March 8: Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy, Priest, 1929

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

G. A. Studdert Kennedy was born in Leeds in 1883, one of nine children. His father, William Studdert Kennedy, was vicar in Leeds. Kennedy earned a degree in classics and divinity in 1904 at Trinity College, Dublin. After his ordination, he served parishes in Rugby and Worcester.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Kennedy volunteered as a chaplain to soldiers on the Western Front. Along with the spiritual comfort he gave to the wounded and dying, he was famous for handing out Woodbine cigarettes to the soldiers, who called him “Woodbine Willie.”

A skilled poet, Kennedy published several volumes of religious poetry. He also wrote poems based on his experience as war chaplain, published in the volumes Rough Rhymes of a Padre (1918) and MoreRough Rhymes (1919). His courage and has compassion for the soldiers he served can be heard in his poem “Woodbine Willie,” a gracious, moving account of the men who gave him his nickname:

THEY gave me this name like their nature,

Compacted of laughter and tears,

A sweet that was born of the bitter,

A joke that was torn from the years.

Of their travail and torture, Christ’s fools,

Atoning my sins with their blood,

Who grinned in their agony sharing

The glorious madness of God.

Their name! Let me hear it—the symbol

Of unpaid—unpayable debt,

For the men to whom I owed God’s Peace,

I put off with a cigarette.

He also published a collection of sermons entitled I Believe: Sermons on the Apostle’s Creed (1928). His later poems and prose works express the Christian socialism and pacifism he adopted during his war years. He eventually worked for the Industrial Christian Fellowship. On one of his speaking tours on their behalf, he became ill, and he died in Liverpool in 1929.

Studdert Kennedy remains a powerful influence on the pacifist cause, and his many writings have inspired figures such as Desmond Tutu and Jürgen Moltmann.


I     Glorious God, we give thanks not merely for high and holy things, but for the common things of earth which thou hast created: Wake us to love and work, that Jesus, the Lord of life, may set our hearts ablaze and that we, like Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, may recognize thee in thy people and in thy creation, serving the holy and undivided Trinity; who liveth and reigneth throughout all ages of ages.  Amen.

II     Glorious God, we give thanks not merely for high and holy things, but for the common things of earth which you have created: Wake us to love and work, that Jesus, the Lord of life, may set our hearts ablaze and that we, like Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, may recognize you in your people and in your creation, serving the holy and undivided Trinity; who lives and reigns throughout all ages of ages.  Amen.


2 Samuel 22: 1-7 (8-16) 17-19

1 Corinthians 15:  50-58

Luke 10: 25-37

Psalm 69: 15-20

Preface of a Saint (2)

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

* * *

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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24 thoughts on “March 8: Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy, Priest, 1929

  1. I was most pleased when G.A. Studdert-Kennedy’s hymn was not only retained in the 1982 Hymnal & that the verses were increased from 3 to 6. Why, when the collect relies so heavily on words from this hymn, is no mention made of it in Studdert-Kennedy’s bio? For that matter, why is the hyphen absent from his last name in the collect?

  2. It would apprear that ‘Geoffrey Anketell Studdert’ is the baptismal name of Rev Mr. Kennedy. Why would you want to omit even one of these names from his collect?? This is how we are marked as Christ’s own forever. In his ancestral home England, baptismal names are of extreme importance. (try praying for Queen Elizabeth with her full baptismal name ) His collect should be accorded at least the full significance that goes with a baptiesmal name. I make this comment because from personal experience I have found that those around us drop parts of our given names from the erroneous belief that since they have one or two baptismal names then I should be content with the same.

  3. Collect. This is a very nice collect. Whoever’s hand it is – thank you.

    Readings. Hebrew reading: I don’t seem to recall any other place in HWHM where parentheses are utilized to indicate that a lesson may be shortened. Verses are either in, or out.

    Bio. He needs a ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement.
    1st paragraph: ‘… born in Leeds, England, in 1883 …’
    3rd paragraph, two typos – 2nd sentence: ‘… on his experience as ‘a’ war chaplain…’ and 3rd sentence: ‘His courage and ‘his’ compassion for the soldiers …”

    Again, no brackets to indicate that this is for Trial Use during the triennium.

  4. I find the words to Hymn 9 in The Hymnal 1982 far more appropriate to honor this man than his poetry, if the one quoted here is a fair sample. Just because something rhymes and scans doesn’t make it poetry.

