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08 August 2007

Randall Enoch writes:

THE Ven. Graeme Hendry Gordon Spiers, who died on 20 June, aged 82, was born in Cricklewood, and educated at Mercers’ School, Holborn. But the Second World War disrupted his education, like that of so many of his generation. He was evacuated, first to Sussex, and then to live with his uncle and aunt in Scotland, where he attended Wilshaw High School. He was proud of his Scottish ancestry. Aged 16, he joined the Westminster Bank in the City. Living and working in London, he witnessed at first hand the devastation and suffering of the Blitz.

In June 1943, he enlisted in the Royal Navy, and served in destroyers, first in the Home Fleet, and then in the Far East. His potential as officer material was soon recognised, when, as a midshipman, he took part on the first morning of the D-Day landings in June 1944. Promoted to sub-lieutenant on HMS Whirlwind, and posted to the Far East, he was present with Prince Philip at the surrender of the Japanese at Hong Kong, having been given the task of rounding up 300 Japanese sailors thought to be manning suicide boats in the harbour. The love of the sea stayed with him for the rest of his life. In those four years, he would recall, he had acquired the experience of half a lifetime. The Navy had taught him the love and generosity of ordinary people, who worked together as a team, in a strong bond of fellowship. This was a quality he brought later to his ministry.

After demobilisation, he returned to his job in the City, but he felt that it lacked the opportunity to be doing something that was more directly helping others. He ran a youth club at Holy Trinity, Hampstead, and his work with these young people made him look at Christianity in a new light. The Bible came alive for him, and so did his faith; and the great skills of his Vicar, D. W. Cleverley Ford, as a preacher were later to influence Graeme’s own gifts as a preacher. He encouraged him to test his vocation to the priesthood.

After training at the London College of Divinity, under the tutelage of Donald Coggan, he was ordained deacon by Cuthbert Bardsley, then Bishop of Croydon, in 1952. The following year, he was ordained priest by Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher in Canterbury Cathedral. Having served his title at Addiscombe Parish Church, Croydon, under the wings of another great parish priest, Gordon Strutt, in 1956 he moved north to become Succentor of Bradford Cathedral. It was while he was here that he met and married his wife, Ann, who was a tremendous support to him during his ministry.

Two years later, he was approached by Bishop Clifford Martin to be Vicar of Speke, a new post-war development of 27,000 people on the periphery of Liverpool. He relished the challenges Speke had to offer — in 1962, he had a confirmation class of 150 14-year-olds. The parish sat well with his clear commitment to others, and his strong sense of social justice. He would often recall the sheer generosity and warm-heartedness of the people.

In 1966, he moved to St Anne’s, Aigburth, a very different parish with very different expectations. While at Aigburth, he became Rural Dean of Childwall, Diocesan Warden of Readers, and an Hon. Canon of Liverpool Cathedral. In 1979, Bishop David Sheppard invited him to be Archdeacon of Liverpool. He was unsure whether it was the job for him, as he felt that he was a “parish man”, but in the end he accepted the challenge; for he saw in it an opportunity to serve the parishes and support the parish clergy, not only as carers in Christ’s name, but as administrators, and good speakers and leaders. He was much sought after as a wise counsellor and confessor.

In addition to the many demands placed on an archdeacon, for many years he chaired the governors of St Margaret’s C of E High School, Aigburth. He gave of his time unstintingly to the school during some extremely challenging years for church schools in Liverpool. Graeme was a straight talker, and one knew where one stood with him. One of his oft-quoted maxims was: “When there is an issue, never seek a confrontation unless the issue is worth it, and unless you know that there is a good chance that you will win in the end.”

He encouraged parishes to practise Christian stewardship and to support the work of the missions, especially the Church Mission Society. In addition to the diocesan boards and committees on which an archdeacon is required to serve, he represented the diocese on General Synod. Although he was a good committee man, whose opinions were sought and valued, he saw little purpose in talk unless it was followed by purposeful action.

In 1991, he retired to Formby, where he enjoyed an active life. He revived his great love of singing with the local choral society, and he enjoyed two cruises, reviving his great love of the sea. It was indeed a cruel blow when such an active man suffered a stroke in the summer of 2001, and for him to come to terms with the reality that his health was gradually deteriorating. He was cared for most dutifully by Ann, with the support of family and friends, and by the staff of Halcyon House, Formby, where he passed away peacefully.

“All my hope on God is founded” was one of Graeme’s favourite hymns. Throughout his long life, and during his final illness, he lived out that hope. He leaves Ann, two sons, and six grandchildren.

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