Geoffrey Marshall: 1939-2013
Geoffrey was born on 22 July 1939, just 42 days before the outbreak of the Second World War. He lived in South London with his parents, Leonard and Doris Marshall and his sister Josie, and always referred to himself as a Londoner. Geoffrey often spoke of his father as someone who was “on the boards”, an entertainer and Geoffrey certainly inherited something of the spirit of the entertainer.
At the age of eight he joined the Boys Brigade junior Section, the Life Boys at Crofton Park Baptist Church in South East London and started attending Sunday School. At 15 years he went to the Billy Graham Crusade at the Harringay arena and made a commitment to Christ and was later baptised at Crofton Park Baptist Church.
He continued to teach in the Sunday School, participated in Christian Endeavour and was involved with the Boys Brigade and youth groups. He joined a ‘church team’ which went out regularly to then St Alfege’s Hospital in Greenwich, which was his first foray into visitation. Around this time Geoffrey felt called to become a missionary candidate and it was suggested to him that he should serve as a volunteer in a religious environment.
In 1958 having become a member of the Baptist Lay Preachers’ Association he did just that and spent a year at the West Ham Central Mission in London working with the Superintendent Minister, the Revd Stanley Turl. This gave him the opportunity of preaching and leading worship in daughter churches at Wythes Road and Upton Park as well as continuing his interest in youth work through brigades and young people’s meetings and clubs. He maintained a link with the West Ham Central Mission throughout his life.
At the age of 22 years he began his ministerial training at Bristol Baptist College and entered his first pastorate in 1963 as Associate Minister at Stoneygate Baptist Church, Leicester. He had special responsibility for Eyres Monsell, which was a daughter church and meeting in a local school. He served the church there from 1963 to 1967 and during that time he helped the church at Eyres Monsell begin the process of building their own church. In 1972 he was invited to the opening of the new church building.
In 1967 Geoffrey was appointed as Young People’s Secretary with the Baptist Missionary Society. A five year appointment. His responsibility was to keep the work and aims of the Society in the minds and lives of young people. A major part of his work was the large Summer School programme, which attracted over 1000 young people each year.
Young people over the age of 14 years booked for one or two weeks holiday in venues, mainly on the South Coast of England. Summer Schools had been organised by the BMS since the early part of the twentieth century and was the only Christian organisation at that time offering holidays for young people of both sexes. In addition to the Summer School programme the Young People’s Secretary produced literature for use in local churches and every month in an evening meeting in Mission House FLY BMS, (For London Youth) was a gathering for young people to meet mission staff and hear news of work overseas.
At the conclusion of his term of office in 1972 Geoffrey enrolled for a course in education at Avery Hill College in London. He taught for a short period and then accepted an invitation to the pastorate at Denmark Place Baptist Church in Camberwell where he served the church from 1975-81. Camberwell was a particularly West Indian area of London and Geoffrey made many lasting friendships from among the members of that church.
However, being a single man in ministry Geoffrey found the demands of the pastorate difficult to maintain and in 1981 he took up an appointment as a teacher of English in the Abbey Missionary School for the English Language in St. John’s Wood. This School was the first Christian Language School in the UK and was founded by a former minister of the Abbey Road Baptist Church, the Revd L R Barnard. Every day began with prayers and every morning included a Bible lesson. Geoffrey often led morning prayers and was greatly loved by both students and staff. The Principal of the School at that time, Valerie Lawrence, said Geoffrey was a Godsend. Abbey School and Abbey Church became a family for Geoffrey and a true Christian Community.
In 1983 he was invited to become the part-time minister of the Abbey Road Baptist Church in addition to teaching in the School and this role he maintained until he received a call to the Victoria Street Baptist Church in Windsor on a part-time basis in 1992. He served the church at Windsor with enthusiasm and faithfulness until his retirement in 2004. Geoffrey was a great Royalist and a fan of the Queen Mother, so Windsor for him was a wonderful conclusion to his pastoral ministry.
Three areas of Geoffrey’s life spring to mind: his humour, his amazing facility for friendship and his pastoral heart. He was a great mimic but he never laughed at people but with them. He would tease elderly people about their memories and expressions but they never took offence, just laughed with him.
He loved to play the piano and sing songs from the past and often Christian songs with a funny side to them. Often he would MC the end of term concert in the School and students, whose first language was not English, would understand his humour and laugh with him. He kept up friendships with an amazing number of people from his pastorates as well as former BMS missionaries and students from College and from Abbey School.
His preaching was always well prepared and he kept his devotional life in good order. But his pastoral heart was the mainstay of his ministry. He was never judgmental and always sought the positive when dealing with difficult pastoral issues. He cared for elderly members with great affection and practical care, often taking them out and even on a short holidays.
But he also cared about young people and when he was at Windsor he initiated with Churches Together in Windsor, an organisation called Youthtalk. A gathering place for young people where they could meet and talk about life experiences and difficulties, with people who would listen to them.
When he retired he moved to his own home in Exmouth and served the churches around that area. But he remained a Londoner and following the death of his only sister, Josie, he moved to Reading to be nearer his nephews and nieces. He moved into sheltered housing and joined the church at Abbey, Reading. During the last year of his life he spent about three months in hospital suffering from a spinal infection, which affected his walking. He was able to return to his flat with the help of carers and physiotherapy but he died suddenly in his sleep on 30 July 2013, just eight days after his 74th birthday.
He is survived by his cousin Mary and nephews David and Kevin and niece Caroline. He was ably supported by the members and friends at Abbey, Reading and a number of family and friends gathered for a service of Thanksgiving for his life on 27 September 2013 at Abbey Baptist Church, Reading.
Pamela Neville October 2013