Preached by the Rt Rev’d Andrew Burnham SSC, Bishop of Ebbsfleet, at the Requiem Mass for Fr Geoffrey on Thursday October 5th 2006 at the church of St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road, Oxford
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel … If we have died with him, we shall also live with him. II Timothy 2:8,11
The conventional wisdom is that funeral homilies should not be eulogies or obituaries. Instead there should be a confident proclamation of the Gospel and of the hope of resurrection. Every preacher I have known has either disregarded the conventional wisdom and launched upon a panegyric or else tried to meld elements of fond biography with the Christian message. And that is what I am setting out to do: after all, Fr Geoffrey was 90 years old; most of his life happened before most of us were around to see it and many of us here knew him only as a very old man, full of gentleness and wisdom – as well as a keen sense of what is (and what is not) ecclesiologically, liturgically or theologically proper. An example of this was his resignation from the SSC. He spent much of his ministry as a priest of the Society of the Holy Cross – and membership was very important to him – but he resigned from it several years ago because he felt he could no longer properly observe the Society’s Rule.
I hope it has helped the family to compile for me some biographical notes and I am going to share with you most of what they have said. If this takes a little time, I’m sure you won’t mind, not least because this is a life so full of adventure and interest. I think it would be a shame to miss out any of the things that the family has thought worth recording. I shall follow this with – at most – two minutes’ theology, not to teach any of us anything but because, as W H Vanstone said, the primary purpose of a sermon is doxological.
Geoffrey was baptised at his own choice at the age of nine at St George, Perry Hill where he continued to worship for many years. He learnt to serve there and was a member of the local servers’ guild. (The Vicar, Canon John Herbert Wesley Kane, thought GSS was too ‘high’.) At St George, aged about 10, he met Tom Nevell, also a server. They remained life-long friends until Tom’s death in 1995, and were godfathers to each other’s eldest sons.
He was educated at Alleyn’s School, Dulwich, of which he continued to be fond for the rest of his life. He and Fr Alan Bean SSJE were contemporaries there. Long before Geoffrey had ever thought of ordination, a master, ‘Polly’ Hutt, said to him, not meant nicely: ‘You’d better be a curate; it’s all you’re fit for.’
He had a number of secular employments. For several years he worked for (or, as he put it ‘attended the offices of’) the Commercial Union. On holiday in Germany in 1938, he had a minor run-in with a Stormtrooper, having strayed into an off-limits area of a railway station. He also before the War tested his vocation at Kelham. It wasn’t right for him, nor him for it, but the sense of vocation remained.
In the 1930s Geoffrey joined the Peace Pledge Union, and the peace movement remained important to him right through World War II, the Cold War and until he died. During World War II he spent a brief spell in the Gloucestershire Regiment in which he was part of a group who burnt oil to create a smokescreen over the ROTOL factory near Bristol: dirty work, even after a thorough bath the oil would come out of your pores in sweat as if you had never bathed at all. He was discharged from the army for having flat feet, although he always believed that it had something to do with the pacifist literature that he distributed to his fellow soldiers. He also spent some of the war as a firewatcher and ARP warden in the City of London.
In 1947, he went to King’s College London to study theology and be prepared for ordination. He was ordained deacon at the Advent Ordinations in 1950, on the old St Thomas’ Day, was Gospeller at his deaconing – at that time, the ordination took place before the Gospel had been read – and served his title at St Michael, Star Street in the Diocese of London.
While at King’s, he had put his name on a list of those interested in serving in southern Africa. The call to South Africa came and he went there in 1952. In South Africa, he was heavily involved in the anti-apartheid movement (he was always very particular about using the Afrikaans pronunciation – apar-tate). He was a hospital chaplain and parish priest in and around Johannesburg, including the parish of Parys. There is a copy of an Anglican Breviary from his time in SA in the front of which is a dedication:
To Father Pinnock from the congregation of St Mary’s Church, Jeppe, in sincere appreciation of his services during a very difficult period. Nativity of Our Lady. 1957.
The nature of the ‘very difficult period’ is unknown.
He returned to London in 1957, where he held Permission to Officiate until 1966. In that time, he spent six months at All Saints, Margaret Street, and did various cover and supply jobs. It was at this time that he met Jill, having just said Mass at the House of St Barnabas in Soho.
A number of hospital chaplaincies followed. Their record in Crockford is a little confused, partly because Fr Geoffrey could never himself remember in quite which order he had done them. While chaplain to St Stephen’s Hospital, Fulham, the Profumo scandal took place, and Dr Stephen Ward, one of those involved in the scandal, took an overdose of drugs and was admitted to St Stephen’s Hospital. Geoffrey’s minor claim to fame was that he took Dr Ward’s funeral, having to engage in various ducking and diving to avoid the press to do so.
