My father, Tony Crowe, who died at the age of 87, was a courageous, radical and controversial priest, ahead of his time. He championed the ordination of women and same-sex marriage in the Church of England. He was a longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause and a regular writer of letters to the Guardian. He was sincere and unreserved, but also took pleasure in rubbing the establishment the wrong way and the publicity that followed.
Tony was born in Bristol, the middle of three boys, Murray Crowe, a bank clerk, and Joan (née Ehlers), a housewife. He first felt his vocation as a schoolboy at Clifton College in Bristol, influenced by the social ministry of Mervyn Stockwood in the poorer areas of the city.
He studied theology at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, graduating in 1957, then trained as a priest at Westcott House, Cambridge. He was the first deacon ordained in the new Coventry Cathedral in 1959. His first parish was in Stockingford, a mining village near Nuneaton. There he met Ailsa Wood, a local health visitor. They married in 1962.
Tony’s distinctive ministry took shape when they moved to London in the late 1960s to St John’s, Clapham and then in 1974 when he became rector at St Luke’s, Charlton. There he fostered a remarkable inclusive church community. As early as 1978, Tony “married” a same-sex couple at St Luke’s. It was a blessing service, but was covered by the tabloid press as a “gay wedding”. His stance on homosexuality prompted protests from evangelical groups during services, physical assault, and almost certainly affected the progress of his career in the church.
Tony also took practical action on the ordination of women. He mentored Liz Canham, who traveled to the United States in 1981 for ordination in the Episcopal Church. Three weeks later she was back at Charlton Rectory to celebrate the Eucharist for the BBC Newsnight cameras. Tony provided compassionate mentorship to women preparing for ordination in the late 1980s and 1990s, supporting those who were repelled by hostility and entrenched sexism.
Ours was a happy multiracial family of six children; two of us were adopted and one fostered. Family life in the parsonage was a very public experience as a wide range of people came to dine or stay. Ailsa was a strong supporter of Tony’s values and provided the emotional stability that allowed him to do what he did. Their social ministry was shared.
Tony and Ailsa moved from Charlton in 1994 to Whitstable, Kent. Tony became a part-time prison chaplain at Swaleside and Emley. They enjoyed the retreat, especially the year-round sea swimming and dog walking.
Ailsa passed away in 2020. Tony is survived by their children, Justin, Dominic, Lucy, Kate and I, as well as 13 grandchildren and two great-granddaughters. Another daughter, Rachel, died in 2009.