ST. MARK’S, FITZROY
REFLECTIONS BY FR TONY NOBLE
ON HIS TIME AS VICAR OF ST. MARK’S
1985 – 2003
Fr Michael King is responsible for the revival of St. Mark’s as a parish in the 1970’s. Fr Peter Hollingworth was priest-in-charge of St. Mark’s and associate director of the Brotherhood of St. Lawrence from 1970-72. Fr. Michael was the assistant priest at St. Peter’s, Eastern Hill and had become involved with the Sisters of the Holy Name in Napier Street in running an annual children’s camp for the children of Fitzroy. Fr. Michael and some of the parishioners of St. Peter’s became involved with these families, and in 1973 he moved into the Vicarage as full-time parish priest.
He immediately made a significant change in the parish. Up until then it had been a small group of faithful, working-class Anglicans maintaining their church with an 8.00 o’clock Mass in the morning and Evensong in the evening. The parish had been affected by the demographic changes in the nature of Fitzroy since the war, and in the 1960’s the parish declined in support and numbers.
Fr. Michael had a vision of St. Mark’s becoming an Anglican parish in the Anglo-Catholic tradition of Vatican II. He reordered the interior of the church and introduced modern liturgy. He began a Daily Mass and the Daily Office, with a group of people from St. Peter’s who had followed him as support. Through his pastoral work the parish started to involve families from Fitzroy, and gradually the parish grew. The impact on attendance at Sunday Mass was immediate, rising to about 50 almost immediately after he arrived. Some of the changes he introduced were a little controversial, particularly the moving of the rood screen from the choir stalls to the back of the church. But he won that battle, and the parish never looked back.
THE COMMUNITY OF ST MARK
In 1975 Fr. Michael founded a community called the Community of St. Mark. After its establishment, the community had 4 or 5 people living in the vicarage. Fr. Michael was the head of the community and the vicar. It was a community that worked in the parish of Fitzroy. As a result of the pastoral work of the members, plus the Daily Office said by the members of the community and attendance at Mass, the parish really established itself in the spirit of Vatican II.
The members of the Community felt called to a more traditional religious community, and chose the Benedictine life after Fr. Michael had toured communities in England and America. It was particularly his stay at St. Gregory’s Abbey at Three Rivers, Michigan that convinced him that was the path for them to follow. As a result of this, they left the parish in 1980 and moved to Camperdown where Bishop John Hazelwood gave them a very warm welcome.
To me, as a young seminarian in Adelaide, it seemed exciting that there was a religious community working in the parish of Fitzroy. I came and stayed with the community during a vacation in 1976, and became familiar with the community and the life of the parish. Attendance at Mass was 80+ people: young people, families, numbers of people in their 30’s & 40s – a very lively & vibrant parish. In 1985, when I was invited to become the vicar of St Mark’s, the parish was quite different from 1976 – just a shadow of what I remembered.
It was wonderful for me to have experienced it and seen the life that was given to this parish. It had been threatened with closure several times over its history since the 1950s & it was the women of the Guild – the so-called “Guild Ducks” – who were the group that stood up to the diocese and refused to amalgamate the parish or to allow their church to be sold in the 1960’s. Bishop Grant, in a diocesan review of the parish in the early 70s, made the famous statement that, “St. Mark’s as it was, could never be an ordinary parish”. He meant, of course, that it probably should be closed down. Like the famous prophet of Our Lord’s crucifixion, “better that one man die for the people”, Bishop Grant was also prophetic in foretelling that St. Mark’s would not be an ordinary parish, but would be a special parish. And that is what it became!
Fr. Michael and the community left in 1980, and Fr. David Peak was appointed as the vicar. This was a time of great hope for the parish. They felt that the wonderful work Fr. Michael had done in establishing a parish in the Vatican II Catholic tradition would be built. They chose a married priest with a family and immediately borrowed $25,000 to convert the vicarage into a more appropriate dwelling for a family with young children.
During the interregnum in 1980 the Vestry decided that it would be unfair to inflict upon any prospective vicar the welfare work that had started with the Brothers giving out food and providing counselling. With a grant from the Brotherhood of St. Lawrence, they employed a parishioner, Peter Burke, to investigate what welfare needs the parish could provide in the Community Centre – a building which was erected in Brother Bill Nicholls’ time as St Mark’s Social Settlement. As a result of his investigations Peter Burke established St. Mark’s Community Centre as a place where men living in rooming houses could call in for friendship and spend the afternoon. Soon after it started a food distribution ministry began. When Fr. David Peake came to the parish it was formally established as St. Mark’s Community Centre.
Fr. David Peake concentrated on the people who came to the Community Centre. A new ministry was established as a result, but by contrast church attendance declined. The congregation felt let down when he became the licensee of the Napier Hotel at the beginning of 1984. Soon after that he resigned from the parish, leaving a congregation of barely 25 people. Those working in the parish had a firm belief that there was a future for the parish. They saw a specific ministry for St Mark’s, and a particular role for it as a parish expressing the spirit of Vatican II in the Anglican diocese.
There were Melbourne priests who were keen to come to St. Mark’s, for it was seen as a prize parish by those who considered themselves Catholics: a congregation committed to the Catholic faith, the liturgy, the Daily Office, Daily Mass, Benediction on Saturday nights, a ministry of social justice through the Community Centre, an obvious involvement in the community and a care for the poor. All these things were very attractive to priests of the Catholic persuasion. However, the Incumbency Committee looked further afield than Melbourne, and I was one of a number of priests interviewed.
In 1984 I passed through Melbourne in August on holidays and had come to Mass at St. Mark’s on a Tuesday – and no priest had turned up. I went over to the Community Centre to enquire whether there was a Mass going on, and no one seemed to have a clue. The Community Centre seemed like bedlam! I remember going back to where I was staying and saying to my host – who knew St. Mark’s – that I had been to St. Mark’s and was very disillusioned, and I just wondered whether they really deserved to have a priest. A strange comment in view of what was to happen later!
After I returned to Adelaide I received a letter from the Incumbency Committee, asking if I might be interested in the parish. If I was interested, I was to contact them for a parish profile. I contacted Ross Haynes and indicated I would like the profile sent to me. With my knowledge of St. Mark’s and what its situation and ministry were, I was interested in the future of the parish. However, the concept of leaving Adelaide – where I was very happy, and in a wonderful growing parish – to move to Melbourne had not been on my mind. After deciding to meet with them it became a matter of arranging to come to Melbourne and to be interviewed without anyone knowing I was coming to be looked at by another parish! I was coming to Melbourne in October for holidays, so arranged to meet with the Incumbency Committee then.
The committee subsequently rang me in early September, saying that they had interviewed all the other priests and it was now a matter of interviewing me – which they were rather anxious to do. I arranged to come over for the weekend of the Grand Final at the end of September – being a good excuse for my parish in Adelaide to understand why I was going to Melbourne!
I duly came over during the week of the Grand Final in 1984. The interview by the Incumbency Committee was a 3-hour interview, and fascinating for me. It was quite obvious where they stood on the understanding of the ministry of the parish and what they wanted in a priest. Comments required to be made in the diocesan profile were to the effect that the previous priest didn’t do this or didn’t do that. The potential of the parish excited me & I was sympathetic to all their priorities. We were on the same wavelength, and when we came to the interview and talked about things like Mass and Office, I made it quite clear that I would want to use the Missa Normativa (the modern Roman rite) for Mass and the breviary for the Office. They were all very delighted and pleased about that! One of the most interesting questions, which was to prove significant later, was the question, “How do you relate to alternate life-styles?” I felt that the Incumbency Committee, who were playing their cards close to their chest, were disarmed by my honest responses to their questions. Perhaps that was what convinced them to invite me to be Vicar.
As a result of that interview Archbishop Penman contacted me about 2 weeks later. He said that he was phoning me about St Mark’s because he didn’t know me and didn’t know the parish very well (which made me laugh to myself) and he wondered whether I would be interested in being offered the parish – or was he wasting his time? I said: Yes I knew the parish and I would be interested in being offered the parish – and I would like to see him.
Next morning I rang his secretary and made an appointment for October when I was going to be in Melbourne for holidays. I immediately sat down and wrote my acceptance letter dated the day of my interview and put it in my file. When I went to see Archbishop Penman, we talked for some time and at the end of the interview I said I had decided to accept the parish and handed him my acceptance letter.