In 1966, he was offered a parish in up-state New York, by Laurie Scaife, Bishop of Western New York. He and Jill travelled to the USA, were married by Bishop Scaife and went to the Mission of St Paul, Angola, New York. They stayed there from 1966 to 1971, and it was here that Giles was born in 1967 and Clare in 1969. He then spent around 18 months at St Andrew, Stamford, Connecticut, where the Rector was his friend of many years, Fr Norman Catir.
After Connecticut, the family returned to the UK. Geoffrey held PTOs in the Dioceses of London and Southwark, some of the time working with Bishop Trevor Huddleston, then Bishop of Stepney, whom he had known in South Africa. He then spent nine months or so at St Philip’s Battersea, with Fr Walter Makhulu (pronounced Makhudu, later to be Archbishop of Central Africa, who would preach at Giles’ ordination to the diaconate).
The then Bishop of Truro, Bishop Graham Leonard, a long-time friend, offered him the parishes of St Mary the Virgin, Braddock (one of the relatively few Marian dedications in Cornwall) & Boconnoc (dedication unknown) in mid-Cornwall. While in Cornwall, Geoffrey was a staunch supporter of GSS and would take Giles to GSS meetings in parishes all over Cornwall in much the same way that other fathers take their sons to football matches.
The Pinnocks stayed in Cornwall for the seven years up to Geoffrey’s retirement in 1981, when he and his family moved to Oxford. After retirement he continued to be very active, helping in a number of parishes in Oxford, most particularly, St Mary & St John in the Cowley Road; St James, Cowley; and St Francis of Assisi, Hollow Way. He also throughout the 1980s said Mass weekly in St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road. He was well known on the Catholic–Anglican–Ecumenical circuit in Oxford for many years, particularly the ESBVM, on whose council and executive he served.
For the last ten or so years of his life, he was genuinely retired and became increasingly frail. He regarded me as his bishop, and it was a great privilege to preside and preach at the Mass here at St John’s, Iffley Road, to celebrate his 50th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood. That was in December 2001. He was able occasionally to concelebrate, for example, at the Ebbsfleet Chrism Masses and at Giles’ ordination to the diaconate and priesthood. He was immensely proud of Giles’ following his footsteps and I remember telling him to stay alive whilst his son completed his ordination training. I remember at Giles’ deaconing telling Geoffrey that he had to live for another year and I remember congratulating him on doing so at Giles’ priesting. I’m sure he will have regarded Giles’ progress to St Mary’s, Kenton, as parish priest as the completion of his vigil and I am not at all surprised that he did not outlive Giles’ appointment for very long.
When I was looking at the readings the family had chosen for this funeral mass, I wondered whether I should settle for the emphasis on the Preaching of the Word – as in II Timothy 2:8, 11, my text – or whether I should settle for the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist, sublimely taught in the passage from John 6. And then it occurred to me – as I am sure it did to Jill, herself a teacher of liturgy – that the II Timothy text itself brings together the priestly task. How else do we ‘remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in [the] gospel’? The Mass, the celebration of which is the life and work of the priest, is the anamnesis, the dynamic remembering, of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is proclaimed by the Word and by the Preaching of the Word but, as St Paul says elsewhere, ‘as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’ (I Corinthians 11:26). It is what we do with the bread and the cup that is the remembering of ‘Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in [the] gospel’. No wonder so many come to faith simply by encountering the awesome Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
The other bit of my text – If we have died with him, we shall also live with him – is itself no less sacramental. As the Gospel says, ‘if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever…he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’ At the heart of the priestly life is the belief that, just as through Baptism we share in the Lord’s death, so through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist we are brought into a living and eternal relationship with Christ the Risen Lord.
If we have died with him, we shall also live with him.
This was Geoffrey’s faith, the warp and woof of his ministry, and it is this faith – the faith that if we die with Christ we shall live with him – that we confidently celebrate in this funeral Mass.
The family has received many kind tributes to Fr Geoffrey, the spirit of which are encapsulated in a letter from Fr Larry Milby, a Roman Catholic friend from up-state New York, and now parish priest of The Nativity of Our Lord Parish, Orchard Park New York.
My sincerest sympathy at the death of Geoffrey. Of course, I cherished his friendship. But even more, I valued his deep Christian witness, lived out beautifully as a priest, husband and father – and now grandfather. We are so fortunate to live in times that do in fact bring us together and enrich our lives by allowing us to share our traditions and experiences. Geoffrey combined so beautifully the essential elements of the Anglican and Catholic traditions, a living witness to our unity. I am so fortunate to have two great priest friends with the Lord. And I hope that the beatific vision allows for some sort of reunion.
And what to say of those vows pronounced here in Buffalo so many years ago! What a perfect harmony and a beautiful family. It has been a wonderful blessing for me to enjoy your friendship and hospitality for all these years.
May Geoffrey now have the reward for his labors.
REQUIESCAT IN PACE
MEMENTO IN SACRIS
Let me finish with the sentence from that letter which meant most to Jill and Giles and Clare:
Geoffrey combined so beautifully the essential elements of the Anglican and Catholic traditions, a living witness to our unity.