Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Geoff Moorgas RIP

I’ve just learned of the death of an old friend. Geoff Moorgas died on Saturday 26 March 2011, according to a brief message just received from another old friend, Mark Ramsden. Both Geoff and Mark were originally from Durban, and both were recently living near Oxted in Surrey, England.

I first met Geoff when, as a student in Pietermaritzburg, I visited some friends in Durban one weekend and went to a gathering of Durban Anglican Youth (DAY), on 4 August 1963, where young people from parishes all over Durban gathered for a kind of sports day. We first went to a service at St Raphael’s Church in Sydenham, which was then one of the High Church parishes of Durban, and it was followed by hockey and soccer matches between the various parishes. Geoff Moorgas was one of the organisers.

Geoff Moorgas, Durban, 1972

Geoff Moorgas, Durban, 1972

I didn’t really get to know him until 1969, when I was living in Durban, and, at the urging of Beyers Naudé, had formed some Christian Institute youth groups. Geoff became involved in these, and mentioned at one meeting that he had been asked by a group of young people in the parish of Greenwood Park to help them form a band. He agreed, and helped them to get instruments and became their manager. Then I was asked by the priest at St Columba’s, Greenwood Park, to lead a couple of services there while he was on leave. He said they didn’t have traditional Anglican Evensong, but had, with the permission of the bishop, “experimental services.” I asked if would be ok if the Christian Institute youth groups got involved in planning and leading the services. He agreed, so we got the band youngsters to take part as well, but they were not accomplished musicians and it took a great deal of practising in Geoff’s house to get them ready for the service, which was also their first public gig.

One result of the service (which you can read about at Notes from underground: Psychedelic Christian Worship — thecages if you are interested) was that I got fired by the Anglican bishop of Natal and lost touch with Geoff again for a while when I went to Namibia. Three years later I saw Geoff again, after being deported from Namibia and banned to Durban, but he was then very busy running a shoe factory, so I did not see a great deal of him.

Several years later I heard from Geoff again — a letter arrived out of the blue, saying that he was in Namibia — an Anglican priest in Luderitz. He wanted to live a monastic or semi-monastic life, but he suffered from ill-health and went to England, where he lived as a hermit of sorts, and Mark Ramsden, whom I had known from Durban North days, visited him a few times.

It would be good it people who knew Geoff write some of their memories of him as comments.

May his memory be eternal.

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7 thoughts on “Geoff Moorgas RIP

  1. Hello, I have rather sadly stumbled across this whilst trying to trace Rev. Moorgas, I had wanted to make contact with him as his mother was my Great Grandfather’s cousin and I was hoping he may be able to assist me in my research into our history. I wander if you would be able to put me in contact with someone who may know more about his family background. Kindest Regards, Kimberley

    • Unfortunately I had not seen him face-to-face for over 40 years, and was only in touch by phone and letter. The last time I saw other members of his family was in 1969.

      • Thank you for your reply, I think will now write to the Diocese of Southwark to see if they can assist me or maybe pass on a letter to his surviving relatives. Kindest Regards. Kimberley

  2. Hello Kimberley,

    I am sorry not to have replied before, but I missed this post somehow. I met Geoff via Steve, when Steve contacted me (a year or two before Geoff died) and asked me to look him up. I found that he was the priest at the Staffhurst Wood church, near where I live, and I arranged to go to one of the services.

    I had a house guest at the time who was a similar age to Geoff and who I thought might know him, and so one Sunday morning I headed off to the service in Staffhurst Wood with my guest (Ruth) and my sister. Having not been to the church before, I overshot it on the first attempt, and found myself the other side of Staffhurst Wood. I turned around and got it on the third pass, and so the three of us fulfilled a long family tradition of arriving at the church after the service had commenced. The church was tiny (half of it had been converted into a house, which Geoff was living in) and the other half was packed with a small but lively congregation. Geoff eyed us sneaking in at the back, and directed us to the front row (which meant that we were right up against the alter pew). It was a lively service, all done in sung form, and Geoff led the singing admirably.

    After the service there was a gathering at the back of the church (at the exit) and we chatted for a while with Geoff and some of the congregants. I introduced myself as mutual friends of Steven Hayes and I introduced my sister and Ruth. Geoff asked me to call him and make an arrangement to pop around for tea. Ruth was unusually quiet during this, and I thought it was just because we were in a strange church.

    Driving home after the service, Ruth asked me to repeat what Geoff’s surname was, and then exclaimed that she must come with me to have tea with him because she knew his family in Cape Town and had attended his brother’s funeral a few months previously. They also had mutual friends in common. I had been expecting a connection between Geoff and Ruth, but not exactly this one.

    Within the week or so, Ruth and I went and had tea with Geoff, and he showed us his quaint quarters in the habitable half of the church. He had moved his bed from the mezzanine level bedroom to his study due to infirmity, but he still insisted that he prepare the tea and cake for us. I only helped him carry the tray. We had a long chat where Geoff told us about his life, and Ruth and he discussed mutual family friends and (of course) some details about Geoff’s brother and his brother’s family, including the funeral.

    If you contact me Kimberley, I will be happy to share Ruth’s contact details so that you can email/phone her and get in touch with Geoff’s family/friends that she has contact with.

    Regards, bbm.

    • Ingrid Fortuin on said:

      Dear bbm, it now 2019. and to hear you talk about Uncle Geoffrey give me goosebumps. I am currently trying to locate some of our family albums that Uncle Geoffrey kept with him in Surrey. The funeral that Ruth talks about is my Dad who passed away on 15th September 2008, eleven years ago.

      My cousin was visiting from Durban last night, and we were talking about all the family photo albums and this is what brought me to look up information regarding his parish.

      I loved reading your story above


      • Hi Ingrid,
        I’m not sure why I never saw your message until now, but it is good to hear from you. I was acquainted with your father Sunny (through Ruth) when I lived in Cape Town. I describe Ruth as my “house guest” above but she was family to me, and sadly passed away five years ago. I was fortunate and privileged to make it back to Cape Town in time to say goodbye properly, and to hold her hand during her final breaths. We scattered her ashes at Blue Rocks on Table Mountain, where she played as a child. The other people who I know that were friends with Geoff and probably your father are the Lawlers, but I was unable to visit them the last time I was in Durban and I am not sure when I will be able to visit again. Geoff spoke fondly of them, and I understood that they were childhood friends: he certainly knew them long before I met them. I hope that you managed to get your family albums. Let me know if you need some help from this side. The church where Geoff lived and worked at Staffhurst Wood was deconsecrated after his death, and is now simply a family home but I still live in the area.

      • Incidentally, this is the church where Geoff lived. They had converted half of the church to a “flat” for him, which was beautiful. Subsequently the entire church was converted and modernised, and the photos here are after the modernisation:

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