room for a new man. Instead of ensuring that he was found an appropriate post, Michael Ramsey told him he should live by faith - which was precisely what he had done by resigning. Alas, Paton's faith, like that of many others, was tragically misplaced.

Most people equate ecclesiastical scandals with sex. The real scandal of the Church is its mismanagement of manpower. But the shabby treatment accorded to David Paton may not have been entirely pointless if it serves to remind the present hierarchy of the worth of mavericks and the sometimes uncomfortable contribution they can make to a church in need of all the ability it can muster.