A NEW VICAR
The announcement of my appointment as the Vicar caused great sadness and many tears at St. Catherine’s, Elizabeth Downs. One of the most awful moments of my life was announcing to the parish that I was leaving them. They didn’t care where I was going – they were not interested in the fact that St. Mark’s was a struggling parish that did wonderful work and particularly wanted a priest like me. On the other hand, at St. Mark’s it was greeted with a certain amount of enthusiasm. There was a sense in which the whole parish felt they now had a priest to lead them in growth, and maintain the Catholic tradition that they desired. They wanted a leader & they wanted that someone to be their priest.
St Mark’s got to work getting everything ready for my arrival, even though it was a parish that was on the rocks financially. The collection was about $100 a week. That didn’t concern me, but I knew it was going to be tough. When I requested that they put lampshades on all the lights in the vicarage, Meigs – who was Treasurer, pew sheet producer, rosters organiser, sacristan, and Op Shop co-ordinator – went out and bought 14 Chinese lanterns and put them over the light globes in the vicarage. That was the extent to which they could afford to do renovations in the vicarage! It had been renovated 5 years before and was in fairly good condition.
I came over in December to meet the Vestry officially – and that was an interesting experience. We had Mass followed by supper, and I could see that these were the people who were the key to the growth of the parish – enjoying life and the Catholic faith. It was a mixed & diverse group of people, with some young people. We established that the particular form of liturgy would be based on the Roman rite, as well as necessary things – times of daily Mass, etc – and my Induction service.
I went back to Adelaide for Christmas – and to farewell my parish. Because I was not only leaving my parish, but also my home town, we had 2 farewell Masses – one in the evening of Friday Jan 18th for people beyond the parish, at which there were 225 communicants, & on the Sunday, at which there were 138 communicants. Next morning the removalists came & I then drove to Fitzroy & my new home. The induction was set for Friday January 25th, the Conversion of St. Paul – a date which means much to me in my pilgrimage of faith. It was also a long weekend, enabling people from Adelaide to come over for the induction.
A NEW START
It was a great Induction service. There was a fairly full church – a lot of clergy, which was very heartening for me, & a number of friends from Adelaide. Because the Archbishop had denied my request to have the induction within a Mass, as I had had in Adelaide, we added a few “touches”! After I was formally inducted my wonderful gold cope was placed on me. In the part of the service where it says: “The newly incumbent offers prayers, he may use the following forms:” I prayed that we should ask the prayers of St. Mark, St. Paul and the Blessed Virgin Mary for the parish – and immediately started saying “Hail Mary…….” There was a thunderous response as the whole congregation came in with: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners….” The Archbishop was stunned and a few of the evangelicals were scandalised, I was told later. But it was a wonderful moment and, as Fr. Geoffrey Taylor said to me, I started as I meant to go on.
I began my ministry as Vicar with a novena of prayer, as I had at St Catherine’s. The next day we had a Solemn Mass of the Holy Spirit, with about 8 priests concelebrating, & a congregation of 50. I was encouraged by the support. On the Sunday it was back to reality. There were 28 communicants & an attendance of 33! Over the next few weeks the parish attendance increased a little. I spent most of the first few months getting to know people and getting accustomed to the church.
I found the work of the Community Centre a bit overawing. As Chairman of the Committee I introduced a monthly Management Committee Meeting – which they had never had – so that at least I could have some knowledge of what was going on and some control. There seemed to be a division between the Parish and the Community Centre, even though the parish had started it and many of the parishioners were involved in it. I felt that this was something I needed to attend to at some future date.
The division between the parish and the Community Centre was clearly shown with the morning tea in the Community Centre lounge on Sundays. Some of the parishioners would complain about the Community Centre clients suddenly appearing after Mass to have free coffee, tea, etc. They were made to feel unwelcome. There were also complaints about how untidy & dirty it was after the Community Centre had been using it. The first thing I did was to establish morning tea in the Vicarage. People were invited to come over to the vicarage and when the weather was nice it was a pleasant gathering in the backyard. I provided cask wine, which was quite OK when we only had about 30 parishioners. Later on, when we had more, it became a bit crowded. I did this because of the division between the Community Centre and the parish – which was mainly focused on the fact that the congregation felt that their lounge had been taken away from them, and the Community Centre clients were coming to morning tea and not coming to Mass.
