Profiles in Holiness: “Woodbine Willie”

Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy

aka:“Woodbine Willie”

June 27, 1883 – March 8, 1929

I first learned of Geoffrey Anketell Student Kennedy through his book The Hardest Part (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1918.)

The best known chaplain in the British Army in World War I, the troops loved him because of his habit of handing out packs of Woodbine cigarettes to the men in the trenches. One biographer said: “He shocked the conventional because he often played the fool for Christ’s sake, giving himself to the needs of the men without a thought for any status, clerical or military.” A poet, priest, and prophet, he was decorated with the Military Cross for valor for rescuing wounded men from No Man’s Land while under fire. After the war his ministry was to publicly advocate for the rights and welfare of industrial workers.

Studdert Kennedy said:

“My friends have been grieved because I made jokes about serious subjects and serious people. In such matters one should be dead serious I have been told. This is a point of view which is difficult for an Irishman to understand at any time, but doubly difficult for one who has served with the armies at the front. I doubt if it is possible, and I am sure it is not wholesome for any living man to be dead serious. To lack a sense of humor is one of the most terrible handicaps in life for anyone, and it is a disaster in a writer or a preacher who wants to help. I have made fun of the Archbishop of Canterbury, but I firmly believe he is one of the brightest and best people in England. Christian laughter always hovers just on the brink of tears, for God in Christ has redeemed them both and wedded joy to sorrow, and real peace to pain.”

Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple said of him: “If to be a priest is to carry others on the heart and offer them with yourself in the sacrifice of human nature — the Body and Blood — to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, then Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was the finest priest I have known.”

Soli Deo Gloria,

C. Neal Goldsborough

Spirituality The Episcopal Church

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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