Bishop Alan honours the founder of Open Christmas

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Bishop Alan honours the founder of Open Christmas

Bishop Alan Hopes celebrated a requiem Mass at St Benet’s in Beccles for Michael Hope, who with his wife Rosie founded Open Christmas in Norfolk.

Fr Martin Gowman, parish priest of St Benet’s, and other priests and deacons from the diocese, joined the Bishop for the Mass on January 26. The powerful sound of birdsong was played to the congregation during a moment of reflection – a sound Michael loved.

Michael and his wife Rosie founded Norwich Open Christmas in St Andrews Hall. It is a daytime event which provides food, company and entertainment for those who are lonely or homeless. After some years they mirrored this annual event in Great Yarmouth, and both events are still going today. 

Michael Hope, 5th Baron Rankeillour, had died on January 10 after a short illness in hospital. He was born on October 21 1940 in Malvern, Worcestershire, the eldest son of a diplomat, the Hon. Richard Hope, OBE and his wife Helen. His peerage was inherited in 2006 from his cousin.

Educated by Benedictines, he attended Downside School from 1954 to 1958 and then went on to Loughborough University to study engineering. He met his future wife Rosie while working in London; they married in 1964 and lived in Cambridge, having three children, Hettie, Louisa and James.

Michael joined Pye Electronics in Cambridge and worked there for a short while before moving to IBM, where he spent the rest of his working life based in London, Welwyn and Norwich. While still working full time he set up and ran a 10-acre vineyard at Barningham Hall in rural Suffolk through the 1970’s and into the 1980’s. 

It was after they moved to Thurton in Norfolk in 1982 that he and Rosie began running the Open Christmas initiative in Norwich. Having taken early retirement in 1992 Michael threw himself into charitable and community-based work and was for many years a trustee of St John’s Cathedral, helping to oversee the planning and building of the Narthex. He was also a Trustee and Treasurer of the All Saints drop-in Centre in Norwich.

He was committed to conservation and became a board director of the Songbird Survival charity to try and arrest the staggering drop in traditional songbird numbers. He was also an active member of a number of other conservation-based charities in East Anglia, including the Kingfisher Bridge Trust.

He had a lifelong passion for fly fishing which took him regularly to Scotland, Ireland and further afield, even as far as Alaska on occasion.  Always keen to have a number of projects on the go, he expanded his skills and enjoyment of domestic carpentry to build kitchens, wardrobes and bookcases for many family members and friends.

He was by nature open and gregarious, always interested in others and would instinctively help people regardless of the cost or time it might require. He was thrilled to accept the Diocesan Medal, on behalf of his dear wife Rosie as well, in September last year, in recognition of their work in the diocese.

After Rosie died in 2019 and his mobility declined due to a painful foot condition, Michael remained stoic despite the isolation of the pandemic; but it was immensely frustrating for someone used to being so active. Whilst in hospital it was comforting for his family that Fr Alvan was able to anoint him before he died, and at a time when visits to the hospital were very limited.

Michael’s lifelong friend, and fellow Old Gregorian, Donald Ogilvy Watson, together with Rosie’s sister, Anji Fuller, gave wonderful tributes in their eulogies. Anji concluding with these lines of scripture: “No eye hath seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Fr Martin Gowman, parish priest of St Benet’s in Beccles, writes: “Attendance at Michael’s funeral surpassed all pre-pandemic levels, and it was such a privilege for so many old friends to be able to attend the Requiem Mass celebrated by Bishop Alan. Michael was laid to rest in the churchyard of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Gillingham, in the presence of his family; his wife Rosie, who predeceased him, already has a memorial at Gillingham, and their descendants living locally will keep them in our memory.

“Michael and his wife Rosie had moved into Beccles for their final years, and the Gillingham chapel was a spiritual home to them. They had been regulars at the 8 am Mass there until just five years ago, when reasons of health (and the temperature in winter) brought them to Beccles, where their newest home was just around the corner from St Benet’s Minster. 

“For a time that was all too short, their presence in Beccles widened the scope of our parish life through their support of local charities, and Michael’s Benedictine memories. As an old boy of Downside School, Michael was able to give some moral support to the parish priest for as long as St Benet’s remained in Benedictine hands. Following Rosie’s death in 2019, with his brother Simon and younger relatives, Michael remained gently stalwart as an old Gregorian family man although in declining health – supportive to friends and parish, in the company of his own closest family. Coincidentally, his death after a mercifully short illness coincided with the closing stages of the Benedictine history of St Benet’s, soon to be more fully incorporated within the Diocese of East Anglia.”

Pictured above is Michael Hope