A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
(I) BEGINNINGS OF THE PARISH OF THE ENGLISH MARTYRS AT TUFFLEY: SOUTHFIELD ROAD by Richard Barton 2016
The Ad Clerum from Bishop Burton for Advent 1928 included the following news item:
‘At Gloucester a site has been purchased for a new church in the modern part of the city, at the junction of two good roads, at a distance of about a mile from St. Peter’s. Our faithful people there are contributing well, and there is a sum of £1,200 in hand. It is estimated that a small church, or some portion of a larger one, capable of holding 150 to 200 people, may be built for about £3,500; but as we shall not be compelled by the city authorities to build for another two years, it is hoped that meantime the sum at present in hand will have so far increased as to justify us in commencing the good work.’
It can then be argued that the father of English Martyrs’ Parish at Tuffley was actually Canon Joseph Bernard Chard, Parish Priest of St Peter’s from 1894 until 1934. It was not his lot to build much in a material sense but during his forty years in Gloucester considerable sums were spent in renovating the church, reconditioning the organ and in maintaining the schools. His energies during his last years were devoted to raising funds for a new church. In this he was most successful, and the money raised was placed in the hands of the Diocesan Trustees in readiness for this second church. Monsignor Matthew Roche, his successor from 1934 to 1983, wrote in 1939 – ‘whenever and wherever the new Church is built it will in a sense be Canon Chard’s memorial’
Monsignor Roche added further details about Tuffley in the 1948 edition of his ‘The Story of St Peter’s Catholic Church, Gloucester’:
‘The question of a Church in the Tuffley Area had been considered in Canon Chard’s time. For this purpose he had secured a site in King Edward’s Avenue. This, however, was thought to be too near St Peter’s and eventually a new site was purchased in Southfield Road (in March 1933 for £883.15.0d. This site was held upon a Trust Deed dated 25th March 1933).
The houses on the Lower Tuffley estate brought many new families to the district. For a time the problem was solved by running a special Sunday ‘bus service for Catholics in the Tuffley area, but in January 1943 this had to be suspended by order of the Ministry of Transport. On February 7th an experiment was made with a Mass at the New Inn, Stroud Road. About thirty-five people attended but the only room available was too small and the place was not central enough. On March 7th, (in his 1968 booklet he wrote 14th March) by courtesy of the landlord, Mass was said in the lounge of the Northfield Hotel. After a short time the numbers attending Mass so increased that it was necessary to move to the adjoining skittle alley. For over three years this skittle alley was the Tuffley Mass Centre. There was no heating, the lighting was poor and chairs and altar had to be packed away after Mass. In spite of these handicaps the number grew, and in 1946 a hut was purchased (for £15 from the Robinswood Hill Army barracks) and in August of the same year permission was obtained for its erection on the Southfield Road site. There were still many difficulties and many delays but Messrs. Costello and Kempe (contractors) and Mr. E. Whitmarsh-Everiss (architect) eventually managed to assemble all the necessary materials and in the Spring of 1947 the first Mass was said in the yet unfinished Chapel. On Sunday, July 12th, (in his 1968 booklet he wrote 13th July) the Chapel was formally blessed and dedicated to the English Martyrs. The occasion was marked by a Sung Mass and about one hundred and sixty people were present. The finished job far exceeded anticipations and the Chapel is very devotional, well heated and lighted. The electrical work was done by Messrs. Conroy and Owen. The Altar is a feature of the Chapel, and its reredos, portraying a representative group of English Martyrs, is the work of Messrs. Hardman of Birmingham.
The war years have seen Mass Centres established at Brockworth, Churchdown and Tuffley. We hope that the foundations of new Parishes are being laid. Building sites are secured at Brockworth and Tuffley. When building conditions are better, Churches – temporary or permanent – will have to be provided’
A small account book for Gloucester has come to light for the period 1935-1949 and in it we find various entries which may refer to the new church in Southfield Road:
Architect (W.E.) £86.10-0d
Conroy & Co £30.5.6d
Bon Marche (100 chairs) £87. 11.0d
Costello and Kempe £300
Conroy & Co £243
Conroy (T +) £178 + £196
Wh. E. £32-8-8d
Bon Marche (Chairs) £31
Wh Everiss £40
Costello £200 + £560
Hand Wove Tester £148
Hardman Studio £280
Tuffley S. Lamp £48.16.0d
On 24th January 1949, a property opposite to the Church, No 8, Southfield Road, was acquired for £2,750 with the object of using it as a presbytery. In the event this was occupied by the caretaker.
