22 January 2016

Dear S Agnes ...

I love these festivals of the Sainted Virgins whom we commemorate each morning in the Canon of the Mass ... and S Agnes in particular reminds me of the distant but satisfying days when I was a curate in the 'concrete jungle' of the 'inner city' in South London. I was at S Michael's, Bethwin Road, and our next-door parish was S Agnes at Kennington, a great Anglo-Catholic shrine rebuilt after war-time bombing. I used occasionally to supply there when the Parish Priest was away or sick.

In those early 1970s, it was a 'rough' area where one ran the risk of being beaten up, as the pp had been several times (the monk resident at the nearby Greek Cypriot church was murdered by burglars). This was right at the end of that period when nearly all the surviving South London Anglican churches, having been founded by the Victorian successors of the Tractarians, were still Anglo-Catholic. But the heart had been taken out of that tradition by the bombing of so many churches (most of these were not rebuilt after the War) and the displacement of the populations from the old terraced houses. They had been dispersed far and wide when their old homes were condemned by 'the Council' and replaced by tower blocks. These in turn soon became far worse than the old 'slums' had ever been, and were unbelievably murderous buildings to inhabit ... the somewhat essential lifts were nearly always out of order.

Teachers, Social Workers, Doctors, Police ... all lived as far away from the area as they could. We Clergy were the only 'professionals' who, in our tied accommodation, lived on the job. We ran our Community Newspaper to bind the community together in the struggle for improved conditions. A local group with whom we occasionally collaborated was the local Communist Party (the Labour Party dominated the Council and, with their very grand manner, were the distant 'Establishment'). Was that very wicked of me? There were not very many other people who had any interest in the pervasive social and financial deprivation.

One year, I said a requiem at S Agnes's for the Officers and men of the Manchester Regiment, slaughtered by the Hannover Rats in the aftermath of the '45 more or less on the site of the church. So perhaps it had been an iffy area even in the 1740s!

Happily, most of the old congregation of S Agnes's, led by their courageous Parish Priest Fr Christopher Pearson, carried the story and tradition of the church into the Ordinariate in 2011; Father is now pastor of the Church of the Precious Blood in Southwark, not so very far away.

These continuities matter. There is a sense in which the Ordinariate is not a new community.

1 comment:

DMG said...

Don Camillo (another stalwart of the faith) collaborated with Peppone for the good of the local people in not dissimilar circumstances... Guareschi is full of good advice! God bless!