Canon Martin Onions, the Rector of Uckfield, died suddenly this morning (May 22).
Father Onions, who was 51, was appointed to Uckfield just over two years ago. He succeeded the Rev Brian Wilcox who retired and moved to Norfolk in September 2011.
He was born in Shropshire and left school at 16 and trained as a heavy goods vehicle mechanic.
At the age of 20 he came to Sussex and worked at Chailey Heritage while he was exploring his vocation.
He trained at Chichester Theological College and was ordained a Deacon in 1988 and has been a priest at a number of parishes in Sussex, particularly in the Eastbourne area.
He moved to Uckfield from St Mary the Virgin, Willingdon, and the service to welcome him to the town in June 2013 was attended by the Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Rev Dr Martin Warner.
Tributes to Canon Martin Onions
Dr Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester: “It is with profound sadness that we have announced Martin’s death. In this shock of this news our immediate thoughts and prayers are with Martin’s wife Gill, their family, and the parish and people of Uckfield.
“After ordination in 1988 Martin served all his ordained ministry in the Diocese of Chichester. He is a well-known and much-loved figure in the diocese. We give thanks for the vitality of his life and Christian witness, commending him to the God he served so faithfully.
“Martin, may you rest in peace and rise and in glory.”
Graham Neilly, churchwarden Holy Cross Church: Father Martin came to Holy Cross Church almost two years ago and during that short time he breathed new life into our church. He has done so much for the Holy Cross and for the wider community. His enthusiasm and inspiration has endeared him to many people in the town and beyond.
Father Martin was a very positive and charismatic man, he was a friend to all. Always having time for a chat, a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. He loved being with the people of Uckfield, whether in church or around the town. He started the Youth Club in the Belmont Centre which now has 50 children registered with the club. He communicated with children at their level and was great fun for them to be with.
Holy Cross Church has much to be grateful to Father Martin for and he will never be forgotten. We will continue with the plans that he had in progress for the church, with the same enthusiasm and commitment as he had.
As a congregation we will miss him greatly and as a friend I will miss him personally.
Mervyn Griffiths, churchwarden at St Margaret’s Church, Isfield: “We can’t believe the news. He has been an inspiration. He was so full of vitality and so committed to us as our minister that it is almost impossible to get one’s mind around the thought that he has died.
“He was so full of life and vigour and committment, mixed with a wonderful sense of humour. We were incredibly lucky to have him as our minister.
“In the relatively short time he was with us he really breathed new life into the life of the church.
“We are in shock. We loved him and enjoyed him very much. He was a lot of fun and this is very sad.”
Beverley Blanch, chair of governors, and Karen Bye, advisory head teacher at Holy Cross School said on behalf of the school community: “It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Father Martin earlier today. He was an an inspirational member of our school community, much loved and respected by both children and staff.
“He had a great sense of fun and was very committed to the school and especially enjoyed contact with the children in acts of worship which he made so lively and relevant to their lives.
“He will be missed by us all at Holy Cross School.”
Louise Eastwood, Uckfield Mayor: “I only learned of the sudden passing of Martin Onions this morning. This came as a total shock to myself and the officers at the town council.
“People of the town will be aware of how much he support this town and how much fun he gave.
“Martin had a unique way in delivering the words of the Bible that made it interesting.
“On behalf of the town council I wish to send our sincere condolences to Martin’s family. I feel this is a sad loss for our town and a very sad day for all who knew him and worked with him.”
Duncan Bennett, Uckfield Deputy Mayor, said on his Facebook page: “Terribly saddened by the emerging news from Uckfield this morning. Thoughts are with the family of Canon Martin Onions at this tragic time. Martin had very quickly put his own distinctive stamp on the parish and his untimely loss will be felt by so very many people across Uckfield and beyond.”
Chris Lawson, Uckfield Chamber of Commerce vice-president speaking for president Fiona Monson who is away: “In the two years Martin was with us he brought great fun and vigour not only to the Church but to the whole Uckfield community and will be sorely missed.
“On behalf of everyone in Uckfield Chamber I offer our sincere condolences to his wife Jill and the family.”
Lynne Ireland, secretary of Uckfield Bonfire Society: “He was a lovely man and will be missed.
“He said prayers for us outside the Cinque Ports Club during the carnival for the last two years and he was willing to cooperate with us during the annual bonfire carol service which is so different from normal services with everyone turning up in costume.
“He was well up for that and last year had a mini motor bike which he rode around. He was just like that in the town too, a lot of fun.”
More tributes are expected. See also comments on the Uckfield News Facebook page.