  5. Should be referred to as Studdert Kennedy throughout the biography (currently Kennedy in second and following paragraphs, but Studdert Kennedy in last).

    Last summary paragraph should include his service as a chaplain in the trenches of WWI as well as his post war pacifism because he continues to affect those who minister to those in combat (see Chaplain C. Neal Goldsborough’s Where is God Amidst the Bombs?).

  6. For another bio:

    Here’s a hymn/poem of his that IMHO should have been in our hymnal; it is perfect for Labor Day:

    When through the whirl of wheels, and engines humming,
    Patiently powerful for the sons of men,
    Peals like a trumpet promise of His coming,
    Who in the clouds is pledged to come again.

    When through the night the furnace fires aflaring,
    Shooting out tongues of flame like leaping blood,
    Speak to the heart of love, alive, and daring,
    Sing of the boundless energy of God.

    When in the depths the patient miner striving
    Feels in his arms the vigor of the Lord,
    Strikes for a kingdom and his King’s arriving,
    Holding his pick more splendid than the sword.

    When on the sweat of labor and its sorrow,
    Toiling in twilight flickering and dim,
    Flames out the sunshine of the great tomorrow,
    When all the world looks up because of Him.

    Then will He come with meekness for His glory,
    God in a workman’s jacket as before,
    Living again th’eternal Gospel story,
    Sweeping the shavings from His workshop floor.

    When I read it, I always hear it to “Charterhouse.”

  7. I believe his baptisimal name is Geoffrey Antkell and that his surname is Studdert Kennedy, with or without a hyphen.

    Who is Jürgen Moltmann?

  8. Forgive me if I should offend anyone here. This provisional commemoration is lacking. The proposed calendar is full of men and a few women who are noted for their pacifism and anti-capitalist or socialist political platforms. I am not certain what makes the Rev. Studdert Kennedy unique and so special as to deserve a commemoration.

    I do not doubt that Geoffrey A. Studdert Kennedy was a man or great courage and faith. Not understanding the commemoration, I took some time to read more about the Rev. Studdert Kennedy. He received the Military Cross in 1917 for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the attack on Messines Ridge on the Somme. He had volunteered for a number of tasks carried out under heavy fire, including bringing in three wounded men from the battlefield.

    The Rev. Studdert Kennedy went into no-man’s-lands to minister to wounded soldiers, something not mentioned in the biography of HWHM. One story re-told by the BBC reads: “one celebrated story tells of him crawling out to a working party putting up wire in front of their trench. A nervous soldier challenged him, asking who he was, and he said ‘The church.’ When the soldier asked what the church was doing out there, he replied ‘Its job.’”

    After World War I, the Rev. Studdert Kennedy became a published poet, but World War I had a profound influence on many 20th century writers in the United States, Great Brittain and Europe. Reading a few of his poems, there is a stark awareness of the tortured human condition.

    Apparently the Rev. Studdert Kennedy wrote books that were politically influence long after his short life ended at age 45 years. Somehow handing our cigarettes to soldiers about to be wounded and killed does not seem to be a model for one’s life. Yet I found a sense that this was a man who was not willing to accept the status quo nor give in to an easy evangelizing. The Rev. Studdert Kennedy seemed to be a man who was trying hard to actually live up to the Christian idea. But this did not come out in the hagiography as written.

  9. I don’t think handing out cigarettes is a laudable activity for a priest given what we now know about smoking, cancer, and the other diseases it causes. While Fr. Kennedy may well have been unaware of these medical facts during his ministry, this aspect of his “pastoral care” should not be held up as an ideal to be emulated.

  10. But “Woodbine Wilie” didn’t know what we now know. If Charles Dickens had known what we now know about saturated fats, I suppose he would have written about Victorian dining differently, and there would be no Christmas pudding at the Cratchet’s. Maybe some healthy low sodium rice crackers with tofu spread. . Seriously, part of his ministry was being “Woodbine Willy,” and I see no reason to pretend it wasn’t. And i speak as an ex-tobacco addict who is very glad to be one. If we are, as I hope we are, going to be honest about some of those commorated who initiated crusades, then we can be honest about this.

    • Again, Cynthia, I find your comments spot on regarding Dickens and as an ex-nicotine addict.

