Christopher Wood, who directed the West London Mission’s social projects throughout the 1990s, has died from motor neurone disease aged 74.
His life was characterised by a passion for helping those that have fallen through the safety net by treating them as people with the greatest humanity. This drive for social justice was very clearly bound up with his deep and thoughtful Methodist faith, a faith which also found great expression in music, treating congregations to excellent organ playing from Bach to Messiaen wherever he was.
In later years, he placed great focus on a listening spirituality, with significant meditation and silence and always an assuredness of a journey towards God.
Chris became Director of Social Work at the West London Mission in 1988, working from Hinde Street Methodist Church when Leslie Griffiths (now Lord Griffiths of Burry Port) was minister and Lord (Donald) Soper was still a large presence. He led projects across London to help those that had fallen through the net.
During this time, he started centres offering residential accommodation for parents recovering from alcoholism where they could be with their children, and a centre for people with HIV/AIDS that Princess Diana opened.
A colleague working in London at the same time for a different homeless charity remembers Chris as someone he was privileged to know, explaining he was widely respected in the homeless sector as a person of integrity, a brilliant director and utterly caring. He describes Chris as having a unique way of engaging with people, giving his full and undivided attention, so that you almost felt embraced.
Before moving south to London (quite a change for a strong Yorkshireman who’d always lived in the north), Chris had worked in social work in Edinburgh for well over a decade, becoming head probation officer for Lothian Region. It was a changing time for social services in Scotland, and he and a long-time colleague George Moore wrote the textbook “Social Work and Criminal Law in Scotland” which became familiar to many students on social studies courses. The content of a further book “The End of Punishment” was made clear in its subtitle “Christian Perspectives on the
Crisis in Criminal Justice”.
In Edinburgh, the family were active members at Nicholson Square Methodist Church in the centre of the city, where Chris was one of the church members who drove forward a project to open a café and new facilities for all in the church’s Epworth Halls.
Later in his career, Chris started exploring his spirituality more. He was interested in Centering Prayer as a means towards deepening a contemplative way of being, went on retreats and trained as a spiritual director. In the mid-2000s, Chris returned to Yorkshire, spending a few years managing the activities of Scargill retreat centre in the Dales.
After retiring to Kendal, Chris became a founder member of the Cumbria Ecumenical Spirituality Group. This guided people in spiritual development and trained others as spiritual directors, and it continues today. Further roles in the Retreat Association and prayer groups followed on. He continued his spiritual direction, listening to and supporting many individuals on their faithful journeys, right up until the last few weeks of his motor neurone disease made him too tired and weak.
Chris was born in Baildon, West Riding on 15 October 1945. He was taught piano at home by his father, graduating to the organ as soon as his feet could reach the pedals at Baildon Methodist Church. Methodism, music, organ playing and Bach were constants in his life ever afterwards.
By the end of sixth form, he knew he wanted to do social work and his tutor at Bradford Grammar School told him to try Birmingham University. And it was in Birmingham that he met Dilys, who would become his wife, John Shember and Jon Turner – his best and closest friends, and many others through Methsoc who he continued to meet regularly to the end of his life.
A move to Scotland and Edinburgh for Chris and Dilys, now married and both working as probation officers, was followed by the birth of two sons, Jonathan and Michael. The family moved to Hertfordshire when Chris took up the role at the West London Mission, worshipping at Marlborough Road Methodist Church in St Albans.
It wasn’t long after their full retirement, and now in Kendal, that Dilys developed a fast-growing and terminal brain tumour. Chris cared for her intently in those months before her early death.
Moving to Shrewsbury a few years later gave Chris a new lease of life after Dilys’ death. There was organ playing, there was a beautiful house that he rejoiced in and there continued to be spiritual direction. And importantly there was Caroline, with whom he shared a great deal musically and spiritually.
Chris was a generous, warm-hearted and compassionate man, who was always smiling and supportive to all. A man of real faith, vision and full of affection for his family (particularly his grandchildren to whom he was No.1 Silly Grandpa), his life was driven by a sense of social justice and an unshakeable faith in the glory of God.
Chris is survived by Caroline; his two brothers, Roger and David; two sons and daughters-in-law, Jonathan and Justinia, Michael and Claire; and grandchildren Eloise, Aidan and Catherine.