St Margaret's, Barking
 

 

JOHN DENIS WAKELING
1918 - 2004

When I first went up to St Catherine's College, Cambridge in 1939 one of the first new colleagues I met was Denis Wakeling. Tall and muscular he was one of the most appealing undergraduates in the College. He was soon whisked away for war service in the Royal Marines, and it was nearly a quarter of a century before our paths crossed again.

In the intervening years he had had a period of distinguished service in the Marines, culminating in the award of the Military Cross. He had married Josephine Broomhall, a member of a well known missionary family linked to the China Inland Mission. He had felt the call to ministry in the Church of England and after training at Ridley Hall, Cambridge he had been ordained to a curacy in Leicester Diocese. A Chaplaincy followed at Clare College, Cambridge. For seven years from 1952 to 1959 he was the Vicar of Emmanuel Church in Plymouth, and it was from there that he came to succeed Frank Chadwick, who had just become Bishop of Barking, as Vicar of St Margaret's. Six years later he moved on to become the Archdeacon of West Ham and I came to Barking as his successor.

Denis and Josephine coped not only with St Margaret's but St Patrick's as well when it became vacant in 1960. Christ Church had been built on the Thames View estate within St Patrick's parish in 1959 and so that too came under his care. Three churches and a school and 35,000 people meant that he had as big a load as any clergyman in Britain. These were the years when Barking's reputation for youth work was at its height, and the back pews at St Margaret's on a Sunday night were packed with youngsters of both sexes.

It was no surprise, therefore, when the letter came from 10 Downing Street to say that he was to be the next Bishop of Southwell. A coachload of Barking people went up to York for the Consecration in the Minster. For the next 15 years he immersed himself in the community of Nottinghamshire, and he made an outstanding contribution to the life of the Church. The University of Nottingham have him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, and he was held in the highest esteem in the Church and in public life.

He retired to Salisbury, but his health deteriorated and he had to go into Nursing care in Dorset. Josephine died a year before him, and it is fair to say that his last years were sad rather than joyful.

Now there is a glorious welcome into the courts of heaven and Barking can look up and say, "Thank God for Denis Wakeling, our honoured friend and Vicar."

Jim Roxburgh
Vicar of Barking 1965-1977
Bishop of Barking 1983-1990