  11. As for the name, the full name is given in the title, while the text starts with “G. A. Studdart Kennedy,” which is the name his books were published under. Although I can see where a World War I veteran, poet, and preacher might prefer not to be identified as “G.A.S. Kennedy,” “Studdart Kennedy” must therefore be his family name so it should be”Studdart Kennedy” rather than “Kennedy” at later mentions. Unless someone wants to make a pilgrimage and dig up his baptismal record, that’s probably the best we can do. I could live with either the full baptismal name or “G. A. Studdert Kennedy” in the collect, as God will know his own.
    Suzanne and the BBC’s “celebrated story” just has to be included in the write-up.
    As noted in the comments above, Desmond Tutu and Jürgen Moltmann should be more completely identified. Any EfM graduate should know them, but apparently not all seminary cirricula are as comprehensive. And have some pity on the poor lay folk!
    We’ve got to remember — and perhaps explain — that Studdert Kennedy lived in an age before the Surgeon General’s report on the dangers of smoking. As far as anyone knew then, offering cigarettes was an unmitigated blessing, especially when Studdert Kennedy was risking his life to do it.
    I always find the tension between soldiers and pacifists perculiar, as each party is, by their own lights, trying to keep the other safe. I suspect that another poet, Humbert Wolfe, read the Archangel Michael’s mind with this, from “Requiem: The Soldiers” (1916):
    I do not ask God’s purpose. He gave me the sword,
    and though merely to wield it is itself the lie
    against the light, at the bidding of my Lord,
    where all the rest bear witness, I’ll deny.
    And I remember Peter’s high reward,
    and say of soldiers, when I hear cocks cry,
    ‘As your dear lives (’twas all you might afford)
    you laid aside, I lay my sainthood by.’
    There are in heaven other archangels,
    bright friends of God, who build where Michael destroys,
    in music, or in beauty, lute players.
    I wield the sword; and though I ask nought else
    of God, I pray to Him: ‘But these were boys,
    and died. Be gentle, God, to soldiers.’

  12. He is also the author of the more familiar and frequently used morning hymn (H82, # 9) “Not here for high and holy things,” perhaps better known from its earlier trunkated appearance in H40 as “Awake, awake to love and work.” This fact is worthy of inclusion in the bio, too.

  13. One of the stated questions for the blog to address (it says above) is, “How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?” It strikes me as an important question.

    Certainly, this commemoration is rich with possibilities for this question, but my sense is that I haven’t been responsive to it, nor have I noticed others going in that direction. Being “PC” about a World War I trench warrior having a cigarette is missing the point. It’s like worrying if the proper fork is being used for the olive dish, or the pinky is extended at the correct angle from the tea cup, or someone’s curtsey is precisely executed. I took it from the poem in the commemoration that the cigarette is (excuse the pun) a “smoke screen” somehow related to life-and-death matters that are being lived but not quite dwelt upon in a fully verbal way. The mention of cirgarettes in paragraph 2 was laying in ground for the poem’s use of “cigarette.” (Maybe I’m wrong — I’m more at home in prose than in poetry.)

    Besides the (prosaic) fact that we didn’t have today’s medical data about smoking and disease during WW I, there’s something in it of the “Marlboro Man” portrayal of chilvary, manliness — the contrast to rarified, delicate sissyness that is often projected on religion, chaplains, (e.g., Fr. Mulcahey in MASH) — anyone not currently thumping, scratching, and expelling the “essence of macho” (so to squeak).

    My sense is that if the question is, “”How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?” we have enough here so that the answer probably won’t be, “he makes me want to smoke.” That response is SO unlikely I doubt there is a person on earth who wouldn’t instantly take it to a deeper place than that.

    And, by the way, I followed Michael’s link to Moltmann, and Studdert-Kennedy is explicitly mentioned in the Moltmann article, himself a person come to faith in his POW experience of devastation and disillusion with what I think of as false gods and inhuman behaviors.

  14. Not to belabor a point, but if I recall correctly, Woodbines were a very strong [unfiltered] cigarette, much favored by working class men, and so a gift across the considerable class barriers of the time. I expect not only the smoke, but the kind of smoke offered by this toff, made the gift more memorable.

