The Revd George Reginald Neal: 1929-2015
Highly admired local pastor who "cherished the Baptist story which revealed the grace of God lovingly entrusted to us all"
George was raised in a working class home in the east end of London. The youngest of six children. He was brought up in a poorly educated but firmly Christian family. His parents leading by example so much so that two of the six children were ordained.
He was encouraged by his mother to join the Post Office stating that ‘he would get a good pension when he retired’. As a teenager George cycled round the east end of London delivering telegrams. The bombs were falling.
He was for a while evacuated alone to Bradford-on-Avon where he was cared for by two maiden sisters. In his hands on arrival he clutched tightly a piece of paper on which there was a prayer written by his mother which he prayed every night.
Several years later George and his wife Doreen visited these sisters who were still living in the same house and recognized him immediately. They recalled saying to him that they expected him to train for Christian ministry.
On his return to London he became very actively involved in the West Ham Central Mission and it was here that he met and became engaged to Doreen. Together they sensed a call to ministry. Because of the war years George’s education had been seriously interrupted and to gain entrance to theological college training he attended night school to achieve matriculation. He funded himself through this time with odd jobs including humping sacks of sugar for Tate and Lyle and stirring vats of bubbling preserve for Keillers jams.
He was awarded a place at Rawdon Baptist College where following four years of study he graduated Bachelor of Divinity. Later in life he gained a Master’s Degree. Following ordination he was invited to commence his ministry at Kingswood, the daughter church of Beechen Road, Watford, in 1956 when Dr Howard Williams was his Senior Minister.
It was here that all three of his children were born, Mark, Graham and their daughter Clare who was born with Down's Syndrome. It was a very traumatic time for George and Doreen. Over the years Clare had a very positive influence on their ministry with her charming and happy disposition which helped to produce in them a warm and caring relationship with all children and brought joy to the church family. During this time the church ceased to require the support of the Home Mission Fund.
In 1964 they moved to the church at Sundon Park, Luton. This was a newly established church with many young families meeting in a new building. The church family developed effectively and vibrantly with all age groups.
George was invited to undertake ministry at Acocks Green, Birmingham, in 1972. This was a very traditional church with an experienced and competent diaconate which enabled George to engage in ministry wider afield in the community.
In 1987 he and Doreen moved to the Abbey Church in Reading for seven years. They enjoyed the new church building and again, because of the nature of the congregation, he was able to engage in wider ministry which was much appreciated through his hospital chaplaincy particularly in the children’s wards. Doreen was deeply involved in the life of the church with the children.
The pastoral strength of his ministry issued from the way he and Doreen worked together and cared for Clare. They were all highly admired. His son comments, ‘It was ironic that having been raised in a house with hardly a book around my father developed into a man who would read six books at a time and enjoyed a significant library. He enjoyed and was stimulated by his reading of theology and took the time to study Hebrew and Greek for his biblical studies and German to better grasp writers who impressed him’.
He was happy when he was reading his theological books and talking about them. The study of the nature of God and his relation to the world he had made, the study of religious faith, practice and experience were his delight and enrichment.
He read astronomy, politics, poetry, biographies of the well known and lesser known but very rarely fiction. The one notable exception being Harry Potter which entire series he read several times!
On their retirement George, Doreen and Clare moved to Bovey Tracey in 1994 to be near and closely involved in the immediate family and spent a happy twenty years there. George was absorbed by flora and fauna and always carried his binoculars. In his retirement he wrote many articles on bird-watching for local papers and magazines and was a much appreciated speaker presenting illustrated talks for various groups in the area.
George continued his ministry in local churches. He associated with the local Methodist Church, South Street Baptist Church, in Exeter, and with the Anglican Church in Bovey. He regularly led a communion service at the Tracey House retirement home.
George had been unwell for several months and was finally admitted to the Rowcroft, Hospice, Torquay, and was resident for two weeks before he died peacefully in his sleep and free of pain.
A close friend said, ‘Bovey Tracey will be a quieter and duller place without him, although maybe a little safer on the roads’!
During his ministry George made significant contributions to the wider Baptist community. He was valued for his lively personality and thoughtful spirituality. He had a great sense of humour and fun but was rarely if ever frivolous. He was a good pastor/teacher, sensitive and caring. He often referred to people he had met during his ministry and always with gratitude to them for what they gave to him as he did his work. He was generous with himself and his time. His friendships lasted for long years.
He cherished the Baptist story which revealed the grace of God lovingly entrusted to us all.
George served on various committees of the BU in London and in Didcot.
He was for many years involved in the Baptist Ministers’ Fellowship. He served a term as President. For many years he was the Fellowship Librarian. This library had functioned through funding from the historic Particular Baptist Fund. When books were expensive ministers especially engaged in post graduate studies could apply for books they needed to be bought by the Library and loaned to them for the period of their studies. George facilitated this scheme, eventually read the books himself and to the side would whisper with a smile ‘and I bought a few that I especially wanted to read myself’!
We thank God for our good memory of him. George was a lover of God, a people person, caught up with the wonders of the natural world and sure of his faith. His zest for life was admirable and now he has inherited the life he so firmly believed awaited him.
The Revd Derek J Keenan