Towards the end of 1985 a fairly significant event happened which was to affect the ministry of myself and the parish quite dramatically. One of the members of the congregation who had recently started coming to St. Mark’s, came to the vicarage to see me. I knew he had been unwell, and he sat in my kitchen and proceeded to tell me that he had AIDS. His first concern was that he was still accepted at St. Mark’s, and by me. I assured him he was accepted and said I would certainly pray for him and would visit him when he became sick. It was an inadequate response on my part – but I had begun a steep learning curve. When he eventually got sick I experienced Fairfield Hospital in those early days of 1986 when there was a lot of ignorance and a lot of negative talk (particularly from Baptists) about AIDS being God’s judgment of homosexuals. There was a general feeling of fear in the community which I experienced myself. I remember going to visit him at home after he had been in hospital and seeing the fear and the despair in his mother, and the denial in his father.
I felt that there was a special ministry here that needed to be done. I was concerend about what it all meant for me and for the parish – but also felt that God was calling us and I could not turn away. I met with the Vestry and explained the situation – that I was now ministering to people with HIV and felt that as a parish we had a special ministry here. Their response was affirming and supportive. I subsequently went to Bishop Peter Hollingworth, our regional bishop, who thought it was a wonderful move. He explained that Sister Hilda, CHN, was about to be appointed as chaplain at Fairfield Hospital for people with HIV/AIDS, and perhaps she could be based at St. Mark’s. She lived in the Mission House in Napier Street. It seemed wonderful to me to have a nun at the Mission House around the corner who was working with people with HIV. I felt that we were a congregation where people affected by AIDS, particularly families, could come and feel safe. I saw that as our ministry – not providing some sort of AIDS medical ministry, but a community of faith. I was also anxious for people to see that the church had something to offer.
Of course I was to be disappointed by the hierarchy! Bishop Hollingworth got back to me to say that he didn’t think it was a good idea for Sister Hilda to get involved in the parish. He didn’t mind what we did, as long as we didn’t say anything about it – which I found particularly offensive. But in a way it was great, because it left the parish and me free to do whatever we wanted to do. I felt I had no obligation to the diocese, or constraints from them about what we did. So it was the best thing that ever happened.
A group of us had already attended the induction course at the Victorian AIDS Council after I had mentioned it within the parish. As a result of that, I decided there was no point in us having a particular AIDS ministry – if we wanted to care for people we should do it through the Victorian AIDS Council. We should be known as a church that cared and was available.
In 1987 I came to the conclusion that we needed to do something as a parish that was distinctly Christian and Anglican as a church involved in AIDS ministry, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I shared my thoughts with the Vestry, and they gave me some extra leave with my annual holidays in October so that I could go to the USA and see what the church was doing there. I stayed in the parish of the Advent in San Francisco for 2 weeks, and then went to New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto. I came back fired up with all sorts of ideas, particularly a weekly prayer vigil, and the idea for an AIDS Requiem Mass – which I saw in New York. It took me two years before we held the Requiem. I was greatly helped by Philip Nunn, who was able to translate my ideas into practical reality. It was to be an inspiring Eucharist with a choir singing a traditional Mass – but with hymns that people could sing enthusiastically. And I thought some liturgical dance might appeal to non-church people. My lay pastoral assistant, Naeidra Layton, who wsas such a tower of strength & prayer to me, organised this. The first one was in 1989, and I chose Melbourne Cup Day – because we were used to having Masses for festivals in the evenings on public holidays, followed by a supper. As Melbourne Cup day was in November, the month we remember the departed, it was appropriate.
The first one attracted about 150 people. Afterwards word spread like wildfire and it just grew, so that in 1991 we had over 500 people packing the church. That year we did Mozart’s Requiem, & I will never forget all those people singing the hymn “Jesu, Son of Mary” to the tune “Land of Hope & Glory”. The Age sent reporters & a photographer – and we were featured in the next day’s newspaper. It was an amazing time for the parish & the parish started to grow. In 1989 we had over 50 people attending church on Sunday – not a huge number, but a fair growth from the time when I first arrived. The AIDS ministry gave us publicity & the congregation steadily grew. At Christmas Midnight Mass in 1991 we had a packed church, with 147 communicants – a far cry from the 51 in 1985. In 1993 the ABC was at the Aids Requiem with cameras & this featured on their news next day.
