It can’t be often, unfortunately, that the bishop of a major country’s capital city having visited an elderly priest, feared to be dying, and then phones a past archbishop’s former chaplain, a sometime mentor of the present archbishop, to say ‘he spoke of the kingdom of God and proclaimed his undying belief in Anarchy’.
Gresham Kirkby was in the Sixties chair of the London Christian Anarchists, and before that – in the Fifties, of the Socialist Christian League, was on the governing body of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship and, behind the scenes, was the inspiration when Ken Leech founded Jubilee (an anarchist Anglican socialist grouping to which the present bishop then belonged), in the early 70s.
Hailling from the West of Cornwall, except for curacies in Manchester, Middlesborough and Kensington, Gresham spent most of his working life in Mile End. There he was a well-known priest, in frequent trouble with his bishop, both for his politics and his liturgical innovations. He was using the present Roman Catholic rite for 25 years before Roman Catholics were licensed to use it, Anglicans are still not, though nowadays a blind eye is generally turned.
He found it difficult to put his ideas down on paper, so his direct influence was more or less confined to those who met him or corresponded with his friends. Indirectly however his influence was extensive, inspiring much of what came to be known as Liberation Theology*
*Liberation Theology is an amalgamation of church teachings and socialist political activism, which was largely struck down by the current Pope Benedict and his allies after gaining some prominence for its view that the teachings of Christ are best seen through the eyes of the poor, and that ‘His’ teachings are those of a liberator of the oppressed.