The British Orthodox Church

within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate

Bishop Ignatius Peter SMETHURST (1921-1993)

Kenneth Joseph Smethurst was born at 24 Kensington Street, Moss Side, Mancester, on 2 April 1921. His father, Joseph Henry Smethurst (1890-1967) was from a local family and worked as a Cost Clerk at Metropolitan Vickers, the engineeers. His mother, Laura Ledley (1890-1972) was descended from the once prosperous Ledleys of Bollington Hall, near Macclesfield, whose fortunes had declined with a profligate ancestor.

He was born into a close-knit and affectionate family network. Although an only child his maternal grandmother lived at 12 Kensington Street and there was a host of uncles, aunts and cousins living near at hand. Both his parents died at home and he was not to move from the house where he was born until August 1983 when he moved to East Didsbury.

After leaving Manchester Central High School he went to work for the solicitors, Margo, Bluimberghe & Gonar in Princes Street, Manchester. He did not find the Law especially stimulating although he took several exams intended to lead him to become a Managing Clerk. By then, however, he had become active in the Church and his secular job become very much secondary.

His parents were bioth Anglicans, having been married at St. Edmund’s, Whalley Range, and in his boyhood he attended Christ Church, Moss Side, where the churchmanship was very middle-of-the road Anglicanism. When Kenneth discovered Anglo-Catholicism he took to it with enthusiasm, even excess, and at this time began his lifelong devotion to the Mother of God. For some time he was Secretary of the Manchester Ward of the Society of Mary and was active in the Guild of Servers of the Sanctuary and many other Anglo-Catholic confraternities.

The war clouds were gathering by this time and Kenneth, as a Christian Pacifist, joined the Peace Pledge Union. He was determined not to fight in the war but was willing to serve in the Medical Corps, though he failed the army medical and was granted exemption from service.

His lively and enquiring mind led him to explore the history and teachings of all the major and most of the obscure denominations of Christendom. As some youngsters collected match-boxes or cigarette cards, Kenneth collected denominations. He was as happy attending some wild Pentecostal meeting as he was at a Solemn High Mass and he had lost count of the number of times he had signed the pledge. This breadth of sympathy and comprehension which he acquired served him well in later years and enabled him, when meeting with other Christians from diverse traditions, to converse in their own language and to reveal more than a superficial understanding of their positions.

He first entered into correspondence with the late Metropolitan Georgius in December 1945 and there was soon a mutual sympathy with shared outlooks on many issues, although they did not meet until October 1946 when Kenneth visited Kew. By this stage he was beginning to have grave doubts about the position of Anglicanism especially as the “South India Scheme”, which undermined the traditional doctrine of Holy Orders, was under consideration. He was received into the church the following year and in 1947 ordained to all the orders up to and including the diaconate. Returning to Manchester he established a small mission dedicated to the Mother of God. On 9 October 1948 he was ordained to the priesthhood at Kew and given the new name, Ignatius.

Father Ignatius now developed his ministry as one of intercession and regular offices and liturgies were celebrated daily, which was supported by a small community drawn from friends and sympathisers. On 19 September 1951 he made his monastic profession, though living as an idiorrhythmic monk.

In December 1952 he left the solicitors and became a civil servant with the G.P.O. (later Telecom). Totally devoid of ambition in his secular life he was content to serve as as Assistant Supervisor at the telephone exchange, where his courtesy and kindness won him many friends. The long night watches suited him well and he was able to use the opportunity for prayer and reading. His colleagues knew of his strong faith and encyclopaedic knowledge, but only a few ever knew that he was an Orthodox heiromonk. Periodically he would be sent to London for courses organised by his employers, when he would spend those weekends assisting Metropolitan Georgius wherever he was officiating. His enthusiasm for Marian shrines took him on pilgrimage to Mexico, Poland, Lourdes, Fatima, Jerusalem and some very neglected shrines where he delighted in accounts of our Lady’s appearances and the miracles which were bestowed on those who sought her prayers.

In 1966 he was elected to serve as Auxiliary Bishop to Metropolitan Georgius and was consecrated a bishop in Kent on 19 June 1966, with Bishops Thomas-Marie (Lutgen) of Antwerp and Servan-Edgard (Devulder) acting as co-consecrators. As it was the centenary of the consecration of Bishop Julius Ferrette, he was given the name Ignatius Peter after the nineteenth century Syrian Orthodox Patriarch. He was now to play a more significant role in church affairs and was always a valued counsellor of Metropolitan Georgius. When Abba Seraphim succeeded Metropolitan Georgius in February 1979, Bishop Ignatius Peter was not only happy to continue this role but gave considerable support to Abba Seraphim for whom he had been a co-consecrator. When the Bournemouth Church came under the British Orthodox Church he became a frequent visitor and played a lively role in the three missions held there in 1981-2. Having retired from secular work and moved to East Didsbury he was joined in 1983 by Deacon Alexander Astill who moved to Chester and between them they ministered in the north-west. Abba Seraphim had been pressing for the establishment of a more effective ministry in Manchester but Bishop Ignatius Peter had resisted it as he felt he could play a more significant role in the establishment of the Cusworth Church, which had just come under the jurisdiction of the British Orthodox Church.

At Cusworth Bishop Ignatius Peter happily assumed the role of assistant pastor, accepting to be on duty when Abba Seraphim was elsewhewre. His warmth and good humour endeared him to the congregation and the many outsiders who came to the church, to whom he never tired of talking about the Orthodox faith. If his hearing made it difficult for him to respond to the comments of others and he was inclined to be prolix, he nevertheless was the model of a good shepherd. His sermons and addresses were always thoroughly prepared, full of ‘strong meat’, scripturally argued and engagingly presented. His library and notebooks show clearly the considerable time he gave to preparation. His self-deprecating manner and dry Macunian wit concealed a profound faith and a shrewd ability to discern the ‘signs of the times.’ Naturally conservative in his outlook, he felt great sympathy with Anglicans and Roman Catholics who believed their own hierarchies had sold their birthright for the proverbial mess of pottage, but he was sufficiently alive to the activity of the Holy Spirit that he did not despise new ways of presenting old truths to people who were on the margins of faith. At Cusworth his ministry was rich indeed and he was in great demand for baptisms and weddings.

In November 1989 he suffered a heart attack during the night but insisted on celebrating the Divine Liturgy as usual the next morninhg. Only after repeatred pleadings by his friends did he eventually visit his doctor, who despatched him to hospital immediately. By the following February, however, he was back at Cusworth baptising children. As his health deteriorated in the last few months before his death he often remarked that he would have hoped to have been spared for another two years of ministry, not because he wished to put off his encounter with his Creator, but because he saw the need for so much work still to be done and he was excited by the developments in the religious world. After years in the wilderness he had seen the Promised Land from Mount Nebo and had hoped to cross over into it.

In May 1993 he suffered a series of strokes and was admitted to hospital with partial paralysis and loss of speech, though remaing mentally alert. The was fortified by the rites of the church and the Cusworth Ikon of the Mother of God was brought to his bedside, giving him great comfort. He died on the Eve of Pentecost, 5 June 1993 aged 72 years. He body was returned to Cusworth for his funeral  and was buried in his family grave in the Southern Cemetery at Manchester (Grave No. AA 2433 Consecrated).  After a few personal bequests he left his entire estate to the British Orthodox Church, from which funds the freehold of the Chatham Church was purchased.

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