John Holdsworth is a biblical scholar, practical theologian, and former archdeacon of the dioceses of St David’s and of Cyprus and the Gulf.
Holdsworth was educated at Leeds Grammar School and then University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. Following this, he trained for the priesthood at St Michael’s College, Llandaff; he was ordained deacon in 1973 and priest in 1974. There followed a series of posts in South Wales. Holdsworth was curate of St Paul’s Newport for four years, vicar of Abercrave and Callwen from 1977 to 1986, and then vicar of Gorseinon until 1997. Alongside this, he was Bishop’s Chaplain for Theological Education from 1980 to 1997.
Holdsworth continued to study, graduating with a University College Cardiff MTh in 1975. His PhD, supervised by D.P. Davies and awarded by St David’s University College, Lampeter, in 1992, was entitled ‘The relationship between worship and suffering in 1 Peter and Revelation.’ He examined the connections between these two New Testament books, written to communities in the same geographical area, possibly within a short time of each other.
In 1997, he went back to higher education full-time to become principal and warden at St Michael’s Theological College, Llandaff. St Michael’s was the sole ministerial training college for the Church in Wales. Holdsworth was widely credited with laying the foundations for its modernisation. It became a centre of diversity, excellence and practical theology. In line with one of his main interests, he inaugurated the programme for Chaplaincy Studies. Along with leading St Michael’s, Holdsworth lectured in biblical studies at University of Wales Cardiff.
In 2003, Holdsworth became Archdeacon of St David’s and vicar of Steynton, just outside Milford Haven. As Archdeacon, he had a senior leadership role in the diocese. His responsibilities were wide ranging, varying from overseeing the fabric of church buildings through pastoral care of the clergy to involvement in the organization of parishes and local ministries. Alongside this, he held numerous posts for CYTUN and its predecessor Council of Churches for Wales. Indeed, he has represented Wales as field afield as Strasbourg, Oslo, Basel and Israel / Palestine.
Holdsworth’s next post was his first outside Wales; in 2010, he was appointed to the freshly created role of Executive Archdeacon of Cyprus and the Gulf. As well as Cyprus, the huge diocese covers the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Yemen. Right Rev. Michael Lewis, the diocesan bishop, commented ‘This new post is a significant role in a significant area. It calls for imagination, experience and creative flair.’ Holdsworth was also chaplain of St Helena’s church, Larnaca. He took formal retirement in 2019, continuing as Director of Ministry for two further transitional years; he still holds this role. At the same time, he was installed as Canon Theologian of St Paul’s Cathedral, Nicosia.
Holdsworth is a prolific author, often positioning his books in the space between popular Bible study and academic introductions to theology. Dwelling in a Strange Land (Canterbury Press, 2003) was a Lent Book, written partly in response to the events of 11 September 2001. After examining the crisis of faith triggered by the Jewish exile in Babylon, Holdsworth went on to describe the church as a ‘place for exiles.’
In Lies, sex and politicians : communicating the Old Testament in contemporary culture (SCM Press, 2010), he demonstrated the Old Testament’s continuing relevance. He offered a guided tour of a selection of its highlights, as well as considering some of the more difficult passages. Jenson commented, ‘There are few books on the Old Testament that manage to bridge the gap between past and present in a way that is neither simplistic nor ignorant, and is readable as well. This is one of them.’
Holdsworth’s most recent book is Honest sadness: lament in a pandemic age (Sacristy Press, 2021). In a no-holds-barred engagement with suffering, he traced lament and lamentation through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. For him, lament is the Bible’s neglected medium in response to personal, communal and global suffering. Alongside biblical material, Holdsworth described some of his own encounters with trauma, in places ranging from Lancashire to Baghdad. James Woodward described it as theology at its best, ‘free of trite, formulaic short hand, tribal language and any fleeting satisfaction that we might gain from living on the surface.’ John Saxbee described it as ‘one of the most remarkable books I have ever read.’
Holdsworth lists broadcasting as one of his recreations; he has frequently appeared on BBC Wales and Radio 4. He was also principal presenter of religious programmes for HTV Wales from 1988 to 1998, working on some 150 items. He was a visiting professor at Wrexham Glyndŵr University from 2012 to 2018; he holds an honorary DD from Queen’s College, Newfoundland.
Holdsworth, Ven. Dr. John Ivor (born 10. Feb. 1949). Retrieved June 24 2021 from https://doi.org/10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U20481
Holdsworth, the Ven. John Ivor. In: Crockford’s Clerical Directory (101st ed, 2010-11). London: Church House Publishing
Holdsworth, J.I. (1992). The relationship between worship and suffering in 1 Peter and Revelation. (Unpublished doctoral thesis). St David’s University College, Lampeter, United Kingdom.
BBC. (2010). From theLandskerline to Larnaca. Retrieved June 25 2021 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/southwestwales/hi/people_and_places/religion_and_ethics/newsid_8728000/8728370.stm
Duggan, M. (2007, September 26). Church in Wales governing body: St Michael’s is to be saved for the future. Church Times. Retrieved June 25 2021 from https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2007/28-september/news/uk/church-in-wales-governing-body-st-michael-s-is-to-be-saved-for-the-future
Francis, L. (November 2010). Scholar, theologian, educator and communicator. Pobl Dewi. Retrieved June 25 2021 from https://s3.amazonaws.com/cinw/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2013/03/PoblDewi10November.pdf
Saxbee, J. (June 2021). Honest sadness: lament in a pandemic age. Pobl Dewi. Retrieved June 29 2021 from
Lent Book selection (2007, February 27). Church Times. Retrieved June 25 2021 from https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2004/30-january/books-arts/book-reviews/lent-book-selection
Jenson, P. (2011). [Review of the book Lies, sex and politicians: communicating the Old Testament in contemporary culture, by J. Holdsworth]. Theology, 114(2),125-126. Retrieved June 25 2021 from https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/doi/full/10.1177/0040571X10393632
Woodward, J. (2021, April 9). Theology for pandemic times [Blog post]. Retrieved June 25 2021 from https://jameswoodward.info/blog/theology-for-pandemic-times/