Reverend Canon John Shelley Nurser PhD

Reverend Canon John Shelley Nurser PhD

Born May 1929 at Northampton, this virtuous cleric has been committed in his love of humanity and for its freedom. His academic achievements have been recognised internationally with considerable laurels. These accomplishments include recipient of the ‘Templeton Freedom Award’ in 1994 and in 2007, the ‘Albert Outler Prize’ from the American Society of Church Historians. He was a Commonwealth Fellow at the Harvard Division School 1956-57.

Educated Peterhouse Cambridge 1947-50 and 1953-56 (Lieutenant Royal Navy 1950-53) Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy, Cambridge UK in 1958.

Ordained into the Anglican Church in 1958, he was Dean of Trinity Hall Cambridge, 1961-68, Warden of St Marks Institute of Theology at Canberra from 1968-74 and Rector of Freckenham in Suffolk until 1976. John then became Chancellor at Lincoln Cathedral from1976 until he retired in 1992 as Canon Emeritus.

He continued in this capacity and was ‘Director of Christianity and the Future of Europe’ from 1992 until 1997 and as a Senior Research Associate of the Van Hugel Institute until 1996. He has been a Fellow of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex since 1998 and a Cecil Woods fellow of the Virginia Theological Seminary, 1999.

His books have earned world-wide recognition, including ‘Reign of Conscience’ 1987, contributor to ‘Churches on the Wrong Road’ 1986 and ‘A History of Lincoln Minster’ 1994.

Finally, John has retired, if that is possible with such an active driven mind and has settled in comfort with his loving American wife and publisher, Elizabeth at Sudbury, Suffolk.

Cousin John and I share great grandfather, Charles Thomas, blacksmith at Sudbury. John’s grand-father Aylmer Shelley (born March 1866) was a man of great enterprise. He started his career within the Shelley blacksmithing business and as a young skilled man he employed two men in a forge alongside. When a special circumstance arose to purchase a thriving bakery up the road at Long Melford, Aylmer jumped at the opportunity. It is amazing that he kept it running and was up to strength within a week. How he was able to transfer his skills remains a mystery. His grandmother was from a bakery family and it is likely that uncles were able to pass on these specialized skills.

John’s mother Florence and her sisters Molly and Dorothy were brought up with ‘Bixby’s Bakery’ which formed a central position in the life of the people of Long Melford. Elder daughter Florence, by Aylmer’s first wife, a milliner married Arthur John Nurser, a joiner and lived at Northampton. The two sisters Molly (Lavinia) Ponder and Dorothy Deeks (now deceased) became teachers both of whom I got to know well. Molly’s reputation was widespread, and it was interesting to hear so many townsfolk still respectfully address her as their teacher ‘Miss Shelley’.

John Shelley Nurser himself, has had a splendid unselfish and fulfilling career and is a credit to the wider family. He has virtuously directed his efforts in the pursuit of the Church and to the freedom of humanity. In quiet retirement at Sudbury, John has befriended many and offers advice whenever it may be called for. He was particularly instrumental in the placement of a memorial statue to remember an ancient event of great importance to the old Saxon borough of Sudbury. The town’s earliest mention is in 799 AD when Aelfhun, Bishop of Dunwich died when visiting the old minster.

John was able to advise on a suitable sculpture and to recommend a selected location adjacent to St Gregory’s Churchyard on the peoples ‘Croft’.


The Reverend Canon Dr John Shelley Nurser 1929 – 2020

Canon John died peacefully on Monday 16 November 2020, in West Suffolk Hospital. His devoted wife, Elisabeth and loving family were there to comfort him as he left this world in peace and with grace. He lived a full life, a beacon and as an example to society and the Church.

John was a Freeman of the Borough of Sudbury inherited by the patrimony of his grandfather
Aylmer Shelley and John proudly held this dear. For the past twenty-five years or more he enjoyed a quiet retirement settled in his beloved Sudbury.

Canon John will be recognised as always humorous, having a scholarly mind and an infectious broad smile that was readily extended to all of humanity. He was loved by many and will be long and well remembered.

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