The Rev Hugh Dawes obituary

<span>Hugh Dawes abhorred the tendency of clergy to talk down to their congregations</span><span>Photograph: none</span>
Hugh Dawes abhorred the tendency of clergy to talk down to their congregationsPhotograph: none

My husband, Hugh Dawes, who has died aged 75 of pneumonia and dementia with Lewy bodies, was a radical priest in the Church of England. A lifelong member of the Labour party, in 2002 he stood as a councillor in Village ward, in the London borough of Southwark.

In 1987 he was appointed vicar of St James’s church in Cambridge and director of the Focus Christian Institute. He believed strongly in opportunities for a wider theological education among the laity, and abhorred the tendency of clergy to talk down to their congregations.

In 1992, Hugh published Freeing the Faith: A Credible Christianity for Today, an essay in liberal understanding, advocating change to set faith free from tyrannical tradition and be relevant in today’s world. He was savagely attacked in the press by traditionalists, who called on him publicly to resign his orders. The Independent carried the story of the “atheist priest”.

He braved the storm and proclaimed himself a catholic modernist priest, with no intention of resigning. He was a prophetic voice, often crying in the wilderness.

Hugh and I met in 2000 when he became vicar at St Faith’s, north Dulwich, in south London, where I was a member of the congregation. We were married in 2004. Gifted in making eucharistic worship contextual and inspiring, he enabled people to express doubts and ask questions, never giving easy answers.

In 2003, Hugh, having been involved in an American progressive Christian organisation, set up Progressive Christianity Network Britain, which quickly focused on honest theological talk between laity and clergy.

Born in London, to Iris (nee Wynn), a teacher, and William Dawes, a business manager, Hugh grew up in Brighton, attending Brighton and Hove grammar school. He studied history at University College, Oxford. After ordination he was appointed chaplain of Gonville and Caius College and then Emmanuel College, Cambridge, from 1982, when Don Cupitt as dean was filming the television series The Sea of Faith. Don became a major influence and a friend.

Developing early signs of a Parkinsonism, Hugh continued liturgical ministry in the Guildford diocese from 2011 to 2018. He participated in eucharistic worship until his death.

After his early retirement on health grounds in 2010, Hugh and I moved to Haslemere in Surrey, where he was proud to be one of the relatively few Guardian readers.

Hugh is survived by me, my sons, Matthew, Andrew and Rowan, grandchildren, Freddie, Stanley, Barnaby and Lyra, and his brother, Malcolm.