Fr Geoffrey Evans
Fr Geoffrey has died. He must have been one of the longest serving priest of the Diocese in Europe. When I joined that Diocese in 1988, the Bishop asked me to go to Turkey and help Fr Geoffrey. I said: “Why does he need help” and Bishop Satterthwaite said “Because he is the only Anglican priest left in Turkey and he’s the Archdeacon of the Aegean and the Danube”. Well, how could I resist that?
At that time, the Church of England had only three chaplaincies in Turkey, Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir, and Fr Geoffrey was the Chaplain in the last of these. But the Chaplain of the British Embassy in Ankara had moved, and the Chaplain in Istanbul had died suddenly, so only Geoffrey was left. I flew with the Bishop to Istanbul and we went to the British Consulate-General where we were staying. It is a majestic collection of buildings dating from the time of the Ottoman Empire (much grander, in fact, than the Embassy in Ankara).
It was there I first met Fr Geoffrey. Those who knew him will appreciate that I was underwhelmed by the rather scruffy, spare figure with wild hair, clutching an enormous bag, full of strangely shaped objects. But it did not take me long to know that under that outward appearance, Geoffrey was a very special person. The first indication of this I had was when we went to the apartment of the priest who had just died. It was sparsely furnished, but all over the place, in drawers and cupboards and stuck between files, were large sums of money in British pounds, German and Swiss Marks, American dollars, and other more obscure currencies. Geoffrey saw nothing unusual in this, but simply scooped it all up into his shapeless bag. ” I can do lots of good things with this”, he said. Later on, I saw some of it disbursed to many needy people.
This followed from the fact that first of all Geoffrey was a priest. H head done no other job: straight from University and Theological College, he was ordained. And his whole life had been devoted to the Church, whether in his native Wales, or in the wilds of Guyana, or in his beloved Turkey. I’ll never forget his tale of when the Bishop visited his parish in the jungle, the little boat collapsed and Geoffrey and His Lordship were left struggling in the murky waters of the great South American river. Geoffrey said, with that wicked grin of his: “I was worried about crocodiles and snakes, and all the Bishop could do as we swam for the shore was shriek that his precious mitre had sunk to the bottom!” “Silly ass”, he added.
Geoffrey had a love/hate relationship with Turkey. On the one hand he loved the country and its various peoples, but he either couldn’t or wouldn’t learn the language properly. He would shout or mutter the primary form of any Turkish word, and then express incredulity and impatience that no one understood him. But whether they understood him or not, they loved him. His own parish was Izmir, and during the times I stayed with him there, I saw countless people shake (or kiss) his hand, tell him their troubles and ask a blessing. They may have been Muslims or unbelievers, but they recognized a holy man. Most of his ministry was quiet and unremarkable, but there were high moments, such as the time when he saved St John’s Anglican Church from being demolished to make way for a wider road: he confronted the workmen sent by the town council and physically lay down in front of the bulldozers.
To see Geoffrey celebrate Mass was an experience. He was perfect in all proper Anglo-Catholic ritual, but he could never be still. If a lesson was being read, Geoffrey would rush out into the sacristy and come back with a purificator or a book or nothing. Yet again this did not detract from the fact that here was a man of God doing what he was ordained to do, and which he thought was the most important thing in the world. I was often left to say the next bit of the liturgy while Geoffrey rushed up the aisle to welcome someone who had just come into the church.
On the wider Church scene, Fr Geoffrey was known not just as the Anglican Archdeacon of the Aegean and the Danube, a title which he mischievously cherished, but also in the wider Church in Turkey. He led many pilgrims, including several Archbishops and Bishops, to Eastern Turkey to visit the Syrian Orthodox communities which were often in grave danger and openly persecuted. Many of them fled and relocated in Sweden, and when I was Chaplain of the English Church in Stockholm, I was very moved at an ecumenical gathering to be told by the Syrian Archbishop how much Fr Geoffrey had done for his community. “Without Fr Geoffrey”, he said “many more of our people would have perished.” I knew he was always collecting money for the Syriani, but had no idea it had been so vital.
And now he has gone on into the eternities, which will be a merrier place for his arrival. I doubt if he will be able to rest in peace, but have no doubt that his limitless energies will be put to even greater use.