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Alan Rogers, priest

May 20, 2013

USPGIn my mid teens, a new priest arrived at our church. He was what we would now call an NSM as he worked as a lecturer at the local college of education.

He was to have a huge influence my life.

I liked this priest because he was ‘more catholic’ than our regular clergy in his manual actions while saying mass. He had a beautiful singing voice when he was celebrating the Sung Eucharist (in those days, ‘sung’ meant most of the priest’s bits.)

I went to a secondary modern school. In hindsight, the fact that my father was bi-polar and took his own life shortly before I failed my eleven plus can’t have helped. I eventually got into the grammar school but I wasn’t expected to get good grades and hadn’t applied to any universities.

My actual results surprised everybody, including myself.  Had it not been for a conversation at the back of church when he urged me to apply, through UCCA clearing, to read theology, my life would have turned out very different indeed – probably as a pen-pusher in County Hall.

In those days, I obeyed priests!

ARHe gave me a ‘dummy interview’ to practice and I remember my assertion of ‘the uniqueness of Christ’ and his counter-argument about Lord Buddha postponing enlightenment in order to teach others. That led to my choice of options veering towards world religions alongside the more traditional subjects in a theology degree and from thence to insisting that our entirely Christian PGCE be supplemented by ‘other’ religions – they imported Own Cole from another college.

I still remember one of his Christmas morning sermons (at a service traditionally theology-lite) – he got in Star Trek to keep the choirboys interested and moved from that to ‘the Ancient of days is an hour or two old.’

Also, one strange memory: He didn’t like arum lilies decorating the church for Easter – apparently people in Madagascar, where he had been a missionary, ate them.

I also remember a conversation about the ordination of women, long before it became a heated topic. After some years, I became virtually a founder member of the Movement for the Ordination of Women.

His daughter and her husband were at school with me and she recalls a Lambeth garden party for missionaries in July 1957. “My parents were on the eve of embarking for Madagascar with USPG. On entry, my mother was reprimanded for bringing her daughters. As the only children present, my sister and I were ushered outside the marquee, where we had a great time, oblivious of the gaffe. Such was the merriment that Dr Fisher sought out its source, although not before someone must have told me to pipe down. Thereafter, whenever we owned up to our mistakes, my mother rejoined: “Well, at least you didn’t turn up at Lambeth Palace with your children in tow.”

This obituary appeared in the CHURCH TIMES of 29 February 2008


Canon Keith Hugo writes:

Former missionary with a passion for education: Canon Alan Rogers

FOR Alan Rogers, who died on 21 December, aged 83, life was dominated by a thirst for knowledge and a passion for education.

He was born and grew up in Portsmouth, the son of a dockyard manager and a teacher. From Portsmouth Grammar School, he won an exhibition to King’s College, Cambridge, but his studies were interrupted, like those of other bright students, by a series of mysterious instructions that led him to wartime work as a cryptologist at Bletchley Park.

He would speak little of this time until programmes, books, and films, like Channel 4’s Station X in 1999, broke the silence that surrounded this work. Alan appeared in each of these four programmes, uttering the words “bras and knickers” on primetime television, as he recalled the déshabillé of the Bletchley Park typing pool during hot summer weather.

After the war, he completed his degree at Cambridge, and then did Cold War work for GCHQ based at Lime Grove. There he met Betty, who was to become his wife, though not until he had spent some time at Cuddesdon, and been ordained to a title at Saffron Walden. Together they moved to a further curacy at St Michael’s, Walthamstow, also in Chelmsford diocese.

In 1957, Alan’s work as an educator really began, when he went, with Betty and their growing family, through SPG, to be a tutor at St Paul’s Theological College, Arnbatoharanana, Madagascar.

On returning to England, he was appointed, in 1967, first as lecturer in Divinity, and then head of department, at Weymouth College of Education, later becoming head of the Departments of Religion and Theology when it became part of the Dorset Institute of Higher Education. He was also an examiner in Theology and Religious Studies for the University of Southampton.

The College closed in 1982, and Alan retired from his official academic duties. He had been helping as an assistant priest at Holy Trinity, Weymouth, but now he and Betty moved to a smaller property in the suburb of Wyke Regis, and he became an honorary assistant priest at All Saints’, Wyke Regis, where he was much loved for more than 20 years. “We always learn something when Fr Alan preaches:’ testified one parishioner.

There, in 2003, he celebrated his golden jubilee as a priest, and golden wedding anniversary, and the baptism of three American grandchildren, all in one glorious service.

He was assiduous in his attendance at deanery synod and chapter meetings, challenging anything that had not been thought through properly, and then pointing to the sensible way forward.

He now also became a much appreciated local tutor for the nonresidential ministerial training scheme based at Sarum College, and retiring from this work only as he approached his 80th birthday in 2004. He was an enthusiastic supporter of women’s ministry, and was proud to be present when one of his former students was among the first group of women priests to be ordained in Bristol Cathedral.

For about 20 years, he served as treasurer for the province of the Indian Ocean Support Association. His service to the Anglican Church in Madagascar and beyond was recognised in 1984 when he was made Hon. Canon of Antananarivo.

He continued to pursue his interest in world religions, serving as treasurer of the British Association for the Study of Religions, and taking part in the International Association for the History of Religions. He founded a theological study group for clergy and lay people in south Dorset.

In 2006, Alan and Betty achieved a long-held ambition to escape the vagaries of the English climate by moving to Madeira. On giving up his Salisbury licenci, Alan avowed that he was ready to take more of a back seat in the congregation. Soon, however, he found himself helping to cover an interregnum in the chaplaincy on the island. But within a year, with the strength in his arms and legs declining, he had to receive 24-hour care in a nursing home, and the onset of motor neurone disease was diagnosed.

The end came quite swiftly, but one of his daughters was able to fly out to support her parents during Alan’s final days, and to join in as Alan led the three of them in reciting the Nunc Dimittis before he died on 21 December.

The funeral mass was held in Holy Trinity, Funchal, and Alan’s grave was dug in the English Cemetery close to that of an early 19th century rector of Wyke Regis, John Menzies, who died on the island, “whither he had gone for the recovery of his health”.

A memorial requiem was celebrated in All Saints’, Wyke Regis, by the present Rector, the Revd Deborah Smith, one of Alan’s final students on the Salisbury course. The large congregation included all four of the Rogerses’ children, and the three grandchildren who live in England.

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