Revd Dr John Reader (1953-2023)
John Reader died on Sunday 1st October 2023 after a short illness. He was a husband, father, grandfather, country vicar, academic, philosopher, theologian, and was passionate about environmental issues. I am sure that there will be many appreciations of his life and work, and there is already one by Chris Baker of the William Temple Foundation, one of the organisations John was most associated with (HERE). John was a superb academic in his field (see his publication list HERE), and Chris has pretty well covered that. So, I will give my personal view, concentrating on John’s work with Christian Rural and Environmental Studies (CRES), and the other things we did together.
CRES was formed in the early 2000s, an initiative of Prof. Sam Berry and Dr Peter Carruthers from the John Ray Initiative (JRI), and the small rural charity Christian Rural Concern (CRuC). Soon after CRES was founded we moved our validation to Ripon College Cuddesdon, and later A Rocha UK replaced CRuC as our main partner in running the course. I became involved soon after the course started in 2003, and rapidly rose to become Principal Tutor. We were always looking for new members for the Steering Group and we still are! I first met John Reader on Monday 15th August 2005, when he came to our flat in Oxford to meet me and CRuC committee members Peter Bowles and John Whitehead. From my diary: “At 1.45 Revd Dr John Reader arrived and we kind of interviewed him. It was more of a discussion to say where we are at now and what is needed.” John Reader soon joined us on the CRES Steering Group as a Senior Tutor.
John gave an awful lot to CRES. He was an excellent second marker, always turning things around incredibly quickly. Of our twelve modules, John wrote three: Globalisation and Faith; Rural Communities; and the latest Ecology, Technology and Theology. At first, John wrote at a level that was a little too challenging for our students (and me!), but he soon found the range. He had very wide interests, and over the last few years became increasingly interested in Artificial Intelligence, particularly in its interaction with environmental issues. This eventually led in February 2023 to the ground-breaking module, Ecology, Technology, and Theology. Over the 18 years he was with us John gave quite a number of talks for CRES, the latest being in April 2023: “The Commons; Enclosures or Thresholds?” It was an excellent talk and very well pitched for the audience.
Besides CRES, we did a lot of other things together. I spoke at his Café Church in the Ironstone Benefice, and Margot and I gave a presentation for his deanery. We often gave presentations for his Ethical Futures group, part of his work with the William Temple Foundation. We even worked together on an academic paper! In December 2017, Tim Howles, John, and I were all invited to attend a big conference at Campion Hall in Oxford to consider Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si. We all gave short presentations and were then asked if we could join together to write a paper for the Heythrop Journal. Tim Howles expertly coordinated our effort, “‘Creating an Ecological Citizenship’: Philosophical and Theological Perspectives on The Role of Contemporary Environmental Education” which was published HERE in 2018.
Margot and I were very pleased to attend John’s licensing as a house-for-duty priest at Wootton on 30th May 2023. It looked like a new page was opening up, but sadly he was only in post for four months before his untimely death. The last time we saw John was at the CRES residential at Ripon College Cuddesdon in early September. He was tired after a bout of Covid a few weeks before.
John and I were in some respects, unlikely partners. He was a liberal-leaning philosopher/theologian and I am a scientist from an evangelical background. But somehow we got on and became very good friends. I will really miss John, and he will be greatly missed by all at CRES. We give thanks to God for his life and pray for his wife Christine, and all his family at this difficult time.
Dr Martin Hodson
Principal Tutor, Christian Rural and Environmental Studies (CRES)