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Tradition: Norman Goodacre

Norman W Goodacre, Priest, Counsellor and Friend.

Norman William Goodacre was born on April 15, 1907, the eldest son of Francis and Gertrude Goodacre. He had a younger sister Barbara (b. 1910), and a much younger brother, John (b,1915). Their home was ‘Lowood’, 4 Liverpool Road on the outskirts of Ormskirk.

Initially, until he was 8 (1915), Norman was educated privately with Barbara by two of his mother’s younger sisters, Enid in particular, of whom he was very fond. Enid later retired to a village near Shipston on Stour where we were taken periodically to meet her. His father was in the war – not that anything was ever said to us about this – and suffered badly in the trenches, eventually being invalided out with trench fever. At least two of his uncles died in the war.

Norman continued his education at Ormskirk Grammar School, in fact the only school he ever attended. He was very critical of its total lack of spirituality, no attempt to encourage his particular gifts and his burgeoning vocation.   His Dad went to Matins each Sunday at the local Christ Church, and a thoroughly bored Norman accompanied him. He began to pick up more when he started going to the church near his school, Ormskirk Parish Church. He took a large part in scouting there, starting the second Ormskirk troop for the Church and remaining involved until well into the Thirties. His scouting enthusiasms had a marked influence on our family holidays; we were regularly drilled into creating a simulation of a good scout camp site. He and his friends would go on such scout trips. The naturalist Jack Clegg was one of these, another was Jim Daniels. A cycling holiday he went on with Jim is described and illustrated in the collection of his letters edited by his second wife, Kathleeen. (published 2003, pp105-106)

Writing in his autobiographical notes of 1992, he spoke of how God had ‘slowly and delicately led me through many problems and trials of the early years and school, into the open and growing years of the teens, friendships and the coming of worship, prayer and personal faith.’   He could not remember the details of when he first discovered faith, but recalled that it was something to do with being presented with a choice; of being called to follow the good rather than give space to inner demons and bitterness.

He did not feel he had been encouraged at his school and left in 1924 with minimal qualifications. He showed artistic promise from an early age, witness his drawings in Kathleen’s book. His father managed to get him a position as an office boy in the Liverpool School of Architecture where one of his duties was to act as lantern boy for the Professor, Sir Charles Reilly’s lectures. These two years were important. A friend advised him that he needed to catch up with his education if he was to qualify to study for an architectural degree. On her recommendation he used the time well. He was at the School from 1926 until 1931, doing exceptionally well in his first year, less well later as he became side-tracked by extra-curricular activities like the Student Christian Movement. He was wondering too whether he might be being called to offer himself for ordination.

He met my mother, Ruth Leighton at Liverpool. She was reading a degree in preparation for becoming a Social Worker. Ruth was a wonderful conversationalist and raconteur, qualities which Norman valued greatly. They became engaged in 1931 – Ruth aged 21 – and seven years later married in 1935.

One highlight of his final years as an architectural student was his six month placement in the New York firm of Raymond Hood, the architect of the radiator building in New York. In this country, there is one partly visible sign of his work, an olde world tea room, Winifred Cottage, which he designed for his sister Barbara. It is on the East Lancashire road to Liverpool from Ormskirk, now rather hidden under a brutalist modern extension. You have to go inside to see what the original might have looked like. As his final project, he designed a school. In retrospect he felt his work and design would have been better if he had taken more advice, both from educationalists and from his teachers. He was always one to hold to his own opinions.

His wondering about ordination had stalled somewhat, because he felt he would be unable to cope with the public side of the life. He knew he was good with people, especially being with individuals; the difficulty was people in the mass – though he was skilled with larger groups. I remember when my sister Margaret and I were in our late teens, we went with him to a Sunday School conference where he was to be a leader. We were both amazed by the skill of his handling of the occasion. He eventually counselled himself that he would have to ‘grit my teeth about the public life’ and go for it. In the event although his ministry was primarily to be a personal and individual one, he was a parish priest for many years.

