To the members of the congregation of Christ Church, St Leonards on Sea
4 June 2020
Before I was ordained, a priest from South Africa came to be curate of the London church where I sang in the choir. As part of my ordination training I had been on a placement in a large social housing estate in Bradford. I told him how few people came to church there. He replied – if you start knocking on doors and talking to people you will find that under the surface people are interested in all sorts of matters such as spiritualism and following the stars in newspapers. Many people know they are on a spiritual journey but they don't see that journey in terms of the Church. He immediately began a programme in the parish of visiting and talking to anyone he met.
Fr Gonville ffrench-Beytagh had been a courageous Dean of Johannesburg Cathedral, arrested during the apartheid era, and held in solitary confinement. The account of his experience then has come back to me during the confinement that so many of us have been suffering. He found being on his own and the interrogations very difficult. The anxieties he felt remind me of what some people are telling me about their own anxieties welling up. Despite that, he wrote that it made his religion 'much more real'. 'Spiritual communion is very real – reassurance of the inner presence of Jesus at all times day and night.' In his prison diary he wrote, 'I had the feeling this morning that there were (are) thousands of Christians throughout the world with me – a most extraordinary, glorious, truly comforting and strengthening feeling.'
Fr ffrench-Beytagh was also insistent on our keeping the church open. If necessary, he half-joked, you should pay someone to be on their knees for twenty minutes. Someone else will then come in and they will really pray. Bishop Martin has written to all the MPs in the Diocese asking that the Government give priority to allowing churches to re-open. The Churchwardens and clergy are already thinking of what measures we shall put in place so that when the church is open again, we can ensure cleanliness and safety.
With good wishes and prayers for you all,
We continue to stream the Sunday Mass at 10.30 am and the Rosary on Wednesday at 10 am via Facebook Live.