Fr Jeremy's Sermon - Preached on Heritage Open Days Sunday 9th Sept 2018
This weekend, 7-9th September 2018, thanks to the planning and organisation of Ken Smith and a good number of volunteers we have for the 2nd year been able to open the doors of this wonderful church for the Heritage Open Days. We have welcomed over 100 people following on from the 90 that visited last year to discover something of the vision of George Street and the 1st incumbent William Gresley.
On Wednesday last week I was visiting a small place in Poland called Olsztynek with Monika and her parents. This place has been created like St Fagan’s in South Wales a town that through the buildings and the contents highlight the lives of people from the 18th Century onwards. I saw in Poland the farms, windmills, schools and the dwellings that showed something of the lifestyles of people from past ages. One lady spoke with rather too much enthusiasm for my liking on the way discipline was maintained in the classroom!
I took the chance to view the simple church adorned with windows and images of the 12 Apostles and the 4 Evangelists with the pulpit and the altar as centrepieces. I also took time to tour the priest’s house which was rather grand and had a picture of Luther on a windowsill. This gave a clue perhaps that this part of Poland was indeed part of Germany at one point in its history. Within the houses we were shown how over the centuries the same home would have very different belongings as technology developed. The buildings brought alive a sense of the way people lived in past times.
On returning to our wonderful building described by John Betjeman and John Piper in Murray’s architectural guide (1949) as ‘The Tractarian Cathedral of an Upper Class Suburb’ we can indeed find meaning of the lives and intentions of the people of the times. All Saints was George Street’s first major ecclesiastic commission for the Oxford Diocese. Street was influenced by a number of people including Revd William Gresley of St Paul’s, Brighton and the 1st incumbent of All Saints, Boyne Hill.
Gresley came from a strong Tractarian background in Brighton where he in turn had been influenced by A.D. Wagner the incumbent of St Paul’s. Wagner’s father a wealthy man, built ST Paul’s so that his son could become the perpetual curate. However, the son did not follow the father in his churchmanship and was in sympathy with the Oxford or Tractarian Movement. Wagner was in sympathy with the thinking of Pusey, Newman and Keble as well as other great minds of that period.
Gresley, influenced by Wagner came to love the sacramental Catholic ritual of the Oxford Movement which encouraged a biblical understanding of the word and sacrament found in the bible. Within all Saints you can see the prominence of the pulpit, the font and the altar. The building points towards worship to the glory of God. Interestingly though Street’s work did not stop with the church but the quadrangle of buildings that included a school for the education of the young, curates houses to offer clergy dedicated to pastoral care and alms houses for single women without homes.
One of the great Tractarians that would have probably influenced Wagner, Street and Gresley was John Keble. Keble educated by his father to a standard that enabled him to gain a double first in classics and mathematics (only Robert Peel had succeeded in this achievement at Oxford before Keble) was a brilliant academic. Keble also had a gift for poetry and not surprisingly was himself inspired by the priest poet George Herbert.
In an essay that I wrote on Keble during my time training for the Priesthood in 1992 I wrote about John Keble entitled ‘Blessed are the Pure in Heart – an examination of the life and career of john Keble’. I argued that it was Keble’s holiness that was his main contribution to the Oxford Movement, but the assessor said that ‘the movement needed an ideal of the saintly parish priest which Keble fitted so well.’
If we focus on Keble’s ministry rather than his partnership with Pusey, Froude and Newman to say nothing of his writings we will discover 30 years of simple parish life in Hursley, Hampshire which give us a great picture of this ministry that my assessor was alluding too.
It was claimed that Keble was lazy and he himself said that he was a poor correspondent failing to write to a dear friend who was dying. However, he looked after two churches, a chapel in a school, looked after his sick wife, reconstructed both churches and built the schoolroom chapel. Alongside this Keble taught in the school for an hour each morning, visited the sick, ran 6 monthly confirmation classes, kept an exhausting correspondence to people from both outside the parish and within, welcomed penitents and endured sightseers and found time to write works such as ‘The Christian Year’. He could though get depressed feeling that the church was in decay.
One of his poems ‘The Saviour in his people crowned’ compares the light of a waterfall which unites drops of water in a single current with the individual yet corporate brilliance of the Saints.’ The front cover of our new service booklet with the ripple effect of kindness spreading outwards seems in some way to reflect this idea. ‘It is their common Baptism that sustains them in their common destiny. If man turns to God, he will find a brother and a friend, one who has loved him and taught him how to love.’ ‘One who through the sacraments gives grief solace, strengthens doubts, sooths remorse and sheds light in the dark places of the world’. We might say the word coming alive in action, partaking the Body of Christ to Become the Body of Christ and being a light to the world.
Let us reflect then on the biblically based Oxford Movement that inspired Wagner, Street and Gresley to a living faith not just heritage. Next Saturday please support our vision morning at the Parish centre to discuss our vision of vibrant Eucharistic worship, schools and the welcome of God’s love. We may not go far wrong by dwelling in the past through our heritage as we discern the future for living faith.
Reference has been made in the above to George Edmund Street a Victorian architect in Berkshire edited by John Elliott & John Pritchard which has a wonderful chapter written by Bridgeen fox on ‘The Church of All Saints’