THE Revd Philip Evens, who died on 12 December, aged 71, was a pioneer of community work. In later life, he applied this knowledge and experience in urban ministry.
Born into a north-Somerset working class family, he grew up in the Open Brethren. As a mature student, he gained a special honours degree in sociology at Leicester University, and became a social worker in Somerset. A rapid process of social mobility began when, in 1965, he became the youngest deputy children’s officer in the country. He helped to set up a new children’s department and experimental family-advice projects in Luton.
In 1970, he entered social-work education by becoming a lecturer in applied social studies at Oxford University. There, he discovered that he did not fit into the exclusive network of “North Oxbridge Society”, and so he moved nearer to his ideological home and working-class identity by setting up an Applied Action Research Community Work Project in 1973. It was called the Barton Project, after the council estate on which it was based.
His experiences and other contributions to the development of community work were published in Community Work: Theory and practice (1974) and The Barton Project (1976). Both books applied his Christian faith to his work, and called for the active involvement of Christians in community work and other public services.
In 1976, this project lost funding, and his job was restructured away. He returned, somewhat disillusioned, to his roots in Somerset, where he became self-employed as a landscape gardener. During this mid-life crisis, he and his family began worshipping for the first time in the C of E, and he continued, as he had done for many years, to set up and run Christian youth clubs. Involvement in wider aspects of Anglican ministry led to his call to train for ordination.
At Trinity College, Bristol, he set up the Voice of the People Trust, to sponsor Christian ministry in urban priority areas through community-work projects linked to parishes. Work on the trust was carried out in conjunction with his ministry, first, as a curate at Aston Parish Church, and then as Vicar of St Edmund’s, Tyesley. The trust was involved in developing and restructuring several community and youth projects, and published his third book, Despair and Hope in the City. This explored the relevance of community work to urban ministry.
The Aston and Newtown Community Youth Project, set up during his curacy, was particularly successful in steering young people on the streets away from criminal and anti-social activities towards further education, training, employment, and faith.
Phil also began to explore in ministry the Celtic Christian heritage. This discovery complemented the exploration of spirituality already under way at St Edmund’s, Tyseley. Celtic-based materials seemed to communicate well in an urban context. A project to study the use of such materials in an urban setting resulted in an M.Phil. that he completed during his retirement.
He undertook two personal pilgrimages: the first to the island of Lismore, and the second a six-week “pilgrimage of discovery”, which started at Iona, finished at Holy Island, and involved travelling and camping in a small diesel van.
The Woven Cord programmet he introduced in Tyseley enabled people to respond positively to the principles and practice of Celtic Christianity, and transfer to their lifestyle much of its approach to spirituality.
In retirement, he faced periods of ill-health, and the death of his son Nick when a UN-commissioned plane carrying relief workers crashed in Kosovo. He is survived by his wife Pauline, son Jonathan, and daughter Rachel.
Throughout his life and ministry, he has inspired friends and family to share his commitment to community work and urban ministry. His legacy lives on in many who entered church, social, and youth work as a direct result of his inspiration and support.