Page 10, 20th September 1996

20th September 1996
Page 10
Page 10, 20th September 1996 — PARISH IN Focus: Our Lady's, St John's Wood, London NW8
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PARISH IN Focus: Our Lady's, St John's Wood, London NW8

A PEELING WOODEN gate swings back to reveal an oasis of green, a garden of light and shade that lends the presbytery an air of privacy and quiet. Fronds of ornamental grass sway in the warm air; fallen Autumn leaves dust the fringes of the lawn. It really is a secret garden, unexpected after the toil and industry of Lodge Road.

Parish priest, Fr Colin Davies, is amazed that I took this route. I'm clearly not a cricket fanatic. They expected me to come via St John's Wood Road, hallowed home to Lords. "I'm a member of the Middlesex," he says "Fr Alastair Russell is a member of the MCC." On days off they stroll the short distance to watch the cricket. From the presbytery garden you can hear the roar as wickets tumble.

Fr Davies came here as parish priest two years ago.. "I started in Pimlico. Fr Russell was then my parish priest so we've effectively reversed roles". Does it work? "Yes, we get on famously." Fr Russell, reaching the age of 65, decided he wanted to take a step down but still maintain contact with an active parish his request to be near his beloved Lords was fulfilled.

Our Lady's, known affectionately as 'Our Lady of Lords', was founded in 1833 by two spinster sisters, Joyce and Louisa Gallini. With their legacy, II Scoles, the Catholic architect, designed a building dubbed `Regency Classic', a church of lofty elegance.

The church was reordered in the 70s and little remains of its Victorian heritage. Bold swathes of colour sweep the sanctuary and side chapels but overwhelmingly it is a church of light and air. Scoles' soaring arches centre on gilded bosses. Pale yellow walls reflect the clear autumn light that cascades through the many windows. The eye is constantly drawn upwards, by rising columns and tall arched windows. The ascending bronzed figure of the Risen Christ that dominates the sanctuary wall.

The Martyrs Chapel in contrast is shaded and subdued. The central statue of Christ Crucified is beautifully depicted. To the side, panels illustrate scenes from the lives of the martyr saints. A window of turquoise, sea green and pale blue shows Joan of Arc

wrapped in a her cloak of _Nur de lis and gold a family memorial to sons who died in the War.

A modern painting of the Baptism of Christ by Polish artist Merek Zulaski provides a backdrop of strong primary colour to the choir transept opposite.

The church suffered bomb damage in the war but three 'old' windows remain. Fr Davies is unsure of their provenance. The style and colour, the intricacy of the tracery point to an earlier age. A marble fresco of Christ and the Apostles, weather worn and slightly cracked, leans against the wall. They found it in the garden. It looks like an altar piece removed from a side altar during reordering.

The sanctuary area is much higher than the rest of the church three steep polished steps lead up to the main expanse it looks and is a little lethal. Fr Davies admits he's been "sent flying" on more than one occasion. The old communion rails were preserved and now line the sanctuary edges

like the brass railings of a ship at sea. Fr Davies muses: "They stop the servers falling off the edge".

"People associate St John's Wood with the affluent and the wealthy but we encompass poorer areas of the capital," says Fr Davies. "Above all, this is a very mixed parish, a cosmopolitan parish, all the peoples of the world's continents are here".

On 12 October, the Parish Mission will commence with the theme of 'We Believe'. Priests from the Catholic Missionary Society will lead the Mission but the preparation has come from the parishioners. "This really is collaborative ministry at its most useful," says Fr Davies.

There are three priests here. Fr David Irwin was ordained as a Catholic priest last year. He had been an Anglican priest for 27 years and first came to the parish in July 1995 to experience life in a Catholic presbytery.

How has Fr Irwin's Anglican background contributed to the life of Our Lady's? "As far as the liturgy is concerned he was very much with us he already used the Roman Missal. Liturgy is his forte." And of course singing, I interject. RCs, let's face it, are pretty poor when it comes to raising the roof. Fr Davies smiles; "Fr Irwin has transformed our 12 o'clock Mass." Our Lady's caters for all tastes: a children's Mass at 9.30, Latin at 10.45 and a Folk Mass in the evening. "The guitars come out at six," he says.

The Mission will be an opportunity for the renewal and revival of faith. But what of the future? "I hope we can continue that spiritual high and sustain the enthusiasm. I'd like to see more prayer groups and house