John Oates

14th May 1930 - 25th May 2023

On Friday 16th June, 2023 at 2:30pm a service of thanksgiving for the life of John Oates was held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street.
Download Order of Service (pdf)


The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce delivered the opening:

Welcome to St Brides as we come together to honour the memory and to celebrate the life of John Oates, a truly remarkable man who touched the lives of all of us here today.

St Bride’s always held a very significant place in John’s heart so it is right and fitting that we should be giving thanks for him today in this beautiful and ancient holy place.

It’s wonderful to have so many of John’s extensive family with us here today and greetings to those of you who are joining us online.

It’s also my privilege to welcome here today some very special guests.

The Reverend Canon Paul Wright Sub Dean of his Majesty’s Chapel Royal is here representing her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra who was a friend of John’s but sadly cannot be here in person today – you are most welcome.

The Venerable David Meara was John’s immediate successor and my predecessor as Rector here; we are delighted that you can join us.

The Right Reverend Christopher Lawson has been a close friend of St Bride’s and one of our Guild chaplains for very many years and knew John from the outset of his own Ministry so it’s an immense pleasure to have you with us here.

And we are richly blessed in having with us not only the present Master of the Guild of St Bride Lord Black but also one of his predecessors Vivian Harmsworth. Aside from being part of the St Bride’s family for very many years and knowing John extremely well, Vivian is here representing the present Lord Rothermere.

We begin with an opening prayer, let us pray:

Father of all
we pray to you for those whom we love but see no longer
especially this day John Oates
our beloved brother in Christ whose memory we honour.
Grant him your peace and may light perpetual shine upon him
and work in him the good purpose of your perfect will.
In Jesus name we pray.


Address and Tribute

The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce, Rector of St Bride's

Almost exactly nine years ago, when my appointment as Rector here was officially announced, John was one of the very first people to write to me – and I still have his letter. He wrote this:

Dear Dr Alison,
Many congratulations on your appointment to the glorious church of St Bride’s. Your abundance of talents will light up the city of London, and hopefully, the Press. I couldn’t help noting your association with Dance, which brought to mind the wonderful wide nave of St Bride’s, its endless possibilities and opportunities.

I hope that you and your family will find as much happiness as we did in each of our sixteen years there. You will be very busy but if you ever have time for lunch at the Garrick, I would be delighted to entertain you.

Prayers and every good wish, John Oates.

I have always treasured that letter, because it so closely reflects the John that I was privileged to know throughout the final decade of his life. He was always warm, supportive, courteous, charming, generous and kind – and he never lost his eye for the creative ministerial opportunity either – (hence his suggestion about using the nave for dance – which, to my shame, we have yet to explore!).

I am also now aware that his unstinting support was of high currency, because John was not an early convert to the idea of the ordination of women. I was, and I remain, incredibly grateful to him for his warmth and his encouragement.

I was privileged to know John for a mere nine years – most of you here today will have known him far better, and for far longer, than I did – above all, of course, members of his family, who were always at the very centre of his life, and of whom he was so immensely proud.

I did indeed go on to enjoy a number of lunches at the Garrick with John, and in our conversations he would often reflect on his own time here at St Bride’s. There were four aspects of his ministry here that came across as having been of particular significance for him.

First, he was a massive enthusiast for our incredible musical tradition, and did much to support it and enhance it: our choir mattered to him enormously. Second, he was very proud of having opened the membership of the Guild of St Bride to women. Third, his deep involvement with the life of the St Bride Foundation, the Institute, to which he dedicated so much time and energy. And, above all, his work with the press – particularly the extraordinary ministry that he exercised during the heady days of the Wapping dispute. St Bride’s was absolutely at the heart of that turbulent turning point in the history of the newspaper industry, and few clergy would have had the courage, the energy, and the insight to combine and to sustain that level of involvement and impartiality.

And it is largely thanks to John’s energy and determination at that critical time that our links with the newspapers that then dispersed across London, continued unbroken, whilst at the same time he was busy forging new relationships with the legal and financial businesses that moved into Fleet Street in their place.

