The modern heroes of evangelical life are our successful leaders. In generations past, at least in Wales, we venerated our preaching stars, the ‘pulpit princes’ whose appearance at special events could always draw a crowd. And perhaps we were better for it. In yet earlier generations, however, men of great talent gave themselves largely to serving a local church. In some humble Bethel or Calvary they would delight in the ordinary duties of ministry and yet find time for significant works of theology, or history, or hymnology. It was to this tradition that Geraint Fielder belonged, as a man born out of due time.
Geraint was born in Gorseinon near Swansea, and brought up in an evangelical household which attended Caersalem Evangelical Church in the town. Educated locally and at Swansea University, in 1960 Geraint prepared for ordination at the Aberystwyth Presbyterian College. After serving with the IVF (Inter-Varsity Fellowship, now UCCF: The Christian Unions), he became minister of Whitefield Presbyterian Church, Abergavenny from 1968 until 1980. He then worked independently until he joined the leadership team at Highfields Evangelical Church in Cardiff in 1987, retiring in 1999 but continuing to preach regularly until 2004.
Geraint might have made his life as an historian, the subject he studied both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. He might have made his way also as a professional writer. His initial project was to ghost-write Francis Schaeffer’s first book, Escape From Reason (1966), using notes of Schaeffer’s talks at a conference that had been taken down by the IVF General Secretary, Oliver Barclay. (Schaeffer offered Geraint a job on the back of that, but Geraint’s heart was in local ministry.) His later writings were a history of student work in Wales (Excuse me Mr. Davies, Hallelujah, 1983), then of the British UCCF (Lord of The Years, 1988), followed by a history of the Presbyterian Church of Wales Forward Movement (Grace, Grit and Gumption, 2000). His last publication indicated yet another direction Geraint might have taken. Lifelines, published in 2005, was a collection of his well-received broadcast talks. He also sat on the Editorial Board of this magazine from 1971 until 1987, and then served as a consulting editor until 2003.
Nor were these his only talents. He was a creditable musician who became a chapel organist at the age of 15 and the member for some years of a local choir; he was a humourist who could see the absurd in life; he was a warmly appreciated pastor who served not only his congregation but all who sought him out; he was twice a chaplain – at a mental hospital and later at Usk prison. And, of course, he was a preacher. His sermons were always a compelling blend of theological depth, spiritual challenge, and insight into human realities.
His spiritual journey
Even his spiritual history speaks of a man destined for more than ordinary things. He was converted when the Welsh evangelist David Shepherd brought to Gorseinon an unknown American evangelist in 1946 – Billy Graham. Dr Graham personally counselled the 11 year-old Geraint and challenged him to go on to faithful service of Jesus Christ. While a student, Geraint habitually became chairman of the various student societies he joined, most notably of the British Theological Students’ Fellowship – always a significant appointment in IVF circles. When Geraint followed Elwyn Davies as the Welsh Travelling Secretary for IVF, he was soon noticed as a significant figure by such luminaries as Sir Fred Catherwood and Professor Donald Wiseman. Yet for all this, Geraint was a man of remarkable humility who hardly mentioned his achievements, let alone promoted himself through them. He was, in the best sense of the phrase, a sweet and catholic evangelical: anyone who loved the gospel was loved by Geraint, as many whose lives were touched by him can testify today.
Geraint died in his sleep on Monday 14 May after a long and debilitating battle with Parkinson’s disease born with courage and dignity. He is survived by Mary, his wife of 50 years, and his four children Martyn, Robert, David and Cherry.