Throughout his training as an architect he had commuted daily to Liverpool from his home in Ormskirk. This meant he could be at church each Sunday. In addition to his scouting, he felt he could contribute more by working in the Sunday School. In 1928 he was given a free ticket to the Chester Summer School for Sunday School Teachers where ‘I found a live faith for the first time.’ It was taken by the two itinerant Staff of the Sunday School Institute, Arthur Langford-Jones and Phyllis Dent. LJ, as Norman called him, became his first Spiritual Director and ‘was my guru for a decade… (he) inspired me with ‘high church’ ideas, teaching, symbolism, vestments, colours and lights and (I) began to learn to pray seriously. I had been drawn to prayer in the teens and was giving time – half an hour to an hour a day from the teens onwards until I reached two hours. … LJ was like a father to me. He was a great correspondent. I could write and ask all the usual questions … and he would patiently comment and explain.’

Once Norman had completed his architectural training, he switched immediately to prepare for the ministry. Through Alan Richardson (later Dean of York, the SCM secretary in Liverpool at the time) and Charles Raven he was admitted to Westcott House in Cambridge. He was there for one year, from the long vac August term in 1932 until the following September. He was ordained on St Matthew’s day, 1933.

While he was in Liverpool he had attended some psychology lectures given by a Liverpool priest, who had recently become Vicar of Christ Church, Sefton Park in Liverpool. Norman saw that Canon Goodliffe did not have a curate, so tentatively he approached his wife to ask her if she would ask him if he would like one. He was there for two years. ‘It was an altogether exciting and inspiring experience. Canon Goodliffe was a superb preacher; ‘although evangelical and not very sacramental, (with) a wonderful pastoral gift of working with every kind of person in the parish. Services were more contemporary than any I have ever attended or shared in since.’ He was there for the 2 years required at the time and then moved to another diocese, to Chester diocese so that he could marry. The Bishop of Liverpool at the time did not like clergy marrying before they were 30, and Norman and Ruth felt they had been engaged long enough; far too long he reflected later. They moved to Great Budworth in Cheshire and were married in Emmanuel Church, Southport, Ruth’s home church on October 23rd, 1935. Their first home was a cottage opposite the Tabley Hall Estate on the main road from Northwich to Chester. Rinks Cottage is still there, and still as isolated as it was then. His new incumbent was Leslie Brasnett, ‘a good teacher and a good sacramentalist,’ and Norman’s task in addition to being a curate was to act as chaplain to Tabley House and Arley Hall, large estates in the parish. Two months into their married life, Norman told Ruth that there would be no money this month as he had an insurance bill to pay, an example of his rather laid back, generous but unplanned approach to money at the time; Ruth looked after the family finances thereafter; her children – and husband – being for ever grateful that she did. The couple were only a short time in Tabley. They moved to a third curacy in Otley and then in 1938 to a first incumbency; St Margaret’s, Thornbury, Bradford. Margaret was born days after they moved. I had been born in the Tabley time and was baptized in the Tabley Hall chapel. Arthur Langford Jones was one of my Godparents LJ died 2 years later and left me his desk in his will. Norman used it until I was ordained, had it refurbished for me and I am now writing this piece while sitting at it.

Commenting on God’s care of him in these early years, Norman reflected, ‘He gave me one teacher after another … and I have never ceased to be grateful for them. I was lifted out of a narrow and confined childhood, though not basically an unhappy one, into a growing life of enquiry, faith and ever-increasing delights.’ After LJ died, he turned to Reginald Somerset Ward for direction, presumably through him or one of his deaconess friends, Prudence Bullock. He did not explain. He was to remain with him until Fr Ward’s death in 1962.

Norman started with Fr Ward in 1937, as also rather later did Ruth. ‘No man could have been more fortunate than I was in having as spiritual director one of the outstanding men of the Ecclesia Anglicana.’   Fr Ward gave the name ‘the Road’ to his teaching of the mystical way of prayer. He saw it as a special vocation, given to only a few who were called to the Road. The way, Fr Ward taught, required strong discipline, privacy and a humble quietness of soul before God. Norman wrote later, ‘I treasurer the institutional and the intellectual, but I cleave to the mystical.’ Shortly before Norman died he showed me the exercises in spiritual direction Fr Ward had given him, each of the papers he had done marked in red with Fr Ward’s comments. Later Fr Ward published his course in A Guide for Spiritual Directors (written under his pseudonym, ‘Author of the Way’)

Norman began his own work as a Spiritual Director during the war. By 1945 he had collected ‘some 45 people and ‘it was the increasing time needed to cope with this work that alerted me to the possibility that I ought to specialise and find some way of gaining the time and opportunity.’ He was seriously overworked by the end of the war and had ‘a kind of minor breakdown.’ He recuperated by moving for respite to Kirby Malham, the Vicar there, Bernard Chick helping him out by covering for him in Bradford. While still getting better he was offered the parish next to Kirby Malham, Coniston Cold; it was very small – some 180 souls.