The parish was starting to increase and grow, and we had lots of new people. There was a good sense of community and a good spirit. At that time we started to talk about the restoration of the church. Some people were keen that we should do something, but it seemed beyond us. The priority for me was to build up the parish and to increase the numbers of the congregation. I said to the Vestry that I was reluctant to embark on a restoration project – but if the Vestry wanted to do it I would support it. Even though I didn’t think we could do it, once the Vestry had decided I committed myself 100%, and became in fact the public face of the appeal.
The Restoration Project & Appeal was launched in 1991 and went for 8 years. Unfortunately the diocese was the first one to cause us a problem! We had an architect’s report that said we needed to raise $500,000. The diocese said we could never raise that – and they would only allow us to raise $250,000. We subsequently raised that in 3 years – just to show them what they could do with their opinion about St. Mark’s, Fitzroy! Their attitude just made me and the parish more determined.
The second problem was that we were badly let down in the beginning. We had employed a fund-raiser who promised that he could raise $100,000 from charity trusts and $100,000 from the parish and the community. When we launched the project in October 1991 we raised only $25,000 and that was just enough to pay his bills. So I reluctantly sacked him and we started from scratch – with me learning how to organise the appeal & write to charitable trusts, etc.
At the same time our life was dominated in the early 1990s by the AIDS crisis, so that by 1992 (with the AIDS Requiem well established) I was continually being asked to visit people in Fairfield and to do funerals – and they always wanted a requiem like the AIDS Requiem. At one stage we had a 4-voice quartet which we could call on at a few days notice. They would sing a simple Latin Mass for a Requiem.
The diocese seemed reluctant to acknowledge what we were doing. I pondered what the reasons might be: they saw us as too Catholic, a little bit too radical, too much on the edge. Perhaps they were jealous of the publicity and the good name we had in the wider community. I am also sure that they didn’t like the fact that the parish and I were not in favour of the ordination of women, and were not afraid to say so. They would have seen us as conservative, and couldn’t cope with the fact that we were doing this radical work, and were on the edge of the community. Our AIDS ministry got me involved in the AIDS community, and it was wonderful to see this community being supportive of our work – apart from the occasional gay activist, who felt the church should keep out!
Meanwhile the work of the Community Centre was thriving. Terry Heath had come to the Centre in 1987 as administrator, and he increased the financial strength & support. We had an annual budget of $½ million, and a staff of 8 – including a government funded psychiatric nurse. The meal programme expanded to include weekends and eventually the work got a bit too big and remote from the parish. In1994 Terry Heath resigned because he was exhausted. The Vestry made a major decision to reduce the work of the Centre and the staff. We employed Ross Haynes as our administrator, and under Ross’ quiet, gentle leadership the Centre took on a new lease of life in which it was very much an outreach of the parish.
At this time we had a significant number of funerals. At one stage we were burying one member of the congregation a month and some of them were young men with AIDS. The congregation felt this deeply. I suppose one of the good things that came out of this was the binding of the congregation together through our common grief. The congregation became very strong – in fact the congregation grew through the AIDS ministry because of what we were doing. Because we had been through pain and grief, we had grown as Christian people in our love. I don’t think that anyone who was involved in the parish in those days was ever the same again. It was lovely seeing the older women caring for those boys. But there was so much death in 1994 – it truly was a watershed year in the life of the parish.
In 1994 the finances were strong – thanks to the selling of a house that the parish owned in St. David Street – and we were able to consider employing an assistant priest. This was to have 2 aspects. The person would work half-time in the Community Centre as chaplain, and the parish would have a part-time assistant priest. My work load had been steadily increasing, particularly after I was elected Australasian Master of the Society of the Holy Cross in October 1996. We had 2 different priests from 1994-1996, but unfortunately it did not work out as hoped.
FINISHING THE RESTORATION
In 1997, whilst I was away I realised that without an assistant priest we would be saving over $20,000 a year. I calculated that if we borrowed $200,000 to complete the restoration we could pay it off over 20 years using that spare money. This was a significant shift in my thinking.