  15. G.A. Studdert Kennedy, Priest, 1929
    COLLECT: I hesitate to critique, seeing how popular he is with others commenting and more knowledgeable than I am. I didn’t know the story of this man, much less the story behind his hymns, etc. Nevertheless, putting “off with a cigarette” the thought that fools rush in where angels fear to tread, I offer the following as a simplified wording of the collect. A collect is something we pray, and only if it serves that well, would it be well adapted to the contingencies of wordings from other contexts:
    Glorious God, we give thanks for high and holy things, as well as the common things of earth. Awaken us to recognize you in people, and in all creation, so that, like Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, we may love and magnify you as holy, undivided Trinity, living and reigning forever and ever. Amen.
    READINGS: I found it difficult to decide which aspects of the commemoration were being amplified in the choice of readings today. SECOND SAMUEL (ungodly long with the optional verses included) is an epic scene of divine deliverance in mytho-poetic imagery (repeated elsewhere in Psalm 18 and thus available for use as the Psalm if a different OT lesson were desired). Granted, Studdert-Kennedy survived WW I, but I don’t see his story elicits this kind of near-apocalyptic drama. The PSALM seems more appropriate, being a plea for deliverance rather than an epic theophany. (If the idea is that wars are the threat involved, I’m thrown by the thought that the epic is about ULTIMATE evil in combat with the “messiah” (Israel’s king) in the psalm, — and I can’t see YHWH in combat cast as the “Divine Warrior” in generic, even if massive, contests of arms.) FIRST CORINTHIANS is an eschatology-rich meditation on the nature of sin and the role of the Law in God’s work of salvation – again, a wonderful passage but I don’t see its intended relation to the Studdert Kennedy commemoration. LUKE’S Good Samaritan story does have an obvious and strong relation to the commemoration. What I don’t see reflected in these selections is any connection to his pacifism, his work with the Industrial Christian Fellowship’s concerns, his poetic/hymnic gifts, his heroic (and I rarely use that word) work with soldiers in combat, or his experience and commitment as pastor. . I would hope a better Old Testament and Epistle passage might be found.
    TITLE: As with others, listing him simply as “Priest” is less than adequate. He was a military chaplain, social reformer (with the Industrial Christian Fellowship), poet, hymn writer, and pastor. Take your pick.
    GENERAL: I found this a rewarding commemoration, inspiring, and touching many points that are very much needed in a Christian’s perspective on how faith sees the world in which we live. THANK YOU FOR IT.

  16. I assume no one is proposing that we remember Studdert Kennedy because of his poetry, which for the most part is not very successful. If we want this commemoration to do what it ought to do, we should leave the poetry out if entirely, and especially out of the collect. Even first-rate poetry doesn’t necessary make more than a third-rate collect—they are completely different genres.

  17. G A Studdard Kennedy was one on 12 children (his father was twice married), born in the rectory of St Mary’s,Leeds. He was at least the 3rd generation Anglican (Irish) priest in his family.After his degree from
    Trinity, Dublin he taught school (1905-07) when he went to Ripon Clergy College. Ordained deacon in Summer ’08 and sent to Rugby Parish Church. He became a priest in 1910 and married in 1914 (Emily
    Catlow). He became Vicar of St Pauls’, Worcester in June 1914. His minstry was reported as “… diligent,self-giving, and utterly faithful to the Church system and worship.” It was here that his fist public use of his poetry occured.. “Christopher”
    ” Bear thou the Christ,
    My little son,
    He will not burden thee,
    That Holy One,
    For, by a mystery,
    Who bearest him he bears,
    Up to the radiant heights,
    Where angels be … ”

    There is a great deal more of this information in (I think) the only biography of GA Studdard Kennedy called
    “Woodbine Willie” by Wm Purcall (Hodder & Stoughton, 1962 with an abridged edtion 1965)

    I appreciate this man for his witness to the Gospel as a prophet, “The service of humanity, the dignity
    and the priesthood of work, are the ideals which can heal the interminable wranglings of Capital and
    Labor.” (1921) Wm Temple ( I have no source) is reported to have said, of Studdard Kennedy, ‘… behind his eccentricities was a hunger and thirst after righteousness which compelled respect.”
    There is more but not today. Dick Lewis

  18. The subtitle is not helpful. That he was a priest is not why he was listed here. I suggest “Poet and Preacher of the Social Gospel, 1929”. That’s a bit long: maybe “Poet & Pacifist”, or “Poet & Christian Socialist”.

    Line 1, first paragraph: add “, England” after “Leeds”. (We should not assume an intimate knowledge of UK Geography in future readers. Once the initial locus is established, the reader will presumably assume that other unfamiliar locations are in the same country, unless informed otherwise.)

    Line 2, first paragraph: add “a” after “was”. Leeds is a large city, with many Vicars.

    Line 2, third paragraph: substitute “a military” for “war”.

    Line 5, penultimate paragraph: substitute “on March 8,” for the second “in”.

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