I’m sure it would have gladdened John’s heart to know that we are in the process of planning a complete redesign of our crypt museum, which will enable us for the first time to tell in full the story of St Bride’s involvement in the printing and newspaper industries – including the Wapping dispute – using the wealth of digital and archive materials that we have.

I would also like to see on display (at last) this framed cartoon from the Observer, dated 6th March 1988 (four years into John’s time here), which depicts St Bride’s situated amidst all the pubs, wine bars, and hostelries of Fleet Street. A clergyman in a black cassock is shown at the door of one of them addressing the publican, who is shrugging his shoulders. The caption reads: ‘The Rector of St Bride’s searches for his lost flock.’

In very many ways, St Bride’s was the perfect job for John, combining as it did his early interest in journalism with his personal dynamism, creativity, and vision. His commitment to his work was always 100%. When the former Lord Rothermere, Vere Harmsworth, died suddenly, John was on holiday in northern Australia. He did not hesitate for a moment: he was insistent that he would return to take his funeral. Having failed to get a passenger seat for the flight back, he managed to persuade a pilot to allow him to use the Jump seat for the first leg of the journey, before picking up a regular flight from Sydney. John was nothing if not dedicated and determined!

John was also responsible for establishing our Journalists’ altar to my right here, at which we commemorate those in the industry who have died or have been killed, and those who are in prison or held hostage. The idea emerged out of the events of 1987, when John held vigils here for John McCarthy and the other hostages held in Beirut, ensuring that they were held in prayer week by week. Following his release, John McCarthy attended a service of celebration here, together with the then Prime Minister, John Major, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie. And I was delighted when, two years ago, John McCarthy returned here to make a radio programme marking the thirtieth anniversary of his release. John Oates really did touch the lives of many, many people, and he did so in very significant ways.

And John was always both imaginative and witty in generating support for the causes that he embraced. We have already heard testimony from the Zongoro Old School Association expressing their warmth and profound appreciation of all that he did for them – but as a concrete illustration of that, I am hugely grateful to Jonny for sharing the following story, which I now read on his behalf:

In 1989 my mum and dad were going to visit St James’ Secondary School, Zongoro – the school I had previously taught at in rural Zimbabwe. My dad decided he would take some football kit out with him and asked me to get it designed to link St James and St Bride’s.

To raise money to pay for the kit he insisted that myself, John the verger, and the then organ scholar at St Bride’s, Adrian, would have to model the football kit for the St Bride’s congregation at a drinks reception after one of the services. He told us that we would have to remain concealed until he gave the signal in his speech to the congregants at which point we would run out in the football kit.

We very grumpily agreed but what he didn’t tell us was that he intended to play the part of a model himself. We duly ran out at the agreed signal and stood next to him as he urged the congregation to donate. As he came toward the end of his oration, I noticed he was subtly unbuttoning his cassock. As he finished the speech with his final appeal, he let his cassock drop and stood before his congregants in the goalkeeper’s kit.

He raised far more money that evening than the football kit cost – and this was the beginning of a long relationship between St Bride’s and St James School, during which my dad raised significant sums of money, allowing new classrooms and a science block to be built, books to be bought, the school to be electrified, school fees to be paid for some who couldn’t afford them and additional support provided for the teachers and for pupils who went on to University.

What an achievement!

I am also indebted to Vyvyan Harmsworth for some wonderful stories about John’s time here, including his first meeting with him, here in church. One of our ‘Gentlemen of the Road’ came in and started chatting to John, at the end of which John decided to give the man a tenner to buy some food. He got out his wallet, only to find it bare of cash – so John then turned to Vyvyan to provide it instead! As Vyvyan tells me, for years afterwards he would tease John about when he was going to be repaid, ‘only to be met by a charming Oates smile.’

And also the occasion at the Bridewell theatre, at the end of a profoundly moving play, when Vyvyan noticed John leaning forward, deep in prayer. It was only when the theatre had completely emptied, and John still hadn’t moved, that Vyvyan realised that he wasn’t in prayer at all – he had in fact passed out.

