Tim Pickles, who was the Interfatih Foundation’s Community Facilitator from 2008 to 2012, died on 1 February 2018.
I cannot recall the exact point of encounter with Tim. It must have been about 15 years ago when he turned up on the doorstep at Sacred Space for his appointment. I think he’d been passed on, perhaps by recommendation, by some Friend from the Quaker Meeting in Keswick. I don’t think I’m about to say anything that he wasn’t quite public about. Anyway, he was seeking spiritual direction and there followed maybe an hour of the fullness of his life story packed with his desire to right all the wrongs of the world, his headstrong inclination to judge others and situations, his successes as a facilitator and leader, and his deep woundedness not least from the trajectory of his gay-ness.
After we got past the story and the stuckness, he got into his natural home, his heart. That was always his challenge, like most of us, to stay there in all the pushes and pulls of life. In fact, his occasional inclination to an outward Mr. Fixit persona belied a man of great heart and deep devotion in his relationship to the Beloved. People with great heart often learn to protect it with layers of tough veneer. He learned, often painfully and sometimes joyfully, to get through that stuff and live from Home and the God whom he knew loved him completely as he was. Like all of us he had that same trial of falling into forgetting and then remembering. Like all of us his shadow would rise from time to time and he could be challenging and fierce, but always willing to say sorry if he’d got it wrong – and he could take stubbornness to the level of an art form! (Oh the trials of the Enneatype 3 – we had that in common).
In these words I cannot do justice to Tim. No written words ever do. But what I admired about him was his endeavor of deep authenticity, his capacity for self-examination, his determination to ‘keep at it’, his humility when he was aware that he had fallen into forgetting, and his willingness to do the work to remember. Like many who have been to Sacred Space, he was inspired to follow up by training at the Interfaith Seminary (as it then was) and was one of the class who were based in Manchester with Fay Barratt and Olivea Dewhurst-Maddock. After ordination in 2008, Tim became a consultant to what, by now, was the Interfaith Foundation: first, leading the project to set up the Interfaith Ministers Association, then in the role of community facilitator. He continued as friend and supporter of Sacred Space and Keswick Quakers. All of this he saw as an avenue of service, as he peeled himself away from his old life and applied his many skills — of organisation, mastery of technology, teaching, analysis, presentation; always applied sedulously and tenaciously — to aiding the renewal of the Foundation’s focus and structure, and supporting individual ministers.
He had a passionate antennae for injustice, was a deeply moral man and sometimes had an almost childlike perplexity when he met people who were not. His sense of justice was, in part, rooted in his lived experience of having a gay sexuality — he grew up gay in a time that saw the culture shift from outright hostility and illegality, to equality in marriage — with all the attacks and woundedness that can come along the way; that we had in common too. He turned that hurt to good. He did much work with men’s groups (gay and straight) and others to bring awareness of injustices and empowerment to the wounded and disempowered. He loved the hills and his home in Keswick and found another home, after touching inclusively into many faiths, among the local Quaker community.
A few years ago, in his second home of Thailand, he met the love of his life, Aod, and they married in what was the first gay wedding at the Friends Meeting House in Keswick – a glorious occasion, which was the first such wedding in Cumbria. With Aod they went through all the homophobia the immigration authorities could throw at them. In fact I would from time to time feel sorry for the Home Office — they didn’t know what they were taking on! Once Tim had got his teeth into something there would be no letting go. They won through eventually and were both settled in their lovely Thai and English homes, rich with hospitality, spending about half the year in each; with winter especially (and wisely) in the former.
It was during their most recent Thai sojourn that Tim began to feel ill — stomach pains, lack of appetite and exhaustion — nearly two weeks ago now. He took to his bed. While Aod’s back was turned (he was making some soup; Tim felt he could eat that) Tim slipped away without fuss. Aod found him and attempted resuscitation, as did the ambulance crew, but Tim was later pronounced dead from a heart attack. He was utterly devoted to Aod and they loved each other deeply. Aod is heartbroken. When I spoke to Aod last week he was awaiting evidence of their marriage and confirmation that he was the husband legally entitled to authorise Tim’s cremation. It was Tim’s wish that if he died in Thailand, he should be cremated according to Thai Buddhist tradition. And after that, Aod will bring his ashes to England for them to be scattered in Wasdale, Tim’s most-favoured place of all the Lakes.
I cannot say why the being that was Tim had decided to leave us so soon. I can say that I trust him to be at Home. He had a life well lived and full, the last part filled with great love and opportunity. John Cassian writes that the measure of a person is to ask how well he loved. Tim helped thousands of people. He loved Aod devotedly, his friends unconditionally. He loved well.
Rev. Prof. Stephen G Wright FRCN MBE was ordained in 2004. He is a director of the Sacred Space Foundation.