Leading CofE academic in fatal car accident

Published 30 June 2014  |  

A leading academic and fast-rising young theologian in the Church of England has died tragically in a fatal car accident.

Dr John Hughes, Dean of Chapel at Jesus College, Cambridge, who was tipped for high office, had recently edited a collection of sermons written in response to the "new atheists" which is shortly to be published.

Aged just 35, he was from the academic Anglican-Catholic tradition and a leading thinker on a project set up by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to examine Anglican social thought. Besides having developed a coherent intellectual response to the new atheism, he had studied and become an expert on Roman Catholic social teaching especially in relation to economics.

The Cambridge News reports that he was the victim of a fatal crash on the A10 at Melbourn. Dr Hughes was driving a blue Toyota Corolla which was in a collision with a grey Volvo S80 about a mile south of the junction with Station Road.

He is understood to have been on his way home from an ordination service in Salisbury.

The Toyota, which had been travelling north, was thought to have been badly damaged by fire after the crash. One passenger in the Toyota, a 36-year-old woman from Cambridge, suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries, while a second, a 22-year-old man from Cambridge, had minor injuries.

The only person in the Volvo, a 67-year-old man from Doddington, suffered slight injuries.

Among those who paid Dr Hughes was his friend Julian Huppert, the MP for Cambridge, who said: "I had the great pleasure of knowing John for many years, and enjoying a number of holidays with him. He was an incredibly thoughtful and caring person, and still managed to be great fun. Many of us watched how well he was doing in the Church, and expected him to rise even higher. Now alas we will never know.

"My heart goes out to his family and friends, and to those who worked with him at Jesus College and Exeter. He is a great loss."

Prof Ian White, Master of Jesus College, Cambridge said on the college's Facebook page:

"The College has been shocked at the death in a car accident of Rev Dr John Hughes, the Dean of Chapel at the College. The loss of John Hughes is acutely felt as the life of the College was greatly enriched by him. A former undergraduate of the College, he was both an outstanding academic who inspired the students he taught, and a faithful priest and pastor who touched profoundly all those with whom he came into contact. He will be deeply missed."

Further information concerning funeral and memorial services will be made available in due course.

Tributes poured in to the late Dean.

Stephen Barton commented: "This is terrible news. I last met John when he conducted, wonderfully, the marriage of my daughter and her husband last year, and he made a deep impression on all who attended the ceremony. My deepest sympathy to his family."

David Yeandle wrote: "I am greatly saddened at this news. John was such a kind man and an excellent dean. My sincere condolences."

Tom Bradshaw commented: "The premature death of a person as kind, thoughtful, intelligent, modest and warm as John is hugely sad and I am deeply shocked. My thoughts are with his family."

Student James Moran made a particularly moving contribution: "The Rev (as many in my year affectionately called John) taught me Metaphysics in my third year, his first year on the job. He was the greatest mentor and tutor I had, and gave me an abiding respect for religion. We met many times after graduating and he emailed me recently with book recommendations he thought I might like. I cannot believe he is gone, though he has indelibly left his mark on my life with his intelligence, kindness and good humour. We often debated death and the afterlife, and he left me in what I would call a very thoughtfully confused state. That was his mark as a truly great teacher of philosophy and religion."

Dr Hughes' biography on the university's Centre for Science and Policy's site reads: "John Hughes teaches philosophy, ethics, doctrine, and social thought in the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge. He studied Theology in Cambridge and Oxford, completing his PhD on nineteenth and twentieth century Romantic and Marxist philosophies of labour, which was published as 'The End of Work: Theological Critiques of Capitalism' (Blackwell, 2007). He trained for ministry at Westcott House and served his curacy at St David with St Michael and All Angels, Exeter, during which time he also taught an ethics module for the Peninsula Medical School and did a month's secondment teaching theology at St Paul's University, Limuru, Kenya. He has published various articles and chapters and has edited a collection of sermons 'The Unknown God: Responding to the New Atheists' (Wipf and Stock, forthcoming).

"He has recently written and spoken about the renewed interest in Civil Society and Roman Catholic and Anglican Social Teaching, particularly in relation to the Economic Crisis. He is part of a project on Anglican Social Thought organised by the Mission and Public Affairs Division of the Archbishops' Council, and a member of the Westcott House Urban Resources Network. He is also working on a more historical and philosophical project on ideas of divine and human creativity and instrumental reason."

A Cambridgeshire police spokesman appealed for witnesses to come forward: "Police are appealing for anyone who saw the collision or either vehicle involved just prior to contact them. Anyone with information should contact the collision investigation unit on 101."

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