DUDLEY HODGES was a priest through and through who remained a thoroughly earthed human being in a remarkable ministry that brought him into contact with many different types of people.
I first met him over 20 years ago as an ordinand and at once felt I could confide in him many of the fears and doubts that assail the religious young.
With hindsight, I wonder how paltry and routine they must have been. Yet Hodges had an uncanny knack of making people feel valued and cherished. His love of life and his love of God were closely woven together, and the story certainly rings true that, when Robert Runcie was Principal of Cuddesdon, he mentally card- indexed Hodges' curate-training style as 'gin and holiness'.
After studies at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and at Cuddesdon, Hodges was ordained in Southwark Cathedral by Bishop Cyril Garbett in 1932, where he served for eight years as a curate, also taking in the Chaplaincy of Guy's Hospital. The combination of cathedral worship and pastoral care ideally suited him. He remained in the Southwark diocese under Garbett's successor, Richard Parsons, first at the Holy Spirit, Clapham, and then at St John the Baptist, Eltham. His abilities as a potential civic rector were spotted, which led to 10 years at St Mary's, Stafford, an historic building which he made the focus of worship that was both stately and welcoming. Among his Stafford curates are the present Bishop of Grimsby, upon whom Hodges became a lasting influence. It was fitting that his last job was Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral, where he quietly worked away at dignified liturgical change, and paved the way for new paths within a living tradition.
But Hodges never really retired, and for many of his years in retirement he held the post of Vicar of the Close at Salisbury, where he and Margery, the background support for so much of his ministry, especially of hospitality, lived longer than anywhere previously. New arrivals to the Close were invited to whitebait and sherry. And if they made the initial mistake of thinking Hodges no more than a latterday Friar Tuck figure, they soon came to know a spiritual shrewdness that was so rooted in reality that nothing seemed able to destroy him. In his natural conversations with people of all walks of life, he was always ready for the pastoral opening, including the chairman of a County Council who was later baptised and confirmed.
Dudley Hodges had compassion, but it never oozed out of him, because it was genuinely his own. When he and Margery left Lichfield, I was given a copy of the Centuries of Meditations by the 17th- century writer and poet, Thomas Traherne. The only paragraph that Dudley had marked in pencil was read out at his Requiem in Salisbury, and again at the interment of his ashes in Lichfield Cathedral. They well summarise the man's faith and whole being: God is not an Object of Terror, but Delight. To know Him therefore as He is, is to frame the most beautiful idea in all worlds. He delighteth in our happiness more than we: and is of all other the most Lovely Object.
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