As the years went by the congregation increased in number and the wooden structure became unstable. This and other pastoral challenges led to the launch of the ‘Combined Funds Campaign’ for St Peter’s Parish in July 1960:
‘Our Campaign Goal
Normal Parish upkeep for 3 years £8,000
New Church to be built at Matson£20,000
Towards the reseating, retiling and other improvements to the Church £4,500
Interest and loan charges on sum borrowed from Ministry of Education £3,500
These are our immediate requirements, but there is no limit to our needs. The Chapel of Ease at Tuffley needs to be replaced by a permanent building. We need to enlarge St Peter’s or build an additional church within the city boundary. The school building in London Road needs to be reconditioned for use as a Parish Hall and Community Centre. More accommodation is needed for a third assistant priest. The parish will need to contribute a large amount for the New Secondary School.’
Well in 1965 a new building was constructed in Tuffley. The first Mass was celebrated on 30th January 1966 in the new English Martyrs’ Church, whilst it was still unfinished. The last Mass was celebrated by Monsignor Roche on 6th May 1979 when the church site, allotments and house opposite were sold to help to eventually fund the erection of a new English Martyrs’ Church in Tuffley Lane.
Notes given to me by the Late Michael John Whitmarsh Everiss:
‘Ernest Whitmarsh-Everiss (1895-1972) applied for a job with the War Office in 1939 and became Garrison Engineer at an army camp constructed on Robinswood Hill, off Reservoir Road, Gloucester. He subsequently worked for the Ministry of Aircraft Production, until the end of the war
When the family moved to Gloucester, Sunday Mass was being said in a hall in Southfield Road. This Mass centre was served from St Peter’s Parish Church in London Road, Gloucester. In 1947 a wooden hut had been transferred from Robinswood Army Barracks to the Southfield Road site. It was blessed by Father Roche and dedicated to the English Martyrs. This had been organised by Ernest Whitmarsh Everiss,(my father) who subsequently designed a semi-permanent brick building which was used as a Church Hall and Mass Centre. This was in 1966. Mass was said here until 1979.
I had been acting as sacristan for some time and organised a Missa Cantata which was sung in Latin by Canon Roche, albeit in the Novus Ordo (6th May 1979). The Schola Gregoriana of Bristol University provided the choir. The Mass of the English Martyrs was not in the Missale Romanum at that time. I therefore produced a Missal for use on the day. It was done in an alphabet of my own devising which did not require the separate structure of serifs. The chant was rubricated. I constructed a page a night for weeks on end. After the Mass Canon Roche purloined the Missal and it has not been seen since. I also produced a Mass booklet which was printed by the CEGB. After Mass, Canon Roche, the servers and the Schola retired to Stroud Road where Pam kindly prepared a buffet lunch.
The site in Southfield Road and a house opposite was sold to fund a new church hall in Tuffley Lane. The building looked like an engine shed. Whilst it was being built Mass was said at the Anglican Church of St. George in Grange Road. The first Mass was said in the new hall in 1980. For the next five years the hall was used as a Mass centre and I acted as sacristan and master of ceremonies. There was no resident priest.
Two things of interest were brought from Southfield Road. Ernest commissioned from Hardmans of Birmingham a reredos depicting the armorial bearings of Sir Thomas More and John Fisher on its wings, the Tower of London and Tyburn, and figurative representations of Sir Thomas More, John Fisher, John Houghton, Cuthbert Mayne, Margaret Clitherow and Edmund Campion. Ernest designed a set of six candlesticks which were turned at the Robinswood Army Barracks.
To the left of the main entrance is a black oak cross taken from the original mass centre in Southfield Road where it was mounted above the door. Below is a plaque giving the dates 1947-1980.
Until 1980 we had never had the Holy Week Services. Given the co-operation of Father Fitzpatrick I set about designing and making the necessary equipment and training some fourteen altar servers. Meanwhile I had fitted out the sacristy using funds from jumble sales and my Christmas and birthday presents. This equipment is illustrated below. In addition 4 black and gold processional candlesticks were made en suite with the processional cross and a cross with two bases to be used on Good Friday. A large brewer’s funnel was converted for the fire on Holy Saturday. Various other pieces were purchased from junk shops and restored.
