By Barbara Kentish – former Westminster Justice and Peace Fieldworker
My friend and neighbour, Bruce Kent, died on Wednesday 8th June, aged 92.
Bruce’s witness to peace is well known and has been well documented by national press obituaries. As General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, he was constantly in the public eye, and he initiated the British wing of the international Catholic movement Pax Christi. A member of the International Peace Bureau, he operated on an international platform. His Christian start point led him on a journey of six decades, culminating in a joint award for himself and his wife, Valerie, from the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2021, dedicated to
‘Bruce Kent and Dr Valerie Flessati – The Lambeth Cross for Ecumenism – for exceptional, tireless and lifelong dedication to the Christian ecumenical search for peace, both individually and together’
His simple, though not simplistic, Christianity best explains his staggering contribution to public life.
Here I wish to add a few notes about his witness in our corner of London, and particularly in Justice and Peace work. This was a natural forum for Bruce, a frequent presence in local gatherings. He and Valerie began a Justice and Peace group in their Tollington Park parish in North London, where they excelled at practical ways to raise local awareness of global injustices. A fundraiser for the Comboni Sisters’ nursery in Bethany highlighted the Palestinian conflict, while a Remembrance Day service raised awareness of global trouble spots, currently affecting fellow parishioners, while recalling the two world wars. In the community, he supported the Finsbury Park Mosque and the Citizens UK anti-knife crime campaign. Totally hands-on, he supported the ESOL classes I ran for a couple of years at his parish – his duty simply to unlock doors and ensure the heating was on!
More seriously, he confronted the MP of the neighbouring constituency, a nervous David Lammy, on the renewal of Trident. Alas, Mr Lammy’s then post as a minister in the Blair government kept him to his official support of Trident, later recanting, but only when in opposition!
One of Bruce’s constant cries was for better participation of the laity in the running of church matters. He and Valerie served on their Parish Council for many years, supporting the routine tasks, such as bazaars and concerts, as well as promoting justice and peace causes. When A Call to Action, the movement for more collaborative working between laity and clergy emerged, Bruce supported it wholeheartedly, seeing a diocesan pastoral council as a logical step forward and attending many meetings, till the movement hit barriers of inertia and opposition.
He could often demonstrate a lighter touch in his core concerns for peace and anti-militarism, and many will have fun memories of the annual Children’s Peace Walk he helped organize through Central London, where, dressed as Sherlock Holmes, he would encourage children and their parents to ‘Search for Peace’! Likewise, his picnic party games in nearby Finsbury Park generated great merriment.
A fortunate opportunity arose around 11 years ago when a nearby parish closed, making church buildings available. With Fr Joe Ryan and Westminster Justice & Peace, Bruce facilitated the arrival of the London Catholic Worker house of hospitality for refugees in Haringey. It was to draw on the support of many local parishes and individuals, inspiring many to reach out to destitute asylum seekers.
As diocesan Justice and Peace fieldworker, I came across (ill-informed) hostility to his politics quite early: for instance at a deanery meeting one priest told me that ‘Bruce Kent and his boys’ should be demonstrating outside the Pakistani Embassy rather than outside South Africa House, for the right of Christians to practice their religion in safety. South Africa was long since free of apartheid by this time, and Bruce was in fact privately supporting a Pakistani prisoner.
In all of this work, of course, Valerie Flessati was a constant collaborator and initiator of schemes. All were delighted when they jointly received a Lambeth award in 2021 from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The wording quoted above says it all. Bruce worked in partnership with Valerie, for their neighbourhood, their parish and our diocese, which have all benefited from their endeavours.
For Bruce, as for all the Justice and Peace movement, justice was indivisible: whether nuclear weapons, apartheid, freedom of religion, the rights of prisoners, or those of the laity: he embraced all issues, with his amazing energy and intellect. He leaves a huge gap.