Richhill-born Church Army chief counsels widow of organist

Mark Russell, chief executive officer of the Church Army.
Mark Russell, chief executive officer of the Church Army.

RICHHILL man Mark Russell - chief executive of the Church Army and based in Sheffield - is foremost in counselling the widow of Alan Greaves, the Church of England lay reader and organist murdered in the Yorkshire city over the Christmas period.

Mark described Maureen and Alan Greaves (68) as “a wonderful, Christian couple who served the deprived High Green estate area of Sheffield with true devotion.”

Maureen is a Church Army evangelist, and Alan - a retired social worker - carried out voluntary work, supporting his wife of 40 years, within the parish and in every way possible. Said Mark Russell, “As well as being a talented Christian worker among the community, Alan was a marvellous musician. He was on his way to the Christmas Eve night service at St Saviour’s Church to play the organ and was set upon in what can only be described as recreational murder - so senseless and such a waste of a fine gentleman.”

Mark (37) moved the headquarters of the Church Army from London to Sheffield in 2006 after which he really got to know Maureen Greaves, one of 300 full-time evangelists within the Church Army in England. “She is a truly inspirational woman,” he said. “She and Alan were inseparable and wherever she went, he was almost sure to be there, backing her up. This murder is horrendous, but Maureen’s faith is rock-solid and she will use this truly awful experience to add another dimension to her ministry and bring the people she serves closer to God.”

Mark heard the news of the attack on Alan Greaves while he was spending Christmas at the Richhill home of his mother Elizabeth. He broke the news of his death - which occurred three days after the attack - on Twitter, stating he was devastated by the news. Alan was found lying on the pavement, about 300 metres from the church, by a pizza delivery man and died in hospital from serious head injuries.

Mark said that the thoughts and prayers of the whole Church Army were with Maureen and her family. “Alan was a fundamental part of Maureen’s ministry,” he told the Portadown Times. “I knew him really well. If you look on the Church Army website, you’ll find video of Maureen and in every scene you’ll see Alan in the background, playing instruments or talking to kids.”

He added they were a phenomenal community couple, who had set up a food bank for the estate where they worked, so that people would not be hungry over Christmas, “but Alan never saw the results of that project on Christmas Day, nor did he and Maureen get to exchanging Christmas presents”.

Mark, who commissioned Maureen Greaves as a Church Army evangelist in 2008, started off his ministry with the Methodist Church in County Armagh. He read law at Queen’s University and was one of the youngest licensed local preachers in the Methodist Church in Ireland. For three years, he served as Youth Pastor of Lurgan Methodist Church. He moved to the Church Army in London in 2000, was appointed chief executive six years later, and now carries the rank of Captain.

He is a respected Christian broadcaster and has led missions to places like China, Finland, Australia, the USA and Sweden.

“In all my times in the Christian ministry, this is by far my worst experience,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Maureen and Alan’s four grown-up children and their two grandchildren. One of their daughters is a missionary in Africa and was home for Christmas, which is a blessing to Maureen. She is, of course, devastated, and we know her faith and the support of her family and the church will help her through these dark days and she will continue her ministry.”

South Yorkshire Police have arrested two men in suspicion of murder and they have been released on police bail, pending further inquiries.

Police have retained Mr Greaves’ body and the funeral will be at a later date.