Canon Geoffrey Bainbridge Evans

by
24 April 2015

Table and discussion: Canon Geoffrey Evans's love of hospitality enabled him to develop ecumenical friendships across Turkey

Table and discussion: Canon Geoffrey Evans's love of hospitality enabled him to develop ecumenical friendships across Turkey

Dr Marius Carney writes:

TRAVEL and hospitality were the two great animating forces of the priesthood of Canon Geoffrey Evans, who died on 4 April, aged 80. He had been born on the feast of the Assumption, and died at Easter.

After studying at St Michael's, Llandaff, he was ordained deacon in 1958, and priest in 1959. He served his early years of ministry in the parish of Llandaff North, and it was here that his travels began. Just 15 years after the end of the war, Geoffrey organised reconciliation and friendship exchanges with a Lutheran parish in Germany, on one occasion chartering an entire aircraft to transport the group.

In 1967, his bishop sent him on mission work to Guyana, where he spent six years setting up mission stations, and travelling between them by motorboat. There were no modern amenities, and Geoffrey had to embrace a hardy simplicity of life which would stay with him.

An interest in Late Antiquity and Byzantine church history drew Geoffrey to the Chaplaincy of Smyrna with Bornova (Izmir, Turkey) in 1973.

He was Archdeacon of the Aegean and the Danube from 1978 until 1994.

Geoffrey loved his time in Izmir, where he made many lifelong friends. The diverse congregation included the last few members of long-established Levantine merchant families, and service personnel from the NATO base. Each year, Geoffrey would lead pilgrimages to the Holy Land. They frequently comprised as many as two or three coaches.

Geoffrey's love of table and discussion enabled him to develop ecumenical friendships across all Christian Churches in Turkey. He was regularly received in the various Orthodox Patriarchiates.

Alongside the official tasks of helping with the annual pilgrimage to Mary's House in Ephesus, visits of Archbishops Coggan and Carey, receiving Pope John Paul II, and organising the commemoration of the 1200th anniversary of the Second Council of Nicaea in Iznik, he formed a strong supportive friendship with the Syrian Orthodox community of the Tur Abdin in Eastern Turkey.

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Then, as now, this community was suffering active and ongoing persecution. Geoffrey and his congregation offered solidarity and prayerful support. This was widely recognised, and honoured by the award of a Lambeth MA in 1994. In his citation, Archbishop Carey highlighted "your courageous ecumenical work in Turkey and . . . your ministry to refugees during the Gulf War".

Appointed to All Saints', Rome, in 1994, Geoffrey found the transition uncomfortable. His vision for the chaplaincy was to throw open the doors of the church and let in the air. This proved controversial. He held art exhibitions and a fashion show in the nave, and gave hospitality to a small and poor migrant Romanian Orthodox congregation, who worshipped in the crypt. He temporarily housed refugees in another crypt.

Through the Porvoo Agreement, he welcomed women priests to the chaplaincy. Although his meals were often simple bowls of pasta and a glass of wine - as he liked to point out, in Rome the wine was cheaper than the water - Geoffrey offered company, support, and friendship to all who came: pilgrims, expats of 40 years in Rome, grand ladies with titles, pilgrims, students, the divorced, and seminarians.

After a brief time as Chaplain in Moscow, in retirement Geoffrey returned to Turkey, serving the British Embassy community in Ankara. He paid great attention to creating community, both within and beyond the Embassy, and also to preparing the Sunday liturgy, and went out of his way to pull in many wonderful musicians to enhance the celebrations.

He also worked tirelessly with refugees and asylum-seekers, finding many the basics: clothes, shelter, a doctor, a meal. He was also an often feisty advocate, never afraid to ruffle feathers.

When Geoffrey finally stepped down from active ministry in 2011, he was awarded the OBE for his years of service to the English community in Turkey.

During the last two years of his life, he embarked on many more travels by land and sea, including a pilgrimage to the Orthodox monasteries of Northern Romania.

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