Processional Cross and candlesticks – The figure bought at a jumble sale prompted the rest of the design. Made in American white wood and mahogany. Brass ferrule at base of cross. Bronze medallion at centre of cross
Cope Stand – cope stand constructed in American whitewood on a mahogany base weighted with self-lubricating bearings from an excavator. Bearing clamped in a wooden detail. Cope arm in mahogany.
Paschal Candle – Made in American whitewood and mahogany with a heavy base detail for stability. A set of four lectern covers in white, green, red and purple were made.
Processional Canopy – Made in the form of four support poles with brass ferrules at their ends. Each pole has at its top an onion-shaped cap with brass female threaded detail. A male brass stud detail enables the canopy fabric to be trapped between a pair of white felt washers. A storage stand supports the poles when the canopy is not being carried. A cruciform structure locks the tops when the canopy is removed. To obtain vertical stability the base is weighted using brass bearings.
Display Stand – Supports two Perspex sheets. Made in American whitewood and mahogany. Base design weighted with brass bearings. Display supports made from War Department arrow stamps. Note uniformity of design between stand, the canopy rack and the cope stand.
Graded Candlesticks for Benediction
Tabernacle – constructed in wood. Brass fretted detail forming the crown made from scrap (parts of a lamp). The figure (of Christ the High Priest) was purchase.
Liturgical Equipment Restored:
Tabernacle and Candlesticks – Tabernacle consists of a wooden base enclosing a metal safe. The door is decorated with metal plates of differing colours and paste stones. Brass base, cap and cross. Restored by dismantling, polishing and lacquering individual components, spraying base, reassembling and re-setting stones. Originally made by Peter Staley’s father.
Missal Stand – Given two missal stand by Prinknash Abbey. ‘Perhaps you can make one out of two.’ They had been in a loft adjacent to a leaking flue and were encrusted with soot. Support has been repaired with splints and wire. Book rest internals remade. Whole cleaned and polished.
Candle snuffer, received flat. Raised initially on a ring stake. Hardwood stake turned. Body raised. Not necessary to anneal. Filed up, polished and lacquered.
Liturgical Equipment Made
Legilia -Used to support the evangelarium during the singing of the Passion. Frames made in American whitewood,knobs in mahogany. Book support in red goatskin supported on kitbag canvas. Now at St Saviour’s, Bristol.
Processional Torches – 6 Torches in American white wood with mahogany details and support.
Processional Cross – Designed for the Stations of the Cross, hence no figure. Made in American whitewood with mahogany fittings. Painted matt black with gilded details. Ferrule and cross pate in brass. Cross on both faces centred with a cabochon amethyst. Now at St Saviour’s, Bristol.
Incense Boat – Turned in mahogany, hinged lid. Top decorated with an oval agate.
Holy Water Stoup – Back pane in alabaster and lid in cup broken beyond repair. Back plane replaced with marble, hinge filed away, straightened, polished and reassembled.
Set of fourteen Stations of the Cross – These Stations of the Cross are late Victorian photographs of wood carvings c. 1900. These had been very damp and the emulsion had denatured, forming a ‘loose’ powder. The V&A advised that they could not be restored. However, they were carefully removed from the frames and the glass removed and the emulsion held with a sprayed on fixative. Where the emulsion was missing and damaged this was repainted using a photographic spotting kit in grey, black and sepia. The frames, where damaged, were restored, cleaned and revarnished and the stations reassembled.
Kneeler, found in junk shop. Cut down to size, remade and stained.
Silver Plated Thurible – Damaged; beaten out from the inside and polished.
Brass Thurible – Badly damaged. Beaten out and polished. Chain links replaced.
Candle Extinguisher – American oak and brass
Sanctuary Lamp – ‘In memory of Patrick O’Connor. Brass with silver plate. Now at St. Saviour’s
Oak Crucifix – Oak cross and figure. The joints in the arms of the cross and the cross itself had to be re-made. The whole was splattered with emulsion paint. It was thought to be beyond repair. Having discovered how it was made it was dismantled and scraped over the whole of the surface to maintain a uniform colour, reassembled, remaking the joints, and sealed with varnish. Now at St. Saviour’s.
