Friday Evening saw a Solemn Mass for the 100th birthday of the Church. This was the exactly 100 years ago to the day that the church was consecrated. I wonder what that evening was like, what Fr Charlesworth talked about and how that congregation would feel about St. Michaels today. When I arrived at the Church the Choirs were already singing and the church was filling up, not only with familiar faces but also with many unfamiliar ones. The Mayor of Greenwich Saiid Jawaid arrived and was welcomed at the door by Fr David. Shortly before eight o’clock, the choir returned to the vestry, ready to lead the clergy in procession into the Church at the start of the service. When the procession started and the choir started the walk along the south aisle there were so many of them! Familiar faces from our own choir and other members of the East Wickham singers dressed in their familiar purple robes and other choristers from St. Mary’s, Stone dressed in their robes. The choir just kept coming! The singing during the service was beautiful. Following the choir came the procession of clergy and their servers .all in white robes at the end of the procession came the Bishop of Richborough, the Right Revd Keith Newton with his two vimpers. (I was told that the word vimpers was changed by the spell check on two computers once to viper and once to vampire. I am not sure what this says about modern electronic dictionaries or modern day life!) Five vicars had come to St. Michaels to con-celebrate with Fr David and Fr Derek; Fr Andrew Stevens from St. Nicholas, Plumstead, Fr Clive Jones, from St. Augustine’s Belvedere, Fr Christopher Pearson, from St. Agnes’ Kennington, Fr James Mowbray, from St. Mary’s Swanley and Fr Dane Batley-Gladden form St. Augustine‘s Grove Park. Fr David from St. Benet’s Catholic Church also joined us. The procession wound its way along the South aisle and down the centre aisle. The choir proceeded to the choir stalls and the clergy sat either side of the altar, Bishop Keith sat on the Bishop’s Chair behind the altar in the entrance to the choir stalls. It all looked rather splendid.
Fr David introduced Bishop Keith and explained that our own Bishop, Bishop John of Fulham who had planned to be with us was unable to join our celebrations due to personal circumstances. The service started and in his sermon, Bishop Keith spoke of the Church where he had started his ministry, which was frequently burgled. He told us a story of trying to explain to a police officer where the church (which was a top a hill and could be seen for miles) was. Having been asked if it was near any landmarks and having said it was the local landmark, he relented and told the police officer that the church was near the Texaco Garage and the Bottoms up off licence! He went on to talk about how people saw Church buildings in our modern world and reminded us of the value of Church buildings as symbols of God and higher values in a secular world even to those who did not frequent the church. He said that we were lucky to have such a lovely building and it is right we should be proud of it and take good care of it. However, he also reminded us that we are all the living stones of Gods Temple and it is we who are the church not the building. At the end of the Service, the long procession began to make its way back to the sacristry. As they left, the choir sang “the church’s one foundation”. Michael led the way conducting as he walked; quiet a difficult thing to do, I would imagine. The singing was very impressive.
The Service ended and most people retired to the Church Hall for the reception, as always there was lots of lovely food, and people were soon tucking in and chatting to one another. The Mayor stayed at the reception for quiet a long time and wound his way around the hall chatting to as many people as possible. He spent a lot of time with the children and was a great hit with them, especially one little lad who insisted that he was “The King of Abbey Wood!”. Michael read a letter of congratulation that had been sent to the church from HM the Queen, congratulating us on our centenary and wishing us well in our celebrations.
Sunday brought to a close our week of celebrations. The Mayor of Bexley, Nigel Betts, who had been unable to join us for the Friday evening service, joined the congregation at morning worship. Our parish is partly in Bexley and partly in Greenwich. The Mayor arrived and was greeted by Fr David and was well looked after during the service by Marjorie and Chris. Fr David started his sermon talking of a priest who saw a young lad running away from his church as the priest had approached and then found a used syringe in the church porch and how as he said the words of the mass later that day he had felt God reaching out to that boy. He continued by speaking of the Church being a symbol of Gods love for the community in which it stood, a place to which people had come through the years to stand with babies at the font, or as adults finding faith. He spoke of the marriages that had taken place in the Church and the times when people had simply come to the church to say thank you to God. Fr David also spoke of the times people had come to the Church in times of sadness, the tears at a funeral or the prayers at times of personal grief. He talked of the people of the Church being the body of Christ that God could use to reach out to those who needed help, like the boy in the church porch.
At the end of the service, Michael once again read out the letter from the Queen, which was received with applause. The Mayor presented Hannah with her dark blue choir ribbon, which she had gained. He made a short speech wishing us well on our centenary and congratulating us on the strength of our church and congregation. Before the final hymn, the choir sang The Solemn Te Deum Laudamus, for thanksgiving. It was very beautiful. After the service, light refreshments were served in church the mayor stayed and chatted to people for quiet a long time. We continue our celebrations, with a centenary meal and Fr Eric Shegog visiting at Pentecost, there is also an open weekend at our Patronal festival.
Submitted by Sue.