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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.
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