St Michael's in its Island
Croydon has changed. My mother came from nearby South Norwood, and I knew it half a century ago. Now the charming little town hall tower, which once dominated the town, is lost in a maze of tower blocks. St Michael's, the Anglo-Catholic presence by West Broydon station, is all but submerged in buses and trams and shiny glass monoliths. Yet the faith is still taught there, and today I stood in for Bishop John of Fulham and confirmed seven candidates there.
Charles Henman's Town Hall,[above]
lost in the modern maze.
Trams try to obliterate St Michael's
Fr Donald Minchew has as amazing ministry, and it is his efforts which have enabled the parish to develop the hall into a lovely restaurant and meeting place. They have built a small block of apartments to the west of the church, and the carparking spaces produce a healthy income for the parish. There is a good musical tradition (today the choir was meant to be on holiday, but came to support the Confirmation candidates, and sang wonderfully - that's what I mean by a good musical tradition!). The liturgy is thought by many to be rather old-fashioned; which in these days of the great Benedict XVI means that it is in the very forefront of liturgical renewal. There were three sacred ministers (not laymen dressed up) and the Canon was one approved by Rome; from the Book of Divine Worship. We faced the high altar at the top of a flight of steps, which enabled the sacred action to be seen from the entire church. The language was very BCP, and people come from far and near because, as one person said to me afterwards, it is a holy celebration.
What will happen to this great traditon? Fr Donald Minchew, the Parish Priest, has said he will stay until he is forced out by age or illness. It is a brave and commendable attitude. But is it realistic? He will certainly be succeeded by someone who supports women in the priesthood and episcopate, indeed it might be a woman priest who follows him as Vicar. Very hard, of course, to leave such a lovely place. But better, perhaps, to lead at least some of that congregation into the promised land of Anglicanorum Coetibus? Who knows, perhaps a new bishop of Southwark will want to show how generous he is, and will let St Michael with St James go to the Ordinariate? And if he does not, will he really want to be known as the bishop who turned a once vibrant church into a museum; or a block of flats?
Buildings matter. I am deeply attached to the work of that fine high Victorian architect John Loughborough Pearson who built St Michael with St James'. I learned the faith in the Sunday School at St John's, Upper Norwood. That church now has had a lady incumbent, and for me is no more than the shell of a church. It is hard to let go; but we must, if there is to be a future for us and our grandchildren.
I hope the Church of England, or at least some of its diocesan bishops, will be ashamed at what the Synod has done, and will allow us to continue using some of our great churches. Already they offer hospitality, even in cathedrals, to Lutherans and Methodists and Orthodox. Would it be so unthinkable to allow similar hospitality to us, Catholics of an Anglican Use?
But for me, even if it means saying farewell to every church bulding I have ever loved (and there are many) it will still be a great relief to be able to say, without equivocation, 'I am a catholic Christian'. That is what I always thought I was; it is what I hope to become again, in communion with bishops who also believe and teach the faith once delivered to the Saints.
A future for our grandchildren?