The vision and exuberant energy that John brought to his ministry here, and the wealth of extraordinary connections he made with people, had already been apparent in his previous posts. While he was Vicar of Richmond, John became interested promoting the work of MIND, the (then) newly formed organisation, which was pioneering fresh approaches to supporting those suffering from mental illness.

At the launch of national MIND week, it became glaringly obvious to John that what was needed was a live elephant, which could be paraded through the centre of Richmond, bearing the slogan ‘Elephants never forget – mind you remember MIND week.’

As chance would have it, John had become friends with Ronny Smart – the son of the legendary circus impresario, Billy Smart. So he rang Ronny to ask if he could possibly provide him with an elephant (as one does) – and Ronny agreed – on condition that John rode the elephant himself. Naturally, John was completely up for it.

Unfortunately, he omitted to inform the relevant authorities of his plans. When the day came, there were some decidedly dicey moments with the local Police Superintendent, who wanted to know what the heck was going on. Fortunately this ‘engagement’ was filmed by a TV camera crew that had turned up to record the event – which doubtless helped persuade the police to give permission for the event to proceed – and ride the elephant John did.

Indeed, John’s remarkable talent to think outside the box with extraordinary results, was evident from his first curacy at St Mary’s, Hackney Wick, in east London, where his ministry amongst young people became the stuff of legend. He gathered a group of teenagers together and formed what became known as the ’59 Club, which grew to be the largest youth group in the country.

Deciding that it needed a significant launch, in true John Oates style, he (of course) managed to get none other than Cliff Richard – mega pop star of the day – to open it. 450 members turned up, and it grew to a membership of 900 (with a waiting list), by the end of the first month. And the success of that project not only benefited the young people involved – it also drew attention to the area and its needs. Various other pop stars attended, which earned John the titles ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Reverend’ and ‘The Swingin’ Vicar of Hackney Wick’. Jonny has sent me some truly remarkable newspaper cuttings from that time. The only unfortunate call was that it is said that John turned down a booking for the Beatles because they demanded a fee. (Now, that really would have made history!)

John was a man of immense energy and focus, who achieved extraordinary and remarkable things, and touched the lives of very many people, throughout his ministry. His achievements were the more remarkable, given his background. Born in West Yorkshire, the son of a miner, he left school at 16. Although baptised Roman Catholic, his family worshipped at the Anglican church in their village. He became very involved in the life of the church until deeply upsetting events relating to his mother’s funeral led him to turn his back on religion altogether.

He left for Australia as a young man, where he reconnected with the Christian faith, and ended up returning to the UK to train for the ministry at Kelham. He retained a profound, heartfelt and intelligent faith in God, which we have already heard him describe in his own words. Bishop Christopher, who was subsequently John’s curate, has spoken to me of what a very good training incumbent John was for him: patient, kind – but always expecting the best – because, after all, only the best is good enough for God.

John was a man of ambition; he was a man of forthright views, who could express them forcefully; and I’m told that, on occasions, he could have a very short fuse. He also gave our musicians and singers palpitations on occasions – as he would take executive decisions to change the musical content of a service when the service was already underway – communicating this in notes to choir members. And yet, for all he could undoubtedly be challenging at times, such characteristics were, I am sure, simply part and parcel of his outstanding positive qualities – they just came with the territory.

Many of you, like me, will have received a beautiful card from John last Christmas, with a photograph on the front of him and his beloved wife Sylvia, who so sadly pre-deceased him, surrounded by all the members of his large and wonderful family. Family was incredibly important to John, and his love of family was a deep and generous love – a truth that is encapsulated by that photograph more effectively than any number of words.

So our prayers today are, above all, with all of you, his family, at this time of loss – a loss which we share with you. But we also have so much for which we can be truly thankful – as we remember John today not only as an outstanding priest of the church of England and faithful servant of Christ; but as a loving and much loved husband to Sylvia; a proud father; a devoted grandfather; and he was also, of course, delighted to become a great grandfather. May God bring you all his comfort and his peace.