All the Holy Week ceremonies were carried out with great dignity and as much tradition from the Tridentine rite as possible.
In 1985 a Parish priest was appointed and the Music, Liturgy and Doctrine was reduced to a level that I found quite unacceptable and I withdrew my association with the Parish.’
PARISH OF THE ENGLISH MARTYRS, TUFFLEY
Sunday 7th February 1943
The First Mass at the New Inn, Stroud Road
Sunday 13th July 1947
The Formal Blessing and Dedication of
The Church of the English Martyrs in Southfield Road
Sunday 29th June 1980
The Rt. Rev. Mgr. Provost Matthew J. Roche Prot. Ap., V.F.
celebrated the First Mass in the Church of the English Martyrs
Tuesday 25th October 1988 (Forty Martyrs of England & Wales)
The Rt. Rev. Mervyn A. Alexander DD, Bishop of Clifton
solemnly dedicated the Church of the English Martyrs
CATHOLIC MARTYRS ASSOCIATED WITH GLOUCESTER
Blessed Thomas Alfield, Blessed William Lampley, Blessed Henry Webley
Blessed John Sandys, Blessed Stephen Rowsham
Blessed John Pibush and the Venerable Thomas Webley
Purchase of the first site by Canon Chard on 25TH March 1933 for £883
First Mass at the Northfield Hotel 7th March 1943
A hut was purchased and erected in Southfield Road in 1946
Purchase of 8, Southfield Road on 24th January 1947 for £2,750
Purchase of the present Church site on 26th September 1965 for £4,000
Work commenced replacing the temporary church in February 1965
First Mass in the rebuilt Church at Southfield Road on 30th January 1966
First Mass at the Pike and Musket on 5th May 1968
Last Mass at Southfield Road on 6th May 1979
Mass at St George’s Anglican Church during the construction work
Induction of Joseph O’Brien as the First Parish Priest on 9th December 1985
The Presbytery was erected in 1986 to replace 5 St David’s Close
Ordination of Colm Robinson as a Deacon on 22nd October 1993
Joseph O’Brien 1985-1997
(Vincent Ryan from November 1999 for just a few months)
Vincent Clements 2000-2004, Keith Miles 2004-2009
Gary Brassington 2009-2012 and Richard Barton 2012-2015
(II) SERMON FOR THE SILVER JUBILEE OF THE DEDICATION OF THE CHURCH OF THE ENGLISH MARTYRS, TUFFLEY, by Richard Barton, 23rd October 2013
Tonight, we gather to mark an event which took place almost twenty-five years ago. According to the original orders of service the date was actually Tuesday 25th October 1988. Bishop Mervyn came to English Martyrs to confirm and then to Solemnly Dedicate or Consecrate this building that we are gathered in this evening. After the Litany, led by Dr Trafford, the bishop offered the following prayer:
‘Lord may the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints make our prayers acceptable to you. May this building which we dedicate to your name, be a house of salvation and grace where Christians gathered in fellowship may worship you in spirit and truth and grow together in love.’
Relics were then deposited in an aperture prepared in the mensa of the altar. Chrism was poured in the middle and on each corner of the altar table and then spread across the whole surface. The walls were marked with Chrism in twelve places but only eleven of our twelve candles tonight mark those original places! The altar and church generally were then incensed, the altar prepared and the candles lit in readiness for the celebration of the Mass.
For those present that night this must have been a memorable event and the consummation of labours carried out over a period extending back in excess of fifty years. In 1988 Canon Joseph Chard may have been remembered by a few of those present. He was Parish Priest of St Peter’s from 1894 until 1934 and he is arguably the Father of our Parish. During his final years he spent his energies raising money for a new church in Gloucester. A site was acquired in King Edward Avenue but it was decided to build further south and a site was acquired in Southfield Road. In 1939 his successor, Monsignor Provost Roche, wrote ‘whenever and wherever the new church is built it will in a sense be Canon Chard’s memorial’ On Sunday 13th July 1947 the Church of the English Martyrs was formally blessed and dedicated in Southfield Road. Our church here is its successor.
During the time I was curate in Taunton, back in the mid 1990s, my boss Monsignor Provost Lynch talked of retirement. He would sit into the night making plans and in response I would spend the next day sorting through cupboards and drawers helping him to down-size in readiness. In the event he was to see me off but that is another story.
