Graham Maule: enemy of apathy

Graham Maule: enemy of apathy

Longterm Greenbelter John Davies has written this wonderful tribute to Wild Goose Resource Group founder Graham Maule, following his recent death …

The words and music of the Iona Community’s Wild Goose Resource Group have been central to Greenbelt’s spirituality for upwards of three decades, and while the Wild Geese have changed in formation many times over the years, at their heart have always been the creative duo of John L. Bell and Graham Maule.

Graham died on 29th December 2019 after a short illness, aged just 61, and many of his Greenbelt friends were among those who shared in a celebration of his life and work at St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, on 10th January.

Graham may be best remembered by Greenbelters for all those times he and the other Wild Geese stirred up large crowds of unschooled singers to raise our voices to the skies in praise. But he was also a visual artist: designer of many memorable WGRG covers and an architect, art tutor and sculptor. At his funeral service we heard how in his early twenties Graham resisted the temptation to continue in architecture at that time and instead to follow a call to church youth work, deciding that ‘he did not want to make bread out of stones’.

This decision followed a meeting, convened by John Bell, for people who were doing youth work in Church of Scotland parishes. By the end of their first encounter John was convicted that Graham was ‘possibly the most important person he would ever meet’. Graham gave up his studies to commit full-time to youth projects, which brought him into the orbit of others associated with the Iona Community, and into what turned out to be a lifelong collaboration with John Bell. By the early 1980s they were jointly appointed as youth coordinators for the Iona Community, and the Wild Goose Resource Group developed from youth events which they ran in this period.

Greenbelt soon embraced the unconventional and groundbreaking worship of the Wild Geese. Late-night sessions in which participants in packed tents were invited into conversations with unknown neighbours on themes connected to the biblical stories which Graham and others enacted from front stage in lively contemporary language; under-canvas congregations learning striking new songs which used the earthiest words to describe the heavenliest things.

Sometimes traditional folk tunes provided the structure for these songs, but this was ‘folk’ worship not in the conventional musical sense, but because it was ‘the work of the people’ – crafted from the experiences and concerns of those taking part. Graham’s skill as a facilitator of this form of engaged worship was honed on such occasions, and practised countless times in small church halls and international conference stages, at Greenbelt Sunday morning mainstage services and in regular Glasgow events with titles such Holy City, ALTERnativity and, more recently, weeWONDERBOX.

Graham will be remembered for all this creativity: his musical and creative gifts combined with an energy for organising, the ability to enable people to grasp their hidden potential, and a passion for justice, informed by his understanding that ‘Jesus is as concerned with right politics as with righteous prayers and with bodies that needed fed, clothed, freed from discrimination or restriction, healed, and hugged.’

Graham was a gifted individual who alone produced art and architectural work of great quality, who achieved a Masters and a PhD in sculpture and fine art. But perhaps he will be more remembered as a collaborator, an encourager, a gentle but ardent agitator for the sort of change which brings life: in the words of one of the best-known Wild Goose songs, as ‘an enemy of apathy’.

Graham’s untimely death comes just two years from the loss of long-time Wild Goose Mairi Munro to a brain tumour. In the rawness of their departures all friends and collaborators of the Wild Goose Resource Group surely share the hope expressed by Graham’s family, that ‘the works of the Wild Goose Resource Group will continue as a living testimony’ – to Graham, and to all the goodness that his life and work affirmed.

Quotations are from the text of the tribute given by Revd Neil Glover at Graham’s funeral. See The Iona Community website for links to the full texts of the Order of Service, Tribute and Committal: