GEOFFREY JAMES WRIGHT

Geoffrey Wright, who has died aged 59, was a big man in every way. His massive frame topped with tousled white hair presided over liturgical events at Walsingham, Boulogne, Bruges, and London with an unrivalled authority throughout the Catholic movement within the Church of England.

The only son of Alwyn and Mavis Wright, he was born in Enfield in 1943 and somehow never broke free from that North East London island crammed between King George V Reservoir and the railway lines, and later bordered by the M25.

After war service in the army his father returned to teaching and became Head Master of the Church School of Forty Hill and Geoffrey grew up in the school house, attended his father’s school and then went on to grammar.

Alwyn was an organist and choirmaster all his life, and Geoffrey picked up his natural musicianship through this influence.

Another vocation his father detected was that of Stephen Platten, now Dean of Norwich, and formerly one of his choristers, who speaks of him as a man with an immense ability to inspire and sustain young people in the life of the Church. This was an ideal he passed on to his son.

Geoffrey had an able mathematical mind and so it was no surprise when he went to the College of St Mark and St John to train as a secondary teacher in 1961.

Here he gained a group of friends who were to remain with him for the next 41 years.

He was a passionate evangelist for the Catholic cause, and introduced his friends to its exuberant splendours and arcane follies. Yet he accepted the reforms of Vatican II and interpreted them with an almost unerring dignity and common sense.

Although his home background seemed geographically constrained, his horizons were continental and ecumenical. As Secretary General of the Catholic League as well as a Member of the Council of the Church Union, he knew that the Church of England was but ‘part of the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’. With his college contemporaries he explored Europe, its pilgrimage centres, shrines, religious communities and restaurants with verve and an encyclopedic memory.

In his teaching days he led parties of young people even into Eastern Europe, and on one occasion took them over the Czechoslovak/Russian border driving straight through the convoys of troops poised for the Russian repression of the State the pilgrims had just left.

In that era before mobile phones, the families back in the UK were panic struck.

When he left teaching he entered the Civil Service, initially in the Department of Health and Social Security. He eventually found his métier when he was transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries with responsibility for managing the Set Aside Budget, which challenged his able mathematical mind and, on the various trips with the Ministerial and Civil Service Team, enhanced his knowledge of Europe and taught him many a trick of brinkmanship in the management of events!

Although he was the grandson of a priest, he remained a faithful layman serving in the Parish of St Matthew’s, Ponders End as Church Warden and in the normal Councils of the Church of England. Yet he always did so in the Catholic cause.

He saw the importance of Catholic Societies in defending and enhancing the Catholic witness in the Church of England, and as such was a Member of the Guild of Servants of the Sanctuary, the Catholic League, the Church Union and was the Secretary of the Council of Catholic Societies.

His devotion to our Lady was passionate, personal and profound, and his service of Her Shrine at Walsingham recognized when he was made a Lay Clerk of the Holy House.

In an era when everyone had nicknames, he was called ‘Roman Wright’ to distinguish him from David, who was then managing the Double M Club with future Episcopal bar staff.

Yet after the vote to ordain women in 1992, Geoffrey remained loyal to the Church of his baptism and confirmation, much to the surprise of many of his friends, partly because he could not share the implied doubt in the validity of the sacraments he had received, and certainly because he had a group of people to serve and lead at Ponders End.

This last ten years of his life saw the consummation of all his skills in the service of the Catholic cause. His natural flair in technology and presentation as well as liturgical ceremonial brought him to the Council of Forward in Faith, the management of Christ the King Gordon Square, and saw him as the initial typesetter and creator of the Forward Pew Sheet, Forward Plus and New Directions. With Fr Ron Crane, he pioneered the logistics for Sheep Dip and Forward Teaching.

It is fair to say that Forward in Faith, the Church Union and the Catholic League would not be what they are today without the valiant work that early retirement made possible.

Together we had masterminded the stage management of the great Festival of Faith Mass at Wembley Arena prior to the vote in 1992, and so, once more, it was natural that we should do the logistical work for Christ Our Future at Docklands. There, as at Walsingham, he could, with a contrived laidback approach, disguise the detailed planning and above all else the promotion and enabling of young people to be seen to take the limelight on these occasions.

One of the last things he ever did in liturgical creation was perhaps the most arcane. He was involved in the recreation of the funeral of Prince Arthur at Worcester Cathedral for a television documentary.

Many will remember him as the animator of the pilgrimage to the Beguinage in Bruges and the Catholic League Pilgrimage to the Benedictine Sisters of Montmartre where he gained his fascination for the liturgical zither!

These were just some of the ways in which he promoted the religious life as a witness to an increasingly secularized world. This grew not just from the love of the chant and liturgy, but also of a vision of a dedicated group of people set as a challenge and source of strength within the Church.

Like so many men with an immense heart and an ability to work selflessly for other people in order to teach and inspire, he was less than organized about his own self, and his sudden death just when his medical problems had been properly diagnosed and seemed to be responding to treatment was an immense shock to all his friends.

He will be remembered as a major innovator in the cause of Catholic Anglicanism at the end of the twentieth century, and his service will be sorely missed. His greatest tribute will be if the causes he defended are sustained by those he served.

 

Beaumont L Brandie SSC is Team Rector of the Parish of the Resurrection, Brighton.

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