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Canon Edgar Turner: A modest cleric with a life spent in service to the lord

By Alf McCreary

Published 09/04/2016

Our wee country: Canon Edgar Turner with daughter Kate in Faroe Islands to support Northern Ireland
Our wee country: Canon Edgar Turner with daughter Kate in Faroe Islands to support Northern Ireland

The funeral of the late Canon Edgar Turner, which took place in his beloved St George's Church, High Street, Belfast on Thursday was a reminder of the service of that good man to the Church in general, and that of other clergy who rarely make major headlines.

Edgar Turner, whom I came to know when my then young son Matthew sang in St George's choir a long time ago, was a modest, warm-hearted and scholarly man who was also a stickler for doing things properly.

During those years I joined the wider St George's 'family' on successive visits when the choir, under the direction of Jonathan Gregory, sang in some of the greatest churches in these islands, including York Minster, Durham Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin.

The visits were a mixture of great music and family delight - what parent would not be proud to hear his or her child taking part in Evensong and Sunday worship in such historic and hallowed buildings?

Canon Turner, like every good cleric, also set the tone for the everyday life and outreach of his parish, and he did so with a tactful but firm touch.

He was very particular about wearing the right vestments. At his retirement reception, a senior parishioner said jokingly that one day he saw Edgar clearing the guttering at St George's: "He was wearing a green boiler suit, no doubt to celebrate the feast day of some obscure saint." Edgar, who in many ways was saintly himself, enjoyed the humour.

He built up his inner city church at a time when others were withering away as people moved to the suburbs. His tradition has been carried on, and today St George's retains its high reputation in the Church and music life of Belfast.

Canon Turner, who was 96, never sought headlines, but he did make news because of his staunch support for the Northern Ireland football team.

Throughout the Church of Ireland, however, he will be remembered with admiration for the role he played on numerous diocesan and national church committees and boards, and for his strong support of ecumenism.

He was also well-known for his expert knowledge of the Church of Ireland Canon Law and Constitution. He was also a long-time member of the Liturgical Advisory Committee, and registrar of Connor Diocese for 24 years.

His long and faithful service to the Church at large, reminds me of many other clerics of all denominations who carry out their mission, day in and day out, without expectation of widespread recognition, or rewards. Some clerics may covet leading roles, which is hardly the right motive for a life of service, but the majority are committed to the everyday challenges of parish ministry.

The importance of these humble men and women is not always recognised by the world, but it is beautifully described in the poem Country Clergy by RS Thomas:

"They left no books,

Memorial to their lonely thought

In grey parishes; rather they wrote

On men's hearts, and in the minds

Of young children sublime words too soon forgotten. God in His time

Or out of time will correct this."

Belfast Telegraph

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