Last month’s letter certainly produced responses from various quarters – all in agreement and not all from the elderly like myself. I even had an e-mail from a man who said that he followed by articles and agreed with everything I said. “You say what a lot of people are thinking and are afraid to say.” We live in a world of little true freedom. In the various spheres in which I move, I am constantly aware of people whispering parts of their conversation for fear of being overheard. Big Brother – or Sister!
Enough of this – on to the various events involving ordinations. Fewer ordinands, grander and grander events – a bit like the “putting-in of clergy in parishes. All very wonderful.
As I wrote last month, I have attended the ordination of priests at S. Giles’ Newcastle and at Longton. This Sunday I will be at the cathedral for the ordination of deacons. Then there are two first masses, a silver jubilee (Father Alan Townsend) and my own bash last Monday on the 25th.
What can I say about that? Lovely to see so many friends and supporters making the effort and putting up with the wonderful weather. Fr. Glyn (my brother) deaconing – as he did 40 years ago. My sister, Val, reading a lesson. The S. Cecilia Singers did me proud and Father Stephen Young’s sermon was spot-on, talking about priesthood and the primary task of the priest. (I will include the text of the sermon in the next edition.)
Being a parish priest in the same parish for a long time produces some interesting combinations of ministries. As parish priest, I am responsible for the daily round of worship which, in a catholic parish like this one, is complex and demanding. By the time we get to Corpus Christi (signalling the end of the feast and fast season which begins with Advent) I feel a sense of liturgical exhaustion. I remember saying to a fellow priest, “I could do without Corpus Christi mass this evening.” to which he replied, “Well give it a miss.” My reply? “Not possible. It is what the Church does.” In other words, not this church, or even the Church of England, but the universal Catholic Church. Retirement will not result in absence from the feasts – or even absence from regular attendance at mass during the week. Worship is the calling of the baptised, not the domain of the priest.
Worship apart, there is also the care of the actual congregation of the church. I recognise that the priest can take the congregation for granted – perhaps increasingly so as the time in office stretches out. The fact is that the priest is also the priest for the parish. As time passes, so the demands of the unchurched can increase. When I came to the parish I did few baptisms, weddings and funerals. Certain clergy and funeral directors were in league with each other so a number of clergy, like myself, were not the first choice. I can recall a vicar of a local church having seventy weddings a year, most of them from neighbouring parishes. These days they either go for the prettiness of Astbury Parish Church or the grandeur of Crewe Hall. Funerals, on the other hand, have increased because of knowing either the deceased or their families. Ryan Evan’s dad knows me through the good work of the Baby and Toddler Group. (See elsewhere in this mag. for a fuller account.)
Then there is chaplaincy. Very much on the increase. Fire, police, football clubs, not to mention contact with schools and shops. I am not talking about myself exclusively. These are connections made by many clergy, and with people who work in the parish but don’t live in the area. In fact, there are families and other institutions (pubs, for example) who see the priest as their priest, regardless of affiliation to a particular church. There may be some evidence of a decline in belief but there is little evidence of priests and ministers not being needed. I have been surprised over the years just how grateful people are for being prayed with or who know that someone is praying for them and lighting a candle for their intention. This is a ministry for all the baptised. Let people know you are praying for them. Several members of the congregation have, over the years, told me that they prayed daily for me. What an encouragement. What a wonderful thing to know while going about ministering to others that one is being ministered to in this way.
Then there are the demands of the diocese and the Church of England machine. What used to be A4 sheets to be filled-in and returned are now several sheets of e-mail to be downloaded, fill-in, whatever else you have to do before e-mailing back. They take longer than licking a stamp, definitely cheaper – but time-consuming. Which brings me on to health & safety, safeguarding, appropriate behaviour etc. etc.
Have a lovely summer. Don’t moan about the heat- I think it’s great and long may it continue.
R.I.P. DOROTHY JONES – 25th June 2018
Dorothy Jones was a faithful Christian now known to only a few members of Holy Trinity Church. She, with her three sisters, May, Florence, and Betty, were born in “The Sytch” in Westport Road. They originally worshipped at “The Sytch Mission”, moving to S. Paul’s Burslem when the mission closed. They moved to a lovely house in Dartmouth Street before moving, in 1982, to a fine detached house in Woodland Avenue. When I became vicar, Dorothy and May were worshipping at Holy Trinity while Flo and Betty were at S. Werburgh’s. (They had fallen out with Father Colin Crumpton over the replacement of pews with chairs at S. Paul’s!) I fell out with May when she was unable to come to church owing to ill health – but still managed to attend matches at “The Vale”. (You will be surprised to know that many priests have housebound parishioners who receive holy communion at home and have to fit their visits in between hairdresser or bingo appointments.)
Dorothy worshipped at S. Werburgh’s with May until failing health caused the necessary move to Newford Nursing Home in Milton. It was while visiting Hilda Burgess (former worshipper and organist) at Newford that I reconnected with Dorothy and, later, May. (She moved from another nursing home.) Dorothy received Holy Communion with great devotion and was always firmly responsive during our worship. Equally, she was very pleased to see her visitors, not least Cindy, my dear-departed German Shepherd.
Dorothy was a great character and very glamorous – to the end of her life. I think that she tolerated women but preferred male company. She drove fast cars. Loved football (“The Vale” in particular). Loved the pottery industry. She was an enthusiastic person and a joy to be with. Later illness meant that she wasn’t always responsive – but she bounced back. She celebrated her 98th birthday with great pleasure only a short while before she died, very peacefully, while resting after a meal.
The last of four spinster sisters, may she, with them, rest in the peace of Christ, know the healing balm of purgatory, and come to the heavenly banquet that Christ has prepared for His people.
R.I.P. RYAN EVANS – 25th June 2018
On the same day that Dorothy died, Ryan Evans, a young man from the Park Estate, died while swimming with two friends in Westport Lake. This tragedy has touched people throughout Stoke on Trent and beyond. I did not realise that I had seen Ryan many times around the area and in school. His dad brought both him and his younger brother to the Baby & Toddler Group many years ago. You will all know the circumstances of his death – and the difficulty the police and rescue services had in recovering his body. Please keep the family and friends (especially his two swimming companions and other fellow students at Haywood Academy) in your prayers. Funeral details have not been finalised yet. His father has asked me to take the service. Ryan was a big Vale supporter and a quiet and likeable lad. Being a bit of a risk-taker myself (climbing and swimming in not always safe places being my specialities) I can both understand the demands for safety but also the need to stretch the boundaries. Such a tragedy is dreadful – but we live in a world to be explored and are not to be locked away in computerised safety. I am sure that God is weeping with those who weep – and taking up the pieces of a life that has been cut short.