To Ruth’s dismay the village lacked electricity and was not to acquire it for a further decade. The vicarage which stands on the A65 Leeds to Kendal road was to the rest of us, by this time four children with the addition of Selwyn and Janet, an idyllic place to be; Malham Cove was visible from the church on the lane to Bell Busk. I think I only came to realize just how beautiful the place was when we returned for the burials of ashes there of my parents and one of my sisters. In addition to the church, one room formed the chapel. Norman and Ruth said the Offices there and we as children would gather in this very special space for evening prayers and a story, wonderful when Ruth lead us, rather less so when Norman did. Each year Norman was able to visit every home in the parish even though he was away almost every other week seeing his ‘folk’.   He began with local tours to Bradford, Skipton and Manchester and then in 1948 added week-long visits to London – two weeks there eventually. Soon, like Fr Ward, he was visiting twenty places in all and was travelling round the country by train and staying in the same hotels, all financed by donations to a Trust Fund which he had set up. As he travelled he valued the time to read ‘and keep abreast of theology and general subjects’ and the chance to relax. On two occasions, when there were rail strikes, he went by car and found that much more stressful. His pattern, like Fr Ward’s, was half hour sessions with each person arranged by secretaries in each of the centres. Then he would service the people by letters and send a monthly paper on prayer or some aspect of spirituality. In later years he wrote also an overseas letter. Extracts of some of these are in N.W.G. Priest, Counsellor, Friend.

Throughout our childhood, we were subject to the constant refrain, that when Fr Ward died we were to move to Farncombe. It was not in the end to be. By this time there were six children, Norman and Ruth having Helen and Fran in the early 1950s, Janet was 16 and the three oldest had left home. Norman began to hear the call to remain in the North. ‘The work had developed enough for me to take a leap of faith’, he wrote, ‘and leave parish work altogether and be supported by the Trust. … The plan was to raise £750 a year as a stipend (the stipend was at about that level in 1958). One day he was setting off on one of his tours from Gargrave station and there was a poster, an unusual one, almost Braque like and cubist in style, a painting with the clear message at the top, ‘Go North!’ He was moved by it, as were we all, and he felt it a sign that he was on the right path. Further confirmation came when a well-wisher offered to provide a third of his income, a further third came from the Trust, and the final third from his appointment to a part-time chaplaincy to a girls’ public school in Harrogate. Another friend, who believed in Norman’s work, bought us a house. So to Harrogate the family moved. It was a good decision. Harrogate ‘was a central place for anyone covering twenty centres over the whole of England. The link with Leeds was good and the trains good and prompt and reliable.’

Norman’s main writing was done in the Harrogate years. He started with Springboard for Easter, meditations and prayers for Lent in preparation for Easter (1966). ‘Springboard’ was followed by five more similar works, a very useful, admirably clear, Holy Communion Manual for confirmation candidates (1967) which accompanied the revision of the Eucharist of that year and an account of his open retreat, Experiment in Retreats (1970).   Retreatants stayed in hotels in Harrogate and came together for talks and prayer and counsel. It went well and Norman was excited by it. His last work was very much later (1995) Abba Imma, a miscellany of pieces for the Parish Magazine.

The title of that last book gives an insight into one of his great concerns, the liberation of women and their ordination.   He wrote of two great happenings in this century, ‘the emancipation of women and the appreciation of children.’ Chapter 6 in Kathleen’s Memoir is devoted to the former, which includes his 1986 letter to Archbishop Robert Runcie on the subject. In 1982, one of the people he accompanied, Winifred Bolle invited him ‘to act as a presenter at her ordination … in Miami Cathedral that year. He flew out with a Deaconness friend, Phyllis Entwistle ‘to share in the joyful fulfilment of her dreams. … The day after, Winnie celebrated the 8am Eucharist in the cathedral assisted by the Dean and Phyllis and I had the special delight of receiving the Blessed Sacrament from her hands.’ (2003 p.77)

He was also unusual as a priest in his concern that men and women should embrace their sexuality. ‘My great belief was in a full and proper sex education in the context of learning good relationships from the earliest age with information graded to suit the different ages.’ He wanted the young to be informed about normal sex as well as be aware of its dangers – especially anything that exploited women; they needed to know, he felt, that sex in itself is natural. He applauded Alex Comfort’s books and thought there was nothing extraordinary in ‘wishing to be well-informed by visual means – by the videos, that is, which were becoming available in the 80s.