John is now reunited with Sylvia, and with all those who were close to his heart in times past who have entered that gate before him, who are now enfolded in the boundless love of God, and basking together in the light of his eternal glory.

Because, as the poet Rabindranath Tagore once wrote: Death is not turning out the light; it is turning down the lamp, because the dawn has come.

John, Beloved Child of God, may you rest in peace and rise in glory.


Zongoro Old School Association, Zimbabwe, read by Jonathan Oates

As the Zongoro community, we are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Canon John Oates.

He was a man of great faith and compassion, and he dedicated his life to serving others.

We experienced this love from the time he visited St James Zongoro School on a cloudy day in 1989. He will be remembered for his tireless work in making sure that the school emerged to be one of the most well developed in terms of infrastructure. We experienced his love as a community while other individuals personally felt the love as he paid their school fees.

Memories of Canon John Oates will forever remain with us. He showed us how to make a difference in the world. Canon Oates’s legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of all who knew him. He was a true inspiration, and he will be deeply missed.


Jeremy Oates read My faith by John Oates

I have many doubts about the Church which is not surprising since it is made up of people like me and you, with all our frailties. I was baptised in a Roman Catholic Church and Ordained Priest in an Anglican Cathedral. I love both Churches and long for the end of the pride and prejudice which keeps them apart.

I have no such doubts about God.

From my earliest remembrances, I have never felt alone nor doubted the Presence of God. Through schooldays, teenage, National Service, through the High Seas to Australia and through my entire life, he has been there, shielding me when I got things wrong; strengthening me when I looked like getting things right.

The Psalmist, writing over two thousand five hundred years ago, summed it up to perfection:-

“Whither shall I go then from thy Spirit
And whither shall I go then from thy presence.
If I climb up into Heaven, thou art there;
If I go down to Hell, thou art there also.
If I take the Wings of the Morning,
And remain in the uttermost parts of the Sea,
Even there also shall thy hand lead me
And thy right hand shall hold me.”

Faith in the last ditch asserts; I would rather be wrong with God than right with anyone else.

Rebecca Luzi (née Oates) read Miss me, but let me go by Betty Millar

When I come to the end of the road,
and the sun has set for me,
I want no rites in gloom-filled rooms,
why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little – but not too long,
and not with your head bowed low;
remember the love that we once shared
miss me – but let me go.
For this is a journey that we all must take,
and each must go alone.
It’s all a part of the Master’s plan,
a step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick at heart,
go to the friends we know,
and busy your sorrows in doing good deeds.
Miss me – but let me go.

The Right Revd Christopher Lowson read 1 Corinthians 13

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Alistair Oates read The dash poem by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on his tombstone from the beginning… to the end.
He noted that first came his date of birth and spoke the following date with tears, 1930-2023
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time that he spent alive on earth…
And now only those who loved him know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own; the cars.. the house.. the cash,
What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard – are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left, that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough to consider what’s true and real,
And always try to understand the way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger, and show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect, and more often wear a smile…
Remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy’s being read with your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say?
And about how you spent your dash?

Jonathan Oates read O Christ, the light of Heaven from Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer

O Christ, the Light of heaven
and of the world true Light,
You come in all your radiance
to cleave the web of night.

May what is false within us
before your truth give way,
that we may live untroubled,
with quiet hearts this day.

May steadfast faith sustain us,
and hope made firm with you;
the love that we have wasted.
O God of love, renew.

Blest Trinity we praise you
in whom our quest will cease;
keep us with you for ever
in happiness and peace.


The choir & organist of St Bride’s performed the following anthems and songs:

Fidelis – Percy Whitlock
I was glad – Charles Hubert Hastings Parry
Gaelic blessing – John Rutter
Laudate Dominum – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
What a wonderful world – Bob Thiele & George David Weiss, arr. Robert Jones
Ave Maria – Johann Sebastian Bach/Charles Gounod
Nun danket alle Gott Op 65, No 59 – Sigfrid Karg-Elert


All things bright and beautiful
Dear Lord and Father of mankind
Make me a channel of your peace


congregation sitting for service


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