One day I was sorting through a drawer and I came across this little black book. It is an account book with entries covering the period 1925 to 1949. A few names and references jumped out from the page and I decided not to chuck it – Whitmarsh Everiss, Costello, Hardmans, Southfield Road, Tuffley. Yes this little book contains the accounts for the building of the church opened in 1947. How did this book end up in Taunton well the young Patrick Lynch began his priestly ministry in Gloucester during the summer of ‘48 so he may have acquired it. The reredos and the corpus on our crucifix are probably the only other tangible links that we have today with the events that are recorded in this pocket book.
As many of you will know, three buildings were eventually erected for the celebration of the Mass on the Southfield Road site; at least three pubs – The New Inn, Northfield Hotel and the Pike and Musket – were used for Mass. Like Moses we have pitched our tent of meeting in many places on our journey here. Two houses were also bought and sold before our purpose-built presbytery was built. Priests as well as buildings have come and gone too. But one thing has remained constant and that is this community of faith. It has evolved and developed. Thirty-five attended the first Mass at the New Inn and 160 attended the service in July 1947. Numbers have grown since, fluctuated and even declined a bit. New people have come and others have passed away. Many, many, new houses have been built and our congregation today draws people who have been born in numerous places around the globe.
It certainly involved bold steps and tremendous vision to first acquire and then, in 1979, to develop this present site. In 1988 the project must have seemed to be nearly complete but today, twenty-five years on, we are busy raising money again for our new meeting room. This room will, in many ways, become a symbol of the strength of our communal life here. Not only do we gather to celebrate Mass but flowing from this is the impetus to build community and to draw others in. It seems ages ago that Bishop Declan began to make us think about communion and mission. As we know Church is not fundamentally about buildings or clergy but about the people who gather here Sunday by Sunday – who gather to be Christ for others. Tonight we mark these past achievements, we ponder the rich patrimony which has been entrusted into our care by our spiritual mothers and fathers who often gave sacrificially to provide it. Let us give thanks to God and commit ourselves anew to loving and serving the Lord as best we can. Many of the families who came to Gloucester and settled on these estates had very little in the way of material possessions but they developed something here of rich quality which has stood the test of time. Like the house built on rock this parish is built on firm foundations.
To talk tonight only of mitres, of clergy and titles and rites and ceremonies, is to miss the biggest part of the story. So if you were here twenty five years ago and wish to remember recall all the people in the pews, some still here and others not, remember what they used to do, catch their smiles. You have something very precious here and you encounter it in each other. All the things that have gone on here – the hatching, matching and dispatching, the sacraments received, the fun, the laughter, the tears shed – that is what tonight is fundamentally about. It is surely about each one of us wanting to be a part of the story and of not taking each other for granted; it is about sharing our faith with new people and of wanting to pass all that we have on to them and to future generations. Thank you for allowing me to be part of your story too.
May I finish with the Prayer of Dedication said by Bishop Mervyn on that night almost twenty five years ago – savour its words because they will help us to focus and what we are called to be:
‘Father in heaven, source of holiness and true purpose, it is right that we praise and glorify your name.
For today we come before you to dedicate to your lasting service this house of prayer, this temple of worship, this home in which we are nourished by your word and your sacraments.
Here is reflected the mystery of the Church.
The Church is fruitful, made holy by the blood of Christ: a bride made radiant with his glory, a virgin splendid in the wholeness of her faith, a mother blessed through the power of the Spirit.
The Church is holy, your chosen vineyard: its branches envelop the world, its tendrils, carried on the tree of the cross, reach up to the kingdom of heaven.
The Church is favoured, the dwelling place of God on earth: a temple built of living stones, founded on the apostle with Jesus Christ its corner stone.
The Church is exalted, a city set on a mountain: a beacon to the whole world, bright with the glory of the Lamb, and echoing the prayers of her saints.
Lord, send your Spirit from heaven to make this church an ever-holy place, and this altar a ready table for the sacrifice of Christ.
Here may the waters of baptism overwhelm the shame of sin; here may your people die to sin and live again through grace as your children.
Here may your children, gathered around your altar, celebrate the memorial of the Paschal Lamb, and be fed at the table of Christ’s word and Christ’s body.
Here may the poor find justice, the victims of oppression, true freedom.
