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Obituary: the Revd Edmund Haviland

04 December 2020

The Rt Revd David Wilcox writes:

THE Revd Edmund Selwyn Haviland, who died peacefully in his home in Salisbury on 17 October, aged 96, was a fine and remarkable priest.

He was born in 1928 and read history at King’s College, Cambridge. His time there was divided by service with the RAF during the war, he spent four years as an instructor in South Africa. Returning to Cambridge, he graduated in 1949, and went on to train for the ministry at Wells Theological College.

He was ordained in Southwark Cathedral and served his title in the large and lively parish of St Peter’s, St Helier, near Morden. He married Gillian in 1957, and moved first to Ockbrook, Derby, and then on to a lengthy and fruitful ministry in East Peckham, Kent. This was followed by a year in South Africa, where he served as chaplain to Bishop Godfrey Ashby, another former St Helier curate.

Edmund had wide and varied interests, chiefly in all forms of transport. He dreamt of driving a London bus, and was on the verge of posting an application to the bus company when he was offered the post of Chaplain of HM Prison Brixton.

This proved to be a moving, exhausting, yet exhilarating, experience, which left an indelible mark on his life. It was here that he became more and more convinced that the Gospel is that God’s love and forgiveness is for all, and that faith and penitence are our grateful response to God’s prevenient forgiveness, not the conditions that we have to fulfil to secure it.

This conviction led him, in retirement to write his book, St Luke and the Love of God. It was evident to Edmund that this truth was at odds with some of the things that we say in our liturgy, whether in the Book of Common Prayer or in more recent orders of service. He was in correspondence with the Liturgical Commission on this point.

He married Jane Stevens in 1987, and lived in active retirement in Thursley, near Godalming. Upon Jane’s death in 2019, he moved to Salisbury, where he greatly valued the majesty and wonder of the cathedral and the fellowship of the Close.

Over and over again, people say that he was open to new ideas and that he never stopped learning. Just a week before he died, he mastered Zoom.

He had a huge capacity for laughter and seeing the absurd. And he noticed everything from majestic landscapes and mountains to the petals of a flower, the activity of the bees, and the colour of a spider.

The phrase that strikes me about Edmund is this: he gave attention, paid attention, first, above all, to God, then to other people. He was deeply shaped by the corporate worship of the Church and his own practice of private prayer.

His family meant the world to him. He baptised and conducted the marriages of all his children, Margaret, Angela, Jane, and Andrew, and baptised all his grandchildren, whom he adored, finding them endlessly fascinating.

His funeral was held in Salisbury Cathedral on 4 November.

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