A book of essays produced to celebrate the 90th year of Canon Edgar Turner was launched in St John’s Parish, Malone, Belfast, on Friday November 19.
Canon Turner is one of the best known and most familiar clergy in the Church of Ireland, particularly noted for his prodigious knowledge of the Church of Ireland’s canon law and Constitution, on which his advice and opinions are still regularly sought.
The collection of essays and reminiscences – entitled Edgar Turner at 90 – A Memoir by some friends – was the brainchild of Canon John Mann, rector of St John’s, Malone, where Canon Turner and his family worship. Canon Mann saw the project as representing both a record of, and a tribute to, Canon Turner’s life, work and witness, as he reached a significant personal milestone.
Canon Mann – liaising with Canon Turner’s wife Joan, son Justin, and daughter Kate – invited each of a representative selection of Canon Turner’s friends and colleagues to contribute a chapter encompassing an aspect of his Church or personal life or character of which they had particular knowledge.
The chapters include an account of Canon Turner’s curacy at All Saints’, Kings Heath, Birmingham, from 1945-1951 (and where, 60 years later, he is still well remembered); his work as dean of residence at Queen’s University Belfast, 1951-1958; his 32 years as rector of St George’s, High Street, Belfast; his 24 years as registrar of Connor Diocese (he still holds the honorary title of principal registrar of Connor); and his work on numerous diocesan and national Church committees and boards.
Also included are chapters on his 50-years’ work with the Liturgical Advisory Committee; his pioneering ecumenical work, including his involvement with the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association; and a chapter on possibly a little-known aspect of Canon Turner’s interests: his life-long following of the Northern Ireland international football team – home and all over Europe.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the enterprise, which was almost a year in the making, was that Canon Turner’s family and the contributors, all sworn to secrecy, succeeded in bringing the project to fruition without him having the least idea of what was going on – remarkable given his legendary reputation for perspicacity.
The Rev Brian Stewart, the present rector of St George’s, acted as master of ceremonies at the launch and there were two commendatory and largely anecdotal speeches, one from the Rt Rev Dr Samuel Poyntz, a former Bishop of Connor, and the other from Canon Lady Sheil, one of General Synod’s lay honorary secretaries.
Bishop Poyntz spoke of his joy at being present on an occasion “saluting one of the leading priests of the Church of Ireland in the last one hundred years.”
He commended the book as “showing the many sides of a wonderful character … a holy man of God … [who] tried to do everything in worship and in life worthy of God”.
The bishop also paid tribute to Joan Turner whom he described as “a wonderful helpmate to Edgar” and who, with him, demonstrated “the social witness and implications of the Gospel”.
In her remarks, Lady Sheil outlined what she described as “the common threads in the book which form a portrait of the Edgar we know today”.
She was privileged to affirm a “devout and inspirational priest and pastor of complete integrity [who had] made a mark in the spiritual life and worship of so many … an example to all of us”.
In reply, Canon Turner confessed that the occasion was one of the few in his life when he was lost for words.
He felt both “completely humiliated and abashed” by what had been said and written about him by people from so many different connections and interests in his life and “humbled” by them saying they were proud to be included in the circle of his friends.
He said he would “treasure the moment” and concluded by adding that, in his life – judging by the heartwarming friendship and goodwill present at the book launch – “I must have done something right”.
It is hoped to have a separate launch of the book in Dublin at a later date.
Edgar Turner at 90 is available from the Good Book Shop, 61-67 Donegall Street, Belfast BT1 2QH; tel 028 9024 4825; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Report by the Rev Clifford Skillen
Photos by Mark Pearce