Director of Research, Professor Chris Baker, offers a personal reflection on the life and contribution of a dear friend and colleague, whose sudden death earlier this week has left many of those who knew, loved and deeply respected John with a profound sense of loss and shock….
It is with a deep sense of shock and a profound feeling of sadness that we at the Foundation have learned of the sudden death of Revd Dr John Reader. We are stunned at the unexpected passing of someone who has been so deeply influential on the trajectory of the Foundation’s work for so many years.
John was a staunch supporter of the work of the Foundation and an integral part of our output thanks to his prodigious talent and gift for communicating in accessible ways the very latest ideas from Continental Philosophy, environmentalism and science including of course the digital and the post-digital. His thinking gave the Foundation an ability to always be intellectually ahead of the curve whilst at the same time being true to the liberal, progressive and inclusive Anglican vision that the Foundation believes is the enduring legacy of Archbishop William Temple himself. One vehicle for doing this was established by John himself in the form of our Ethical Futures Group. This is a network of around 20 global scholars working in the areas of theology, environmentalism and ethics which he curated and led with great delight and enthusiasm. Just a few weeks ago the Foundation hosted a very successful panel at Greenbelt 2023 on AI and the future of theology and society, based on his and Professor Maggi Savin-Baden’s inspirational research, and we were able to remind several hundred people there of their latest book published just two years ago on Post digital Theologies: Technology, Belief and Practice and which has already had a big impact on thinking both within and outside theology and the church.
John’s writing career spanned some 30 years starting with and including early on in his career volumes such as The Earth Beneath (1992), Local Theology (1994) and Beyond All Reason: The limits of Post-modern Theology (1997), all of which had a huge impact on the development of my own theological research. His legacy comprises several books and innumerable articles, book reviews and blogs, several of which are still available on the Foundation’s website on www.williamtemplefoundation.org.uk
One of the reasons for his abiding loyalty to the Foundation was his huge love and respect for the work and person of John Atherton. John, a former canon theologian at Manchester Cathedral, lecturer in Christian Social Ethics at Manchester University and former Director of Research at the Foundation was a mentor and profound encourager to John’s work – as indeed he was to mine. The Foundation has arguably lost two Johns whose ground-breaking work and thinking it has been a profound privilege for the Foundation to act as a platform and conduit for.
In between all this he, as ever, found time to be a conscientious parish priest, rooted in the rich mysteries and vagaries of rural parish life, and always managed to move between the two worlds of the parish and academia effortlessly and authentically. His first commitment however was always his family and his grandchildren to whom he will have passed on so much knowledge and learning. He was a fanatical sports fan and indeed sportsman – Southampton FC drove him mad, but cricket was arguably his first love and whenever he got somewhat stressed or frustrated – which could occasionally occur as the world, the church and the Foundation itself often struggled to keep up with his prodigious output and thought – he would seek solace either watching or playing it.
There is so much more that needs to be said, and will be said, regarding John’s long and illustrious career as a priest and as an intellectual thinker and writer whose work was, and will be, valued across the globe as well as on these shores. Much more on his remarkable contributions to knowledge, learning and networks will emerge in the days to come.
John was a funny, warm, generous, passionate but above all loyal friend. We were due to meet next week for a long-overdue catch-up pint in Oxford. It seems inconceivable that he is no longer with us, and that I will no longer receive an email from him, usually within 10 minutes of me having sent one to him! His intellectual legacy and pastoral ministry are immense and touched the lives of so many people.
May he rest in peace and rise in glory!