When my brother Roly gave up his Anglican parish ministry at the age of 31 to become a clown, nobody could have guessed that his untimely obituary would run at length in every national newspaper.But such was the impact his unique clown-priest ministry was to have.
It was at St Paul’s that a 15-year-old Roly had the defining experience of his life, when a football tour was cancelled and he decided to accompany his triplet brother Toby to a Christian Union house party instead. It was, he recalled in his book ‘Playing the Fool’, ‘both fun and holy and thus profound’.
The same could be said for his ministry, which he saw as in a tradition dating back to the medieval feast of fools. Roly used the props, language and trained showmanship of clowning in the service of a Christian message, travelling 30,000 miles a year and reaching as far as the US and Australia.
He was hosted by churches of many denominations, and also by schools, hospitals, and prisons across the UK, touching people whom churches could not reach. He revelled in debunking stuffed-shirt religion, claiming that he had “custard-pied ten bishops – and most were grateful”.
After studying theology at Bristol University and Cuddesdon, Roly was succentor at Southwark Cathedral where in 1984 he married Jane (they separated in 2008). He had been vicar at Tooting for six years when he took the momentous decision to train as a clown in Bristol, where he helped to found Holy Fools, a group of like-minded performers.
Roly latterly took over many duties in his parish of Olveston, where for 10 years until 2015 he tirelessly visited our mother in a local care home. His triplet sister Jennie died in 2012. He is survived by sons Jack and Sam, and Old Pauline brothers Toby, Simon and half-brother Ben. A memorial service was held at Southwark Cathedral on All Fools Day, April 1.