MY THOUGHTS wandered last
Sunday - and not just around the KFC and into the Holy City, as is
the custom in my south-London parish on the feast of palms.
For nearly 20 years, my
Palm Sunday perambulations were past church-hall dustbins to
another Holy City, on the Boarded Barns estate in Chelmsford, when
it was under the care (successively) of two future archdeacons, Frs
Stroud and Fox, and a host of curates. My thoughts this time have
been with the people of All Saints' there.
After great efforts, a
new church had been opened, in 1969, next to a pre-war dual-purpose
building. Set back from the road behind a pub and post office, and
the new vicarage, the building reflected modern liturgical
It was square, with a
deep pitched roof, loads of sheet glass (to be regretted now, I
guess), and surmounted by a wooden cross that one parishioner
interpreted as "a dagger through a coffin" after it was drawn on a
teaser leaflet for a Franciscan parish mission. (Fr Stroud said
that this was evidence that ours was a sick society. It was the era
of The Exorcist, after all.)
The stone altar was
free-standing for westward celebrations - though we escaped the
dreaded "Series 3" rite - and the church had, in principle,
flexible qualities often coveted today. At one Sunday eucharist,
the benches were moved aside to allow for a ballet by trained
dancers, in the liturgical colours, choreographed by Elizabeth
Twistington Higgins. She was a polio-paralysed former dancer and
artist who lived locally, and had become very well-known after
being a subject of the ITV show This Is Your Life with
Canon Patrick Appleford
lived in the parish; so, from time to time, he could hear his hymns
sung over the distinctive sonorities of a Hammond organ, which also
whirred beneath Merbecke and The English Hymnal (with, as
is often, no doubt, the case, half of them to those maligned
Victorian tunes in Hymns Ancient & Modern).
If "Living Lord" was sung
on Songs of Praise, we used to joke that we would be
seeing Fr Appleford (rather a lay dresser) in a new tie.
reminiscences, but, writing in the diocesan monthly, the Bishop of
Bradwell, the Rt Revd John Wraw, recently announced: "On Palm
Sunday I will join the congregation of All Saints . . . for a short
service in the church. We will then gather outside, lock the doors
and process through the streets to join the congregation of the
"After much discussion,
heart-searching and prayer the congregation of All Saints have come
to the conclusion that their current building has reached the end
of its life and they need to find a new way of being church in the
Melbourne area of Chelmsford."
Pace the Bishop,
I remember this area as only part of a large and varied parish, so
large, indeed, that further out of town a little "mass centre", St
Michael's, was opened. St Michael's has gone, I gather; and, as for
All Saints', the Bishop writes: "The future is open and uncertain.
There are no plans yet for the future of the building; no clear
picture of how God is calling them to be church in the future."
Since the short-lived
local C of E aided secondary school, St Peter's College, also
closed recently, the C of E in this part of the cathedral city
begins to look rather in retreat. At the Ascension, the last Vicar
left with a group of the laity to join the Ordinariate; so I dare
say there is space for newcomers. I do hope that all concerned have
a joyful Easter.
ON A cheerier note, there
was quite a turnout in St Alban's, Holborn (Features, 22 March), a
few weeks ago, when its people celebrated the 150th anniversary of
the consecration of the original church.
The Bishop of Chichester,
Dr Martin Warner, preached with reference to the vast Hans Feibusch
mural on the east wall (painted when the church was rebuilt after
war damage). We sang "Faith of our Fathers, taught of old", T. A.
Lacey's hymn that I have never been able to persuade anyone else to
But the turnout in St
Alban's was trumped by that of the congregation at last week's
great inauguration - that of the Revd Paul Bagott as
Priest-in-Charge of St Cuthbert with St Matthias, Philbeach
Gardens, in Earl's Court. St Cuthbert's is another London
Anglo-Catholic church that was much menaced by aggressive popular
Protestantism in the Victorian period.
It was standing room only
when I arrived halfway through the Bishop of London's sermon in
time to catch high praise for Fr Bagott, a reference to his
clerical millinery, and the point that this international parish -
with its C of E school - is really the world in microcosm.
It has also, if you
didn't already know, one of the most mind-blowingly ornate
Anglo-Catholic churches in London, with what must be the largest
Stations of the Cross - well worth seeing out of artistic interest,
even if that kind of service isn't your cup of tea.
I can't say that I was
feeling liturgically perceptive. So it took me a while to work out
why there was a big crucifix lying next to me near the door.
Initially, I wondered whether it was in tribute to Mr Kensit, who
snatched the cross during a Good Friday liturgy in the 1890s, and
was, in bowler hat and triumph, engraved with it afterwards - no
camera phones in those days. (St Cuthbert's memorialised him as a
misericord in the choir stalls.)
And I must also confess
that I didn't notice, until it was drawn to my attention the next
day, that we had been singing a special word in "For all the
saints" during Lent. . .
IF THERE were any doubt
that Peterborough Cathedral needs its private security staff, this
has been dispelled. A resident of its precincts spotted the giant
inflatable coffee mug that she was using to advertise a Fairtrade
Coffee Tasting Morning (on behalf of the cathedral's Toilet
Twinning Lent appeal) on the back seat of a black car that was
about to be driven off.
After polite discussion, the mug was surrendered, and she
retrieved it. But she still doesn't know whether the owners of the
car were supporters of Fairtrade Fortnight.