‘Altogether’, Norman wrote, ‘Harrogate was good for us all.’ The years came to an end with Ruth’s premature death. She had appendicitis, but it was mis-diagnosed and she died of peritonitis. Towards the end of her life she had returned to social work, caring for single mothers, all of whom she loved and valued. Norman was deeply bereaved. They had been married 40 years, and he depended on her greatly. He recognized early that he needed to be with a partner, and with the great care of the Holy Spirit, was fortunate to meet yet another remarkable woman, Kathleen Clegg, a Liverpool woman whom he had known for years. Initially he hoped Kathleen would move to Harrogate, but she was a teacher with no desire yet to retire and suggested it was he who should come to her. Shortly after they were married she became the Head Teacher of St Edmund’s College. Later when St Edmund’s College amalgamated with Archbishop Blanch School she became the Head of the new school.   He later came to recognise how important it was to ‘join your second wife in her own home and work and not to persuade her to join you.’ So Norman returned to Liverpool, his home city, which was a delight to him. He was grateful to Kathleen that ‘she has been willing to let me loose in the kitchen. With my special interest in laying tables and setting out a meal with art and style, we have been able to work together well.’ Still, my children who were very fond of their grandfather were sometimes daunted at the table, whether their tackling of the cheese met with his approval.

People still came to see him. ‘In old age’, he wrote, ‘and without a chapel such as I have had for thirty years, I have worked out another way of prayer. I do the chores on rising and get breakfast and prepare for the later meals, and then I take a quiet hour upstairs in my study. The other time is achieved as best I can with quiet periods of reflection, walks and ‘offered prayer. Kathleen and I … share in a Friday celebration of Holy Communion in my study each week as well as our regular 8am Holy Communion in church.’

His last three years were difficult. He had a number of TIAs which told on him. Kathleen once, when he was wondering what to do with himself, whether reflecting on his life during his Nineties might be helpful. He had written a number of prayer papers outlining the various spiritual issues which tended to arise in each decade of life. Later she saw he had written: ‘Better to avoid the 90s if you can.’

For the last years Kathleen found that the offer of respite care allowed her to continue caring for him; six weeks with Kathleen, six weeks in respite care; until his last fortnight, when he moved into a care home. Liz Carmichael writing of a visit she made to him there said ‘Norman struck me as an oasis of calm in his somewhat crazy surroundings. He was blessed in still having the contemplative gift of inner silence.’ Kathleen comments; ‘Norman spoke little at this stage, but when (a) radio appeared he said simply, “I like silence;” almost the last words of his life.’ (2003 p,51)

David Goodacre

Holy Week, 2016

This short account is based largely on some ‘autobiographical notes’ he prepared in 1992, 8 years before he died. Two other works are first Norman W Goodacre, an annotated Hand-list of the Printed Writings (1982), which my brother Selwyn prepared for Norman’s 75th birthday. He also included a memoir. The second is N.W.G. Priest, Counsellor, Friend (privately published in December 2003), in which Kathleen collated a number of extracts from his spiritual letters and occasional piece..

Norman’s books:

Springboard for Easter , Mowbrays 1966

Meditation Outlines, SPCK 1967

Holy Communion Manual (1967 service), Mowbrays 1967

Advent Candles, Mowbrays 1968

Layman’s Lent, Mowbrays 1969

Experiment in Retreats, Mowbrays 1970

Prayers for Today, Mowbrays 1972

Abba Imma – a miscellany of pieces for the Parish Magazine, Canterbury Press 1995

Meditations for Lent, for those of middle years and more, Canterbury Press 1996

1 Comment

  1. Rita Roberts

    Thank you for this. I knew Kathleen well, having lodged with her while I was a student at I M Marsh college. I met Norman one or twice on subsequent visits. Kathleen and I have communicated over the years but in recent years she had fallen silent. I know her eyesight was an increasing problem .
    I’d be grateful to hear from you about her.
    Yours sincerely
    Rita Roberts (nee Watson)

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