Thursday, 20 November 2008

Saint Silas, Kentish Town.

Courtesy of Andrew Wilce, we have some pictures of the liturgy at Saint Silas, Kentish Town to share with you today. Saint Silas is the Parish Church of an area to the North of the centre of London, although very much still part of the inner suburbs, characterised by the yellow 'London stock' brick which stretches from the far leafy North through the city to the far leafy South. Dulwich and Richmond giving way to white Georgian stone. Kentish Town is characterised less by yellow brick, although there is plenty of it, but more by concrete in all it's shades of grey. It is easy to look at pictures of old Kentish Town, before the demolition men came in and to decry the destruction of the Georgian terraces and Victorian streets but that is to underestimate two factors, firstly the terrible condition of many of these houses and secondly the destructive power of the Luftwaffe.

In this Church surrounded by housing estates (and, to the delight of many visiting pilgrims, the finest Gelateria in all London) works Father Graeme Rowlands, Chaplain General of the Society of Mary and Parish Priest of Saint Silas. The Church offers liturgy done precisely, with Latin Mass on Saturday morning and plenty of devotions and activities. It is the closest that we get to the Brompton Oratory, save for the two factors of place and community, the Oratory is in a silk stockinged suburb and has a large team of Priests and Brothers looking after it.

In the picture above you can see Father Rowlands walking in front of the Bishop of Edmonton, a London Area Bishop during Saint Silas Day. I have to be honest, after visiting the Church I can say that the liturgy is not entirely to my taste, but it clearly resounds within the people who both live in the Parish, who are evident when you go and also the people who travel sometimes considerable distances to get there. I do not find bread and butter pudding to my taste, but have no intention of decrying it's popularity or tastiness, so I am glad of the hard work undertaken by Father Rowlands and the popularity of Saint Silas. In fact I would go as far as to say that if Saint Silas were to change and modernise, we would have lost a little part of ourselves as a corporate body of Anglo Catholics, individual and together.

This is a picture of the procession of the relic of the Saint and it could have been taken in 1936, save for the colour reproduction. Wonderfully atmospheric, it conjures up an almost lost world of 'colonial' Bishops and Eucharistic Congresses in the time before Anglo Catholics settled back on their laurels and became a little 'establishment' and bought into the misconstrued reflection of the Second Vatican Council which is itself being corrected by it's progenitors. Where this will leave us is unknown, as I said yesterday, but if it leaves us divorced from our roots (not only of the Church Catholic) of our own brand of unrest and our own history, then we will be the poorer and one would wonder what the unique genius of Anglo Catholicism which has sustained us all these years ever was.

I am not sure if it is a North South divide, but I have witnessed recently a remarkable resurgence in our community. Events are attended by Priests and People as never before in my memory or the memory of those longer in t'tooth than me. People are making the effort to come, we are attracting people from Churches which have, in the past, shared little sympathy with us, attracted by the clear teaching and answers (more importantly in our soundbite culture) on matters of faith and morals. I like to think that they are also attracted by our own humanity, that they feel more in common with us because we are hurting and fighting. It is the James Bond effect, people's mood has changed from wanting Roger Moore schmoozing his way through Swiss women and the Russkies to associating themselves with a hero, in Daniel Craig, who is himself trying to become whole by overcoming his own demons.

Modern day heroes are closer to those of Greek Myth, tormented souls who overcome insuperable odds to redeem themselves and those around them because God is on their side and they show that faith with their every action, exhausted and trampled down by the dunghills in the stable as they may be. Put simply, I have problems of my own, I am no perfect clone and don't the people of Saint Hilda's know that (!) but neither is anybody else, we share good and bad times but I never stop saying that which I believe, without fear or shame, wherever I may be. We are attracting new people because, I believe, we are becoming more coherent because we are in a corner and we have to think a little faster than we have become used to and to demonstrate what we believe a little better. This is a pattern I hear of in Churches throughout the North West.

Here you can see the crucifer and acolytes of Saint Silas (Andrew, who kindly gave me permission to replicate these pictures, is in the middle) about to start the procession. They look like men who are about to lead a platoon of well trained Anglo Catholics to the altar of God on the day of thanksgiving (even if the thought of wearing that amount of lace makes my size thirteen Northern feet curl) and for that I am glad. It is entirely wrong to think that this style of liturgy is incorrect for the modern day, any more than my style, or yours, is. God is glorified in Saint Silas as He is in the concrete Church up the road, under the same jurisdiction, to a diverse people of God with different needs and different problems, skills and joys. People who have come to value us because of, not despite our own humanity and weaknesses.

In God, through whom strength is made perfect in weakness and by whom the meek and humble are made heirs to the Kingdom, may we raise our eyes to the morningstar and live for all His many, different children, of whom we are each but one. Amen.