Simon Bailey was born in Halifax, West Yorkshire, one of five children - Rosemary, Simon, Martin, Jacqueline, and Caroline. His father, the Reverend Walter Bailey, was a Baptist minister who combined conservative evangelical theological convictions with social radicalism. He bought his first television in order to be able to watch the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965. Walter Bailey supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and actually died while distributing leaflets for the Labour Party. The socialist historians E. P. Thompson and Dorothy Thompson as well as the writer J. B. Priestley were regular visitors to the family home in Halifax.
The family moved first to Birkenhead and then to Stoke-on-Trent, following Walter Bailey as he was called to different churches. Eventually he became so idiosyncratic that he ran his own church from home.
Simon Bailey continued his education at Regent's Park College, the Baptist Permanent Private Hall of the University of Oxford, where he read English Language and Literature under John F. Kiteley (himself once the pupil of J. R. R. Tolkien). He gained a First Class degree.
Despite having chosen to study at the Baptist Regent's Park, Simon Bailey was by now unhappy in the Baptist tradition. He received the sacrament of confirmation in the Church of England, embracing Anglicanism as more "aesthetic and sensual".
After Oxford, Simon Bailey studied theology at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and did his theological training for the Ministry at Westcott House, Cambridge.
Simon Bailey's first experience of pastoral work was as curate in the parish of Norton, Sheffield.
Simon Bailey was inducted as Rector of St. Leonard's parish church, Dinnington in South Yorkshire in December 1985. Dinnington was a South Yorkshire mining community, whose colliery closed in 1991.
Simon Bailey was a gay man and contracted HIV from a sexual partner. He learned that he had the virus only a month before his induction as Rector of Dinnington. For several years he worked in the parish without obvious symptoms, but when he became too unwell to conceal his condition from the people around him he informed the diocesan authorities and from 1992 on, gradually introduced the news to his own parishioners.
Though not the only Anglican priest at that time to be HIV-positive, and eventually to develop AIDS, he was the first to stay in parish ministry, continuing to celebrate the Eucharist until only a few weeks before his death. One of the most remarkable features of his time at Dinnington was the love and care that he received from his parishioners. The priest visibly dying among the people to whom he ministered was a powerful symbol of Christ, evocative of the line, 'The wounded surgeon plies the steel', in East Coker by T. S. Eliot.
The biography, Scarlet Ribbons: A Priest with AIDS (London: Serpent's Tail, 1997. ISBN 1-85242-521-0), by his sister Rosemary Bailey, contains extracts from his unpublished writings. These hint at considerable literary gifts and it is to be hoped that a full publication will appear eventually. He was particularly interested in the poetry of R. S. Thomas and of John Milton, whose blindness Bailey identified with his own illnesses.
Simon Bailey became well known to a wider public as a result of a BBC Everyman documentary programme, Simon's Cross, that was broadcast in January 1995. The making of the programme led to his sister writing the biography, Scarlet Ribbons: A Priest with AIDS (London: Serpent's Tail, 1997).
Scarlet Ribbons: A Priest With AIDS by Rosemary Bailey
Paperback: 216 pages
Publisher: Serpent's Tail (September 1, 2000)
Amazon: Scarlet Ribbons: A Priest With AIDS
In January 1995, Simon Bailey, vicar of Dinnington, South Yorkshire, a traditional mining village, announced that he was dying of AIDS on a BBC "Everyman" programme, "Simon's Cross". He was able to continue his ministry almost to the end, due to the support and care of his parishioners, who formed rotas to provide 24-hour care for their priest. He died during World AIDS Week 1995, nine years after discovering that he had the HIV virus. In this volume, his sister tells the story of his life with AIDS.
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