Christopher Gray had not long been a Vicar of St Margaret's, Anfield, in Liverpool, when he was murdered in front of his own vicarage. Even though he was only 32 and a priest for only three years, Gray was beginning to have a major impact on the Anglican Church's thinking on the priestly ministry.
He was Head Boy at Winchester, and then went on to Wadham College, Oxford, where he achieved a Double First "with congratulations" in Ancient History and won most of the major classical prizes. He possessed a brilliant mind and spoke with great clarity of thought. At the same time he was a quiet person, who listened carefully and was liked by his teachers and contemporaries for his humanity and warmth.
After Oxford he spent a year looking after handicapped people at the L'Arche community in France, where he discovered his flair for learning living languages in addition to Latin, Greek and Hebrew. When I met him in 1992 he was already a fluent speaker of French, German and Polish, and at each later meeting he had acquired other Slavic languages. His knowledge of Romanian, Czech, Slovak and Lithuanian contributed to his being able to be an ambassador for Anglicanism to the Christian churches of these recently liberated countries.
In 1992, after training for the priesthood at Mirfield in Yorkshire, he became a curate at St Jude's Church, Cantril Farm, in Liverpool. Cantril Farm is a 1960s housing estate with one of the highest unemployment rates in England; the community there was under siege, with high levels of drug use, crime and violence. Gray knew the limits of a priest, but within those limits he exercised a sacrificial ministry, especially working with young people who had no connection with the Church. He did not see himself as doing the work of a social worker but felt strongly that the Church is responsible for giving meaning to the lives of everyone who presents himself to her.
It was during his time as curate that he wrote a puzzlingly prophetic chapter, "Who is the Priest?", in The Fire and the Clay (1993), which is a brilliant fusion of theory and practical theology. He described Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd as the chief model for the priest:
The supreme act of the shepherd is to lay down his life for the sheep . . . [Priests are called to be] people who grow to be like Christ in their faithful service of their flocks; even to the point of sacrificing their own lives.
In 1995 he was moved to St Margaret's, Anfield, and given the diocesan portfolio of Director of Evangelism. He had been in this post for just over a year and was beginning to make a mark in the Liverpool diocese with his vision of a Church as a people who are confident in their faith and who feel glad to share it. Gray's decisive intellect told him what had to be done and it was his faith that gave him courage to complete the task in the only way he could.
Christopher John Gray, priest: born Portsmouth 2 January 1964; ordained deacon 1992, priest 1993; Priest-in-Charge, St Margaret's, Anfield 1995- 96; died Liverpool 13 August 1996.
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