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Obituary – Brother Arnold SSF

Julian SSF

Thomas Arthur Nodder was born on 26th May 1920, just off the Old Kent Road, now in the shadow of The New Den, home to Millwall F.C.  One of five children, Tom’s two sisters died in infancy.  Tom’s father, Edwin, was a chocolate manufacturer’s labourer but between the wars, employment being precarious, Edwin moved in and out of different work.

Not a particularly religious family, the Nodders allowed Tom to attend St.Bartholomew’s Church North Camberwell, where he learned from Fr. Cuthbert Cadman and others the Christian faith, as taught by the Anglo-Catholic movement.  At school, Tom showed ability in numeracy and literacy, stayed on an extra year, and so qualified to do office work in the City.  As a teenager he loved to dance, and earned a reputation as a lovely mover.  He had fair hair and blue eyes too.

In 1939 Tom’s mum died. A few months later war was declared. Tom – known in the Army as Arthur – joined up and trained with the Royal Signals, serving in North Africa and Italy. In later years he spoke with some fondness of ‘old Jerry’, and delighted to make friends with young lads from Germany living and working with the brothers in Plaistow.

After the War, the family re-gathered at Clacton-on-Sea.  Tom felt an ever stronger calling to follow the path of Christian discipleship.

Back in South London, Father George Potter had founded The Brotherhood of the Holy Cross (BHC), reaching out to the young boys and men of Peckham and Nunhead, where Tom was to join the brotherhood, and become Brother Arnold, making his profession on 4th April 1951.

Arnold received training in the religious life, and then sought permission to train for the priesthood.  It was not often that a working class young man with no further education was so preferred in the Church of England.  Arnold attended King’s College London, while a full and active member of BHC.  He was ordained on 24th September 1961 in Southwark Cathedral, and served as a curate at St. Mary’s Rotherhithe.

Following the death of Father George, and the ending of BHC, Brother Arnold moved to Hilfield Friary in 1963, and thence to Plaistow, to join the clergy team at St. Philip and St. James.  He did not change his allegiance to West Ham United F.C.

Much valued wherever he went, and keeping contact with friends from every chapter of his life, Brother Arnold then began what was to be his distinctive work, expressive of his abiding passion.  In Gillott Road, Birmingham, the SSF brothers opened a hostel for young men in trouble with the law, in which Brother Arnold was to play a pioneering and sustaining part for much of the next three decades.  Working with the Probation Service, Arnold welcomed, accepted, encouraged and guided many whose previous life experience had been of rejection and abandonment.  Steadfast in his commitment, homely and humorous, Arnold witnessed to the abiding love of God for the lost and forsaken, in such a way that lives were rebuilt and hope was restored.

The SSF were working also at Hooke School, where Arnold joined the staff team for a while during the 1970s.  When the time came to retire from ‘the front line’ of working with young people, Arnold returned, not to Dorset, but to East London.  Aged 78, he became part of the Plaistow parish again, serving in the hospital chaplaincy, and delighting to share a cuppa with visitors, volunteers and friends at Helping Hands/The Friary in Balaam Street.  For many, his smile said it all: a hint of mischief, a freedom from judgement, a keen understanding, a lively appreciation.  Arnold’s heart was ever giving, his mind ever open, his spirit embracing the next adventure and the stranger at the door.

As much at home in cloth cap as Franciscan habit, laughing uproariously at the TV programme Blind Date, a keen student of church and social history, whistling Gilbert and Sullivan arias while ironing at midnight, Arnie (as he became to all of us in Plaistow) entered into old age, failing capacity, and illness with extraordinary graciousness and gentle courage.  For over six months he suffered a measure of torment, physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual, dying from severe dementia and heart failure, at St. Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney, on 17th August.

In the darkness, Brother Arnold’s soul continued in radiance and the presence of God, to the end a faithful soldier and servant of the Lord.  At his funeral, many friends gave thanks for a brother who had made God’s love and goodness real for them.  f