Canon John de Wit

10th May 1947 – 17th June 2018

Pam de Wit writes: Thank you to all who attended John’s funeral and all who offered sympathy and so much kindness during John’s illness and after his sudden death. Your love and prayers are a great comfort.

The Faringdon Singers opened the Funeral Service with Psalm 121 (I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills). This was the passage of scripture that John heard read to him by a friend in the moments before he died.

The service brought together more than 200 people from every part of John’s life, to offer back to God a much loved and gifted priest, musician and artist. The first hymn, Angel voices ever singing, was one he loved.

Later in the service the Bakehouse Trio played a favourite piece by Corelli, and John’s cello teacher Coral Lancaster played a Bach suite for solo cello, before the Prayers led by Barbara Mapley. The final organ music, played by Norman Ashfield from Birmingham, was Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G major.

As John had hoped when he planned the outline of this service, the Word of God’s love was proclaimed in poetry, read by Peter Foot (George Herbert’s ‘Love bade me welcome’) and in a reading from St John’s Gospel (chapter 14, 1 – 6: ‘In my Father’s house are many dwelling places’); and also in the last icon that John painted, which was displayed alongside the coffin and blessed by John’s former Bishop in Birmingham, the Rt Revd Mark Santer.

John’s icon is a copy of the famous Russian icon of the Holy Trinity by André Rublev. There is a place ready at the front of the table for us to come and share God’s hospitality, represented by the circle of love that holds together the three figures in the composition of the painting:

Steve Bellamy in his sermon drew out the common thread in the readings and the painting: ‘John wanted us to look at the last icon he painted and to see the warm invitation of God to each one of us to be a guest in God’s household of love, where we can be held secure through the troubles of this life into all eternity. It is our privilege to hear that message today and by God’s grace to respond to his invitation – and as we remember before God our much loved friend John, a humble and unassuming true gentleman, full of fun, a painter, preacher and musician, a faithful priest and loving husband, it is also our privilege to commend John with confidence to his Lord and to the fulfilment of that vibrant life of God’s household of love, which was always at the heart of John’s life as he followed Jesus here’.

John himself saw the roots of this faith in the Christian life of his Dutch family and the blessing of his married home. His earlier studies in history and art history (including several years working at the Ashmolean Museum when he was in his 20s), together with his interest in theology and prayer, later gave rise to a longing to find visual ways to express the truth of the Gospel. In icons John began to feel he had discovered an ancient way of painting that could also speak to the modern world. As Steve put it in his sermon, ‘ icons can capture us as we look at them, and draw us in to enjoy being with them in the stillness, they are an ancient way of speaking about prayer, about God’s love and about the life of Christ’.

The final hymn, Now thank we all our God, expressed John’s sense of gratitude for his life on this earth, and was a prayer for all of us as we continue on our journey.