Rev. Michael Riley obituary

The Reverend Michael Riley has died. He was vicar of St Paul’s Church, Grove Park until he retired two years ago. Julia Langdon, who knew him well, has written this obituary of him.

Rev Michael Riley

By Julia Langdon

The Rev Michael Riley, who has died aged 67, was the vicar of St Paul’s, Grove Park, for 32 years until his retirement in the summer of 2022. He was the longest serving incumbent since the founding vicar of the church, the Rev Nevison Loraine, who presided over its consecration in 1872 and was himself in post until 1917.

Father Michael became a very well known familiar figure in Chiswick, not least because he had officiated at the Christian rites of passage – the hatches, matches and dispatches – of so many members of the local population. He loved his ministry in Chiswick and St Paul’s and the vicarage served frequently as the setting for countless cultural and community events, thus bringing the church into the heart of local life.

Michael was born in Surrey, the second of four children of Ken and Shirley Riley. The family moved often during his childhood as his father served in the Royal Navy as a member of the Fleet Air Arm and subsequently became a commercial pilot.

It was during the Rileys’ second posting in Beirut, in the Lebanon in the early 1960s, that circumstances evolved which would lead seven-year-old Michael to his Christian calling. He and his older sister, Jane, were sent home to boarding school in England for two years because of unrest in the Middle East and the little boy was befriended there by the school’s vicar and his wife. He became interested in the church and it was an interest that never left him.

The family subsequently lived in Berkshire and Michael went to local schools before attending Bloxham School, Banbury, where he won a place to read Theology and Philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford.

On graduation, he taught English and Religious Education at secondary schools in the Isle of Wight before studying further at theological college in Edinburgh. His first job was as a curate at Jesmond, Newcastle, where he was ordained in 1987.

In 1989 he was appointed – initially in a temporary capacity – to St Paul’s, Grove Park, where the congregation at the time had dwindled. His enthusiasm for the area and for building his ministry led to his confirmation in what would prove his long-term post.

Father Michael won friends from far and near, not least as an inveterate and curious traveller.  Many of them have paid tribute since his death at his retirement home, Bromley College, a 17th century Church of England establishment where he had happily settled on leaving Grove Park.

He leaves his sisters, Jane and Kate, his brother Chris and his much adored nieces, nephews and great nieces.

One long-term friend from St Paul’s, Audrey Jennings, paid tribute to the quality of his friendship, the pleasure they had shared in travelling together and his gift of good company. Another close church friend, Sheila White, spoke of his generosity:

“He felt it was his Christian duty to give without judgement,” she said, adding that this was true of Father Michael, whatever the circumstances.

An appreciation from afar came from Mary Therese Martinez, from Rhode Island, USA, who played two concerts at St Paul’s with her sister Madeleine Royal, raising money for the church.

“I met Fr. Michael when I was far from home visiting Chiswick for a couple of months. He embodied his Christian ideals of welcoming the stranger when he warmly introduced me to the congregation at St. Paul’s in Grove Park, even opening the doors during the week so that I could play the wonderful Petrov concert grand piano in the church.

“When I suggested that my sister, Madeleine Walker, and I would like to play a concert at St. Paul’s, he was enthusiastic and helpful, inviting the parish and neighborhood friends to attend the concert. His reserved demeanor sparkled with wit and intelligence, and his kindness will not be forgotten. “

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