A remarkable man died earlier this month.
Nicolas Stacey was a clergyman and social services director who made a profound impact on the lives of countless thousands of needy Londoners.
Stacey himself was born to considerable privilege. Himself the son of a stockbroker, he was later to marry an heiress, the Hon. Ann Bridgeman. He was educated at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. He terminated his naval career abruptly, when a visit to the Japanese city of Hiroshima shortly after its devastation by atomic bombs convinced him of the existence of sin in our fallen world.
He studied for the ministry at Oxford, where his athletic prowess led to him being appointed captain of the combined Oxford and Cambridge athletics team. When his friends Chris Chataway and Roger Bannister planned their attempt on the four-minute mile barrier in 1954, (with Chataway as pacesetter) it was into Stacey’s arms that Bannister fell as he crossed the line after his record-breaking run.
A few years later, appointed as Rector in Woolwich, he came face to face with homelessness in London. Gathering together old University friends, he raised £64 (donations of £2 each from 32 friends), he formed the Quadrant Housing Association. A property was obtained in Woolwich, and the Association grew. Once, visiting prospective tenants, he learned that their four-year-old daughter slept in the cellar, and her face had been bitten by rats in the night. The Association now manages over 90,000 in the capital, many of them for people on low incomes. The first property acquired by the Association is still being used as a home for single mothers and their babies.
Stacey was a driven man, impatient with the incompetent and lethargic, and prepared to attempt new, and often controversial methods, in his efforts to reach out to as many as possible in the name of Christ. His commitment was recognised a few years ago by a special award from Archbishop Rowan Williams.
He died this month after in his ninetieth year, having failed to recover from a chest infection. I’m not sure how much ‘soul-saving stuff’ there was in his preaching, but he knew that souls reside in bodies. In a week when the focus has been on a £40,000 wedding dress, it is good to remember someone with other, Christlike, priorities.