From here may the whole world clothed in the dignity of the children of God, enter with gladness into your city of peace
We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Church of St Augustine of Canterbury, Matson
First Mass in Laing’s Canteen 21st December 1952
Foundation Stone laid on 22nd February 1962
Solemn Opening of the Church 4th December 1962
Pontifical Mass 28th May 1963
Solemn Dedication of the Church 27th May 1988
Resident Parish Priests
Canon Michael English 1974-1977
Canon John A Supple 1977-1978
Gerard Anthony Carroll 1978-1980
Monsignor Donald McMillan 1981-1985
Eduard V. Peach 1985-1995
John Cunningham 1995-2000
Paul D. Brandon STB 2000-2003
Gary Brassington STB 2003-2012
Richard J. Barton STB AKC 2012-2015
50 years ago Britain entered the BIG FREEZE, one of the coldest periods in recorded history. I can just remember the snow piled up for months on end. Politically it was a tricky time too; the world had gasped during the summer as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded and it yawned as Vietnam dragged on and on. The British waved tricolours as we signed up for a supersonic Concorde deal with France.
As the year closed young people bopped to LOVE ME DO whilst others turned to those new stars which arose in the east – the Rolling Stones. Local boy and tragic idol, Brian Jones, had christened the new band in that year. Local links were forged in later years with another Stone,drummer Charlie Watts, as he settled in his gothic fantasy world of Foscombe, near Ashleworth. 30 years ago I had the thrill of negotiating his long muddy rutted drive on my police bike to quiz him about his pack of dogs and to extract cash from him for parking fines.
Then there was Vatican II. The first session closed 50 years ago in Rome. I have to say the council meant nothing to me at the time as I was only four. Although at Secondary School, a decade later, I remember being stunned when an RC friend told me he had never even heard of it.
It was and still is immensely important – not because of changes to the Liturgy, or because prelates cut their trains and abandoned purple socks nor because the Pope set aside his be-jewelled ‘Noggin the Nog’ hat. Its importance for me was that the Church, at the summit of its success – with packed churches, new churches, new schools, fine colleges, bulging seminaries, flourishing convents, with mission plant peppered throughout the world – turned and looked outwards. It didn’t need to and yet it did. As we all know ecumenical co-operation can, so often, arise out of sheer desperation – empty churches and expensive and scare resources can force issues. As we know too, churches can also dream up schemes to catch the attention of the indifferent, so as to seem cool and relevant, when they rarely are!
Vatican II was not like this at all. It didn’t have to happen and yet it did – and its whole spirit-filled dynamic was to reach out and draw together. To reach out to other churches, to other faiths, to the Jews, to the world at large. And the fathers of the council kept on asking themselves what do we share in common? How can we present our faith in a way that will unite and not divide? In humility they asked the even more costly question – what can we learn from others? Well, with fellow Christians, we turned to the bible, our liturgy, our life of prayer, our common baptism and our service to the world. The fathers asked how we could all, yes together, make the modern world, Christ’s world, a better place?
So, instead of condemning non-Christians, they suddenly became collaborators – we celebrated with them what we had in common yet respected what still divided us. Admittedly, not all the world was suddenly ‘on side’ and 1962 was the year in which Fidel Castro was excommunicated and other reds were pulled from under the bed. But the documents which resulted from the Council changed the whole church and we can take so much of it for granted. It seems a little sad when a rising generation pines for the churchy trappings of yesteryear.
Amid all this excitement and change, things happened here in Gloucester too. Over a few decades the Catholic community had burst out of its cramped down-town premises in the London Road and had built brand new infant, junior and senior schools together with churches in Brockworth, Churchdown, Tuffley and yes, the one we are celebrating the beginnings of here today. At the helm was first Canon Chard and then, from 1939, Canon Roche both men of real vision and immense ability. We know the story – it unfolds like the stories of so many Catholic parishes – the Mass in the pub, the fundraising, the stone laid and then the church opened.
Perhaps the sadness today is that we lack the zeal, vision and passion of those who built this church. I think they would probably be saddened to see the size of our congregation now when the population in our parish has grown like topsy. I suspect they would be disappointed at our lack of engagement with the wider community and our lack of confidence. We are not alone – the data gleaned from the 2011 census confirms that decline is nationwide!