We had launched stage 2 of the restoration appeal in 1996 and completed the stone work (which cost $130,000) in 1997. I was very aware that I couldn’t push the congregation year after year for many more years. We had been raising huge amounts of money, but I didn’t think we could go on doing that. When I returned from my leave I put to the wardens – and then subsequently to the Vestry – that we could borrow $200,000 to finish the restoration, and repay it over 20 years. At the Annual Meeting in 1997, a motion was put that we borrow the $200,000 and finish the restoration – and it was carried with acclamation. I wrote to Bishop Curnow, telling him that the congregation had clapped themselves into debt!
The Vestry engaged Arthur Andronas to complete the restoration, and an excellent plan for Stage 3 was presented. $200,000 would cover it, so we planned to vacate the church for 5 months and worship in the Community Centre. As we prepared for this at the beginning of 1998 I suddenly realised that we would have to take the organ out. This would give us the opportunity to do necessary work on it – but it would be an extra expense.
THE HARRISON ORGAN
Peter Jewkes was Australia’s leading organ builder & I invited him to give us a quote for the organ work. He gave me 3 quotes: $20,000 to remove it and do minor repairs, $120,000 to fully restore it and $120,000 to get a Harrison organ from England. My first question was, What is a Harrison organ? Peter explained that Harrison’s were the best builders of pipe organs & that one was available from St Luke’s Church, Cowley, Oxford, for just the transportation costs. I was very interested, but wondered how we could afford it. When he told me it would be the only Harrison organ in Australia, I was convinced.
The Vestry thought it was an excellent idea. They agreed to use one of our parish funds for the project, & authorised me to go to England and make a decision. In February 1998 I went to Oxford to see the organ with Peter. As soon as he played it (behind plastic sheeting) I knew it was meant for us. I did a deal there & then with the Registrar of the Oxford Diocese.
Soon after I returned Peter sent me a detailed quote for the work. To my horror it was about $35,000 more than we had extra funds for. I remember sitting in the office, saying to my faithful Warden, Leon, that I did not know how we would be able to afford it. past miracles at St Mark’s should have taught me never to doubt! I then went to the post office to collect the mail, & returned to the office. Amongst the letters was one from solicitors, telling me that because of a funeral I had done a few years before, the husband of the deceased had left to St Mark’s 1/10 of his estate…..it was exactly the amount we needed! I passed the letter to Leon & said” “I think this is a message from God”!!
THE FINAL RESTORATION
On May 24th we moved out of the church. It was quite a task to remove all the furnishings. For the next 5 months we worshipped in the Community Centre. Daily Mass was celebrated in the lounge & Sunday Mass in the hall. The Sacrament was reserved in a separate office. We had to set up for every Service. The billiard table was used for the Sunday altar, which meant the sanctuary was at the end near the toilets. We were all glad to have incense at Mass! The 5 months in the Centre was an enriching experience. With our beautiful church taken from us, we were like a mission church. People sat next to others they didn’t usually sit with. At the end of the period we had a conference to see what we had learnt from the experience. It was all positive
We had planned to return to the church on All Saints’ day, which was a Sunday, celebrating with a Mass of thanksgiving. As Nov 1st approached it was getting too close for comfort – but the workers pushed themselves. Peter – a parishioner – was in the church until after midnight the night before, doing finishing touches! On Sunday November 1st, 1998 Bishop Andrew Curnow – our much-loved Regional Bishop – re-opened the church & presided over its re-dedication in a packed church. There were 180 communicants & it was a real celebration. And the church looked stunning.
The final project was the Harrison organ. Peter Jewkes had been restoring the organ in Sydney, & in August 1999 his partner, Rodney, moved into the vicarage & proceeded to install it. This took several months, and was a very exciting project. We planned for the organ to be dedicated on October 31st, and it was on schedule. By this time I had employed Christopher Luke as our Music Director. The Harrison organ had definitely excited the Melbourne organ community, & there was no shortage of interest in being our organist. I wanted someone with talent and vision – and God sent us Christopher! If the organ was the icing on the cake – then Christopher was the chocolate on top!
Christopher had an immediate impact on our worship & the standard of music. He was also a budding composer, and composed a special voluntary for the dedication of the organ. The Dedication Mass was another wonderful celebration, enhanced by this fabulous organ we now possessed. When it was all paid for I calculated that the restoration of the church had cost over $1 million – an amazing achievement for our congregation.
Through all this period the parish had been steadily growing, with more and more people involved in the ministry of the parish. After years of pastoral work and community outreach, with all its ups and downs, we now had a beautiful church and the parish had moved to a new level of activity and ministry. At the end of 1999 I had been the Vicar 15 years.
