Order of Service for the Funeral of The Revd Canon George Rayner
A “POTTED” BIOGRAPHY
George was born, the youngest of three sons, to George and Mabel Rayner, in Oakﬁeld, his grandmother’s home, during a snowstorm (!) on January 18th, 1926. Brought up in Ryde, his schooling began at the age of 4 yrs. at Mount Street CofE Infants’ School, until at the age of 8 he was transferred to Holy Trinity CofE School in Player Street. At 9 years old, he moved onto Green Street CotE School from whence in 1937, having passed the 11+, made the final move to Sandown Secondary School. Taking the School Certificate exam in 1942, he secured sufficiently high marks to be granted “Matriculation”, which would enable him to proceed at a future stage to some form of higher education, which qualified him eventually to be accepted for theological training.
His passion was to be a printer and leaving Sandown at the age of 16, was accepted as an apprentice at Yelf Bros. Ltd., at Newport who were at that time the premier printers in the Island with the best range of modern machinery.
With the shortage of skilled men, he and his fellow apprentice, John Jackson, found themselves doing work that would have been the prerogative of the older skilled apprentices and journeymen. Printers were favoured, working only a 5-day week in those days.
In return for a full week’s work, the pay was 5/- (25p) per week, the cost of rail travel from Ryde, 7/- (35p) per week. He had to work as a Saturday butcher’s errand boy gaining a further 2/6 to bridge the financial gap.
Being l6yrs.of age when he joined Yelf’s, in August 1942, he was paid only that which a l4yr. old (the then school-leaving age) would receive.
Conscription began at the age of l8 yrs., and under the Bevin Scheme to recruit miners (many of whom had left the pits to work in aircraft production), with insufficient volunteers, using a ballot, 10% of every registration were drafted into the pits, of whom, George was one, starting work at Easter 1944.
Strangely, George, after the initial shock, settled into the work, and when he eventually was discharged in October, 1947 had reached the responsible post as an “Onsetter”, (the youngest in the area) giving him charge of the running of the shaft, something of which he was very proud.
He was tempted to make it a career as he was offered a place at a Mining College to train as a mine manager, but the printing and the Island drew him back to his roots, to the family home “The Brewer’s Arms" in Ryde, where his father was the licensee.
Opening his own business in Castle Street, Ryde, his printing career began to give way to a calling he had never expected.
George had resumed his church life, and in March, l949 was licensed as the youngest Reader in the Diocese.
He was encouraged by Archdeacon “Ted” Roberts and Canon Cory (Vicar of Ryde) to consider ordination, and was accepted for Training for the Ministry, but was not supported by the Diocese, meaning that without grants he had to finance his own theological training.
Having thought that he was secure from the sale of the printing business, there was a default, meaning that George had to ﬁnd some means of financing two years of the three year course.
A small bursary from the College (Bishops’ College, Cheshunt) was augmented by purchasing a sewing machine, and using skills taught him by his mother, (who had hoped to have a daughter) to make clerical robes for his fellow students.
Archdeacon Roberts had suggested Bishops’ College on the grounds that “You need discipline, George!”, and it certainly taught that and he was grateful that the Principal accepted him. Normally they only had men with a University degree, but the Principal thought that 4 yrs. in the coalmines and being brought up in a public house would be good preparation for the priesthood!
By this time, George had found a girlfriend, Hazel Russell, a trainee nurse at St. Mary‘s, and being given permission by the Bishop of Bath and Wells, they were married at All Saints’ Ryde (where George had been a reader, server, choirman and bellringer) on September 27th, 1952, before moving to his curacy at St. Andrew’s, Taunton, being ordained in Wells Cathedral as Deacon, at Advent, 1952.
St. Andrew’s, led by an energetic and forward-thinking Vicar, gave George a good grounding; as Junior curate, responsible for Choir and Servers, he served there until September, 1956.
Holy Trinity, Taunton, a large parish comprising a number of re-housed slum-dwellers, plus new council houses, had been vacant for 6 months, having such a bad reputation among the clergy that the Bishop was finding it difficult to fill. Perhaps in desperation, the Bishop asked George to consider it.
Against the advice of his Vicar, after meeting the folk there, George decided to take it on, which for many reasons, proved more demanding than he had anticipated, so that at one stage he felt he couldn’t cope with it. Eventually, life settled down and it became a very happy and progressive parish.
