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28 March 2013

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 ideas.

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 Eamonn Andrews.

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.

FORGIVE these 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 Ascension, Chelmsford.

"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 like.

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.


Fri 24 Jun @ 21:53
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