The music had now reached a new standard. Christopher put a proposal to me that we have a Choral Scholarship Fund, whereby 4 music students would be offered scholarships to increase their experience of liturgical music. They would sing at Mass once a month, & on the great festivals, as well as several concerts to raise money for the fund. This was breaking new ground, but the Vestry supported the idea. When I put the proposal to the congregation we found the money within weeks! The combination of this new Choir, Christopher as Music Director, and the Harrison organ took the parish to new heights.
At our Dedication festival in July 2000 I pointed out that in just 3 years the church would be 150 years old. I suggested to the Vestry that we needed to plan this now. A committee had to be set up – & I chose the person I knew would organise a wonderful celebration, & get everyone involved. That was Lindsay Bull – our wonderful flower arranger.
Lindsay and I discussed ideas, & Lindsay set about forming a committe. They planned a marvellous 5 month programme from June – November 2003. Several sub-committees were formed, & at one stage we seemed to have every parishioner involved. It was an ambitious programme – worthy of the celebration. The programme was to begin with a novena of prayer, culminating on the day – Tuesday July 1st – with a Solemn Mass. The following week there would be an exhibition in the church of our vestments, silverware, etc. Then on the 1st Sunday of each month the Mass would have a special theme, finishing with the feast of Christ the King at the end of November, and a formal dinner. We decided that the 150th booklet should be released at the 2002 Christmas Midnight Mass, when there would be many visitors who normally wouldn’t get communications from us.
In October I combined my holidays with the SSC American Synod in San Diego, at which I was the special guest & preacher. It was during this Synod that I met 2 members of the Calling Committee of All Saints’ Church. When asked if I might be interested in their parish I was rather flippant – for all I had in mind was returning to launch our 150th. At that time I had no idea that God had other plans, & that exactly 12 months later I would have arrived in San Diego to be their Rector!
So to 2003. The various committees were hard at work under Lindsay’s direction, and all was set for a magnificent celebration. On Sunday June 22th, the Feast of Corpus Christi, we began our novena of prayer to prepare for it. By this time I was now in conversation with All Saints’, San Diego, and felt that I was indeed being called there. This made for mixed emotions as July 1st approached.
The celebration that night was magnificent in every way, with a packed church & 183 communicants. The Archbishop & Bishops Curnow & St John were in the sanctuary. I was the Chief Concelebrant & also the preacher – determined not to let any bishop make a mess of it! In my sermon I mentioned the 3 priests who had made an impact during the 150 years: J.F. Stretch (later Bishop of Newcastle) in the 19th century, Brother Bill Nicholls during the depression & Fr Michael King in the 1970’s. At the end of the Mass we had several speakers, the first being the Archbishop. He began with greetings & congratulations. Then he mentioned that in my sermon I referred to 3 outstanding priests, but I had omitted one. I couldn’t think who he meant…….& then he said it was me! I was completely taken aback. Instantly the congregation rose to their feet with applause. It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had. I was humbled – & bright red!
The following Sunday we celebrated again, with Bishop Andrew Curnow as guest preacher. On the Monday night we had the opening of the vestments & artifacts exhibition. So much work had gone into this & it was a wonderful display. 2 days later I received the phone call from San Diego that I had been expecting. I was invited to be the Rector of All Saints’! Thus it was that at the end of Mass the following Sunday, after 3 weeks of grand celebration, that I announced I would be leaving St Mark’s at the end of September to become Rector of All Saints’, San Diego. It was a very emotional moment for us all.
The 150th celebrations continued – but there was also my move to plan, and my final Service at St Mark’s. This was planned for the last Sunday in September – but I wanted no farewell speeches or dinner. The Archbishop’s speech on July 1st was enough, & I figured the emotion of leaving would be too much. I just wanted the parish family to gather at a Mass of Our Lady of Walsingham, concluding with Eucharistic Procession & Benediction – all liturgically incorrect, of course! There was a packed church, with 162 communicants.
Thus concluded an amazing ministry for me, and for this special parish. Time does not allow me to mention all the wonderful people I met, worked with & ministered to, the challenges & issues I faced in those 18 years, and the changes in Fitzroy during that time. I have wonderful memories & there is much I am grateful for – not least what God did through me.