So today, we celebrate our history but tomorrow it is back to work. Perhaps John the Baptist can offer a hand as we toil. He calls us to stand-up for social justice. He says to the rich, the tax collector and the soldiers play fair. Take what is rightly yours and no more. In this way he brought hope to the people of his time – liberation, the dream of a different sort of society. John was not advocating revolution or a violent regime change to achieve it. He was not shouting for people to run to the barricades. He was not like superstar, Che Guevara, of 1962. John spoke courageous words, like Amos of old, but words that could be turned into action if people’s hearts were only changed, if they were less selfish. John unveils a simple Gospel of Kindness.
Simple words like these lie at the heart of Jesus’s concept of the Kingdom too. This is the sort of message that he preached in the towns and villages around the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The sadness is that, as we reflect on over 2,000 years of Christian civilization, Christendom has not always reflected these values. Our society has tolerated poverty, the abuse of the vulnerable, the poor and the weak have suffered exploitation and the boundaries of the Kingdom have often been advanced by coercion and the sword.
The words of John the Baptist, although set in a specific circumstance, a small occupied outpost 2,000 years ago, they can still resonate today. They are timeless words. As we mull over the simple words of Jesus in the Gospel, and act upon them, we can be changed by them. If we are changed, if our neighbours’ lives are changed, then the whole of society might be gradually transformed. In this way the Kingdom of God is advanced. One of my secular heroes of the moment, Peter Tatchell, has pertinently expressed this: Don’t accept the world as it is – dream of what the world could be and then help make it happen.
For those outside this church who know nothing of our history we can often appear complex and over-laden with dogmatic formulae, empty rituals and archaic jargon. However the simple Good News of the Kingdom is not like this; it is direct, it is entirely relevant, it is challenging. Its simplicity and directness repulsed the scribes and the Pharisees and, in the Christian era, schoolmen and churchmen too. Today the simple question – ‘what would Jesus do?’ often leaves us floundering as we seek to justify some cherished teaching. But it is that simple good news of the Kingdom of God which is the real cause of our rejoicing this day. It will guide us from the past into a rich and dynamic future and, God-willing, St Augustine’s Matson, will have a noble place in our unfolding human story. In the words of a rising star in ’62 – ‘You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one. I hope, some day, you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.’
WELCOME TO ST. AUGUSTINE’S CHURCH
It is an enormous privilege for me to be able to welcome you to St Augustine’s Church. Unlike its sister, the Anglican Parish Church of St Katharine, our church was built during the 1960s in a modern style. Today its crisp angular lines, its obvious simplicity, couched in quality contemporary materials and oozing fine workmanship makes it well worth a visit.
Entering the building one is conscious of its chunky glass which shimmers in the sunshine and has a gem-like quality. When St Augustine’s was opened the space would have felt different as a bold colour scheme highlighted the dominant features. Even though many of the furnishings have moved and more of the windows have been glazed the awe inspiring carved crucifix by Patrick Conoley and the striking window of St Augustine of Canterbury by Pierre Fourmaintraux have not been unduly compromised. These items speak eloquently of the faith which is celebrated here Sunday by Sunday and of our rich Christian heritage.
Come in, enjoy our church, and help us to pass on this jewel box to future generations of Matson people.
Richard Barton (2012)
ST AUGUSTINE’S CHURCH, MATSON, WAS DESIGNED BY EGBERT LEAH
Egbert Leah, the architect of St Augustine’s church, died on 10th January 2000. He was born in Barnwood on 6th June 1907. He was educated at Crypt School and on leaving, went to South America and worked in the cotton industry on a plantation. On his return to Gloucester, he completed his architectural studies and joined his father’s firm. It fell to Egbert to design St. Augustine’s. He lived in the Gloucester area for most of his life until he went into a nursing home in 1997. His requiem was held at St. Augustine’s on 18th January 2000, the celebrant being the Rev. J. Cunningham. His memorial plaque is situated in the church porch. (Thanks to Veronica Hollingsbee)
The cross is of roughened and polished oak. The figure of Christ was carved in lime wood by the late Patrick Conoley of R L Boulton and Sons Ltd.
The stained glass window depicting St Augustine of Canterbury was designed by Pierre Fourmaintroux, a Frenchman, of Whitefriars Studio of Wealdstone, in Middlesex. The firm was a pioneer in this country of the art of creating Dalle de verre stained glass.