Inheriting an average congregation of less than 50 worshippers, after hard Work and ground-breaking ideas, the numbers had more than tripled, and whilst George was there, the parish church was completely restored, the organ rebuilt, a new hall built, a ring of bells hung in the tower (with the parishioners’ own labour) and the Church School saved from closure.
At the same time he was Chaplain of East Reach Hospital, Sub-warden of Readers, Local Secretary for SPG Missionary Society and Chapter Clerk.
The traditional parish magazine was replaced by a tabloid style paper, entitled, “The New Look”, which at times attracted the attention of the secular media.
ln 1963, George thought he had done all he could for the. parish and at his young age, needed to move on, although it would have been tempting to stay on and reap the benefits of so much hard work.
With the invitation to go to St. John’s, Sandown in July 1963 with the mandate to raise the ecclesiastical temperature, with Sung Communion and vestments, etc. to balance the local Evangelical parish church, he found similar challenges to Holy Trinity.
The church needed a complete face-lift, which the parishioners did themselves, erecting a west porch on which to place the fine Father Willis organ, building an adjoining hall, and after its destruction by fire, ensuring that the Church School should be retained.
St. John’s is a handsome building, praised ecstatically by John Betjeman and just as everything was running smoothly and George thought he would spend some years there, the summons came from the Bishop of Portsmouth to go to Wootton, where the village was scheduled to grow in size and had stagnated after a 30 year tenure by the previous Rector.
Understandably, he was very reluctant to move from Sandown and only did so under pressure from the Bishop and George was inducted there as Rector in January 1969.
Here again, there was building to do, a new large hall was built, St. Mark's, an Edwardian daughter church, having been closed for 25 years, was re-opened to provide for the anticipated increased congregations. A weekly Parish Communion, with priestly vestments, servers and a larger choir, consisting of boys and adults. was established soon after George ‘s arrival that flourished, and the numbers out-grew the first pews that were purchased from Cowes Congregational Church, replaced with longer ones from St. Andrew’s, Freshwater.
An organ was purchased from the closed Ventnor TB Hospital, which George and helpers re-erected in St. Mark’s.
St. Edmund’s, the parish church was upgraded with a small meeting room, toilets and kitchen, making a compact unit.
From 1967 until 1977 George had not only been Editor of the re-vamped Diocesan monthly Newsletter, but because of production costs, he installed a complete printing plant, so that he could print the 27,500 copies each month, which Hazel his wife packed for individual parishes and her father, Mr. Russell did all the billing and accountancy. (In contrast, The “Pompey Chimes” published only some 8,000 copies). He resigned when there were murmurings in some quarters at his editorial style that had ruffled some feathers and being unable to encourage the then Bishop to write articles suitable for the diverse readers through the Diocese he resigned from that task.
Under such pressure, George found that he was suffering from stress and depression and was advised to resign, at the early age of 63.
He and Hazel moved into retirement into Glastonbury in 1989, but after a short rest, was invited to officiate at Wells Cathedral and in some local Methodist and Anglican Churches. George also was involved with Church education there, being a Bishop’s Visitor of Schools and an Ofsted Inspector of RE, a Cathedral Chaplain and member of the Cathedral Education Committee.
In 1993 he was asked by the Bishop of Bath and Wells, to try and bring together a group of tiny rural parishes, (total population 675 with 6 ancient parish churches) entitled “The Six Pilgrims” where George had been taking services since 1992. This was a voluntary task, George refusing any payment for his services.
Despite misgivings by the authorities, the six parishes were encouraged to “work and worship together”, with good regular congregations and giving a sound financial footing.
George enjoyed being a real parish priest with time to visit and get to know the generous and cooperative people, who had been neglected by the Diocese, but now were being presented as an example of good, practical rural ministry.
Both he and Hazel found this the most congenial and happy part of their long ministry. George thought after 10 years with the “Pilgrims” he should finally retire, and they both returned to the Island in 2002.
Since then, George has been involved in vacancies at Wroxall, Bonchurch, St. Lawrence, Gatcombe, St. Saviour’s, Shanklin and Swanmore, but with increasing immobility, had to decide to hang up his dog-collar.
His only comment on it all and the future, was “I have had a wonderful life, with a wonderful wife, worked with some wonderful people and I’m ready to move on”. (Hazel, sadly died of a brain tumour in 2009.)
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