Cleric swaps robes for Lycra to cycle around eight cathedrals across Northern Ireland to raise funds
A Church of Ireland dean is preparing to don his Lycra cycling gear next month for a marathon fundraising cycle around eight cathedrals across Northern Ireland.
The Very Rev Geoff Wilson (57) from Dromore will embark on a 275-mile trek, taking in all six counties.
The Dean of Dromore Cathedral will set off on his tour on Tuesday, June 11 before returning to Dromore on Friday, June 14.
He will take in the Church of Ireland cathedrals in Armagh, Clogher, Enniskillen, Londonderry, Belfast, Lisburn and Downpatrick.
In doing so, Geoff will raise funds to install a disabled toilet in Dromore Cathedral and a 20,000 litre water tank at Maridi Cathedral in South Sudan.
"The disabled toilet in Dromore Cathedral will make such a difference to people of all ages gathering for our worship," Geoff explained.
"The provision of a water tank at Maridi Cathedral will mean that the church will be able to 'harvest' water during the rainy season and then use that water in all kinds of ways - including drinking if purified appropriately - during periods when water is much less available.
"This will mean that the church will be able to provide water to the community as well as save considerable amounts of money on an ongoing basis."
The Newtownards-born cleric is no stranger to physical exertion, having previously run nine marathons in Belfast, Dublin and Paris.
However, aching knee joints forced him to resort to the bicycle and over the last 18 months he has become a keen cyclist.
He now heads out on the road with friends up to four times a week. It is all the more remarkable as the father-of-three is a testicular cancer survivor, having been diagnosed when he was 23 and just as he was preparing to marry his girlfriend Naomi.
The shock diagnosis meant the couple were forced to bring their September 1987 wedding forward by three months as Geoff underwent two operations and chemotherapy over six months before being given the all-clear.
"It was a very challenging time and I didn't realise that testicular cancer was something that affects a lot of young men," he said.
"My prognosis from day one was good and the outlook extremely positive.
"My consultant said I had a 95% chance of coming through this and I would not look back.
"I was determined to be part of that 95% but you are equally conscious that for some people it's not always a happy outcome."
The couple have three children, a daughter Bethany (29), who is due to be married this August, and two sons Jack (27) and Sam (25).
After 17 years in the civil service, Geoff was ordained in 2004 and was first based in the border group of parishes in Swanlinbar, Co Cavan and later Shankill Parish in Lurgan, before his appointment to Dromore in November 2016. He hopes to raise around £4,000 from his upcoming cycle and says each pound raised will be divided equally between his two chosen projects, while any surplus will be given to Maridi diocese for emergency needs.
The Diocese of Down and Dromore's link with Maridi diocese stretches back almost 20 years.
In 2011, South Sudan became an independent country after over 20 years of guerrilla warfare which claimed the lives of at least 1.5 million people and displaced more than four million.
Geoff added: "Our cathedral has a long-standing link with Maridi diocese, most recently deepened through the participation of myself and others from the Church of Ireland in a Peace and Reconciliation conference in Arua in northern Uganda last October.
"The people of Maridi, and indeed South Sudan, have suffered a great deal in recent years with hundreds of thousands still displaced and many children orphaned through conflict.
"Yet, the Church is giving such a strong lead in returning them to their homes with renewed hope and the offer of forgiveness."
Despite the epic challenge ahead, Geoff says he is "excited" about the sponsored cycle.
Anyone wishing to donate should make cheques payable to Dromore Cathedral and send them to: The Very Rev Geoff Wilson, 30 Church Street, Dromore, BT25 1AA