Oh dear, I have no idea how to write this, but know that I must. I need to write for me, to begin to put all my thoughts in some kind of comprehensive order (there's a first time for everything)
Firstly, the photo. I have chosen this photo specifically of my dear friend. Because, although he was a Bishop, a priest, a vice-rector, a school chaplain, He was to me, a friend. I can't say just an ordinary friend because there was nothing ordinary about this man. But he was a friend.
(Here's one that's not quite so ordinary)
So whilst all the other obituaries are about a Bishop (which is as it should be) this one is about a friend. Fr Evans was our school chaplain in my senior school, and although I was not (and am not still) a Catholic, i was welcomed, as were all pupils, to participate in Mass as much as possible. Fr Evans wanted us all to feel so much part of the family that he had permission to bless loaves of bread for those of us who were not Catholic to be able to share some of the meaning of Mass. He joined the school the year after I started in the senior school, and i can remember a shift in the way the masses felt (with no disrespect meant to Fr Watts who had preceeded him) He brought the warmth of Taizé with him, and a way of connecting with young people and trying to make them part of the mass. He changed the focus from something we watched happen, to something we became part of - all of us, Catholics and non Catholics alike. The name of our denomination didn't matter, what mattered was whether we wanted to be part of celebrating God in our lives.
I played the guitar at school, and as there were not many of us that did, I was soon
As time went on and i left school we stayed in touch. Meeting as often as work allowed for pub meals or visiting him at St Johns Seminary where he was Vice-rector. He then moved to South London as a University Chaplain, then back to Wonersh seminary then to Tunbridge Wells, and finally to East Anglia. So visits became fewer, but we have written regularly (in fact when i was looking for those photos earlier I realised we have written I'd say every 8 weeks or so, for all those last 25 odd years (I'm not counting the years at school, I don't want to give away my age too closely! :-) ) Despite his illness in the last 6 years, and his unbelievable schedule. He has still written regularly, and remembered birthdays, and sent Christmas cards with handwritten personal messages and "words of wisdom" And i've been for a couple of visits up to Norwich to see him in his proper surroundings! For his ordination as Bishop, I bought him a small digital camera, and was suitably rewarded with so many photos and shared memories. That was another thing about Fr M, whatever you gave, you got back in abundance!
I read this back and it's so little of the memories I have. I cannot begin to summarise them, . - Rain dances in the sixth form garden and going and covering FrM's office in tiny bits of white blossom (it looked like someone has shaken three boxes of confetti over the room), he wasn't impressed (although we did see a smile or two hiding behind the stern look!) The hottest most garliciest (is that a word?!) Chille con carne in a pub in Bramley during a retreat weekend. Someone trying to escape the retreat weekend out of the window to go to the aforementioned pub, and every time her feet hit the ground a torch light would come on, and that slow unmistakeable voice "Yes?". (Seriously, how DID he know?!) Our first culinary experiences/experiments at Maryvale on retreat as we 16 year olds tried to cook for 10 or so people (not always terribly successfully, but always with enthusiasm). The films, and candlelit masses,Taizé chants, the pansy, the broken guitar strings and bad harmonies, the wrong songs in the wrong places, signed retreat books (they must've taken an age to compile in a Pre-PC age!), folk group practices, Wednesday evening healing Masses, stroppy teenagers, curries and afternoon teas, his little blue ford fiesta (often laden with 6th formers and a distinct smoke filled interior). But always, always that twinkling smile in his eyes. That deeply peaceful persona.
(I have, since I originally wrote this, been reminded of August 10 2009, Fr M's 58th birthday. - I asked him if he would please spend 10 minutes at a particular spot in his garden, which is a place we had sat together a few weeks earlier, and that I in turn would sit on Newlands Corner, looking out over Wonersh (ish) and we would be together at evening prayer, sort of! - He wrote to me that evening that he had indeed done my bidding but had been sidetracked on his return indoors by some weeds in the lawn which he had taken objection to, and had spent the best part of an hour hand-picking out! - Much as the title of this post is Rest in Peace, I'm thinking strictly between he and I that resting is the last thing Fr M would want heaven to be - and he probably already has it organised in alphabetical order sub-divided by height or some such)
Someone who must have known Fr M very well, wrote on Twitter "May he rest in peace, in the prescence of his Aslan."
The Last Battle: C.S.Lewis
And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and so beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all the adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last the were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
I maintain that Fr M gave me my smile. He taught me how to be peaceful and happy in the very heart of myself, and there is no greater gift.
Enjoy your next journey my dear, dear friend, it deserves to be an amazing one. xx