Obituary: THE VEN. GEOFFREY SIDAWAY

by
09 May 2014

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The Very Revd Nick Bury writes:

THE Ven. Geoffrey Sidaway died peacefully on Easter Day, aged 71, surrounded by his family after a long illness. He had received communion on Palm Sunday and a blessing on Easter morning. From 2000, until May 2012, Geoffrey had been Archdeacon of Gloucester, a post that he took up after a distinguished ministry in Kent.

Geoffrey was born in Barrow, the only child of Harold and Margaret Sidaway. The family lived in a terraced house in the back streets of the town, and worshipped at St Matthew with St Francis, where Geoffrey was an enthusiastic chorister. Geoffrey was educated at Holker Street Secondary School and Ulverston Grammar School. In school and college holidays, he worked in Barrow shipyard.

Greatly encouraged by the curate at St Matthew's, the Revd David Baxter, he studied at Kelham Theological College from 1961 to 1966. Geoffrey adored Kelham, with its monastic community, beautiful architecture, and a fearless, challenging faith that he could identify with.

He was ordained in 1966 in Derby, taking up a curacy at St Mary the Virgin, Beighton, a gritty mining parish. Here he ran the youth club, and a colleague remembers vividly his organising a Passion play through the village, in which, unusually for those days, an Afro-Caribbean actor played Simon of Cyrene. The production made a huge impact on the town. It was here that he met and married Margaret, a Sheffield and Rotherham policewoman, on 4 April 1970. It was the start of a loving marriage, and a formidable partnership.

He moved from Beighton to a curacy at St Mary and All Saints, Chesterfield, famous for its twisted spire, where he looked after the parish during an interregnum. His first incumbency was at St Bartholomew's, Derby, a tough working-class parish, where parishioners were chiefly workers from the local Rolls-Royce machine tool factory and railway-stock repair yards.

In 1977, he moved to St Martin's, Maidstone, one of the most populous parishes in England. He loved the community life, and it was here that he and Margaret started opening up their home to regular parish gatherings. Margaret often catered for huge numbers of parishioners. Geoffrey proved himself an energetic and able leader, who had the gift of entrusting challenging tasks to others, believing that they could do more than they thought they were capable of. Encouragement became the hallmark of his ministry. Here he established a link with Dortmund in Germany, the first of the international links that he created and supported.

After ten years, he moved across the town to Holy Cross, Bearsted. Here he built an extension to the church. To raise funds and awareness of this project, he launched forth from the village green in an air-balloon sponsored by the local undertakers. It landed unexpectedly in a nearby travellers' field. He worked tirelessly with other Christian churches, and signed a covenant with the local churches, who continue to work closely together to this day.

He established a strong link with Ruhengeri, in the diocese of Kigezi in Uganda, spent time there, and encouraged the sponsorship of Ugandan children in their studies. Many remember his very successful organisation of Archbishop George Carey's visitation of the deanery. He was made Hon. Canon of Canterbury Cathedral in 1994, and elected to the General Synod, representing Canterbury, and later Gloucester, diocese.

He was appointed Archdeacon of Gloucester in 2000. Here his experience as a parish priest in diverse parishes held him in good stead. His cheerfulness, sense of humour, ready availability, and tireless energy made him popular in the parishes. He worked tirelessly with churchwardens, parish councils, and priests to produce what he called the "wow" factor in their particular situation.

When the Vicar of Thornbury, John Suddards, was murdered at his vicarage, Geoffrey led the reaction in the national press, and ministered in an exemplary way, giving much comfort and hope.

Geoffrey and Margaret bred Labradors very successfully, winning prizes and breeding champions. One priest said of Geoffrey that he was like the Labradors that he loved so much: "always glad to see you, always encouraging, and good company". His family greatly appreciated that, despite his constant work and boundless enthusiasm, he always balanced family and church life, and was always a devoted husband, father, and grandfather.

Geoffrey retired in May 2012, and, a life-long football fan and qualified football referee, he played in The Geoff Sidaway Testimonial Football Match, aged 69. But then, typically, he immediately took up the house-for-duty post at Holy Innocents', Highnam, and the surrounding villages. He said of this move: "I am really excited. I am a parish priest to my fingertips: let's hope I have not lost my touch." He certainly hadn't, because he inspired great affection, made a great impact, and brought new life into the parishes in the months he was there, before being forced to retire through ill health.

Geoffrey leaves Margaret, three children - Mark, Clare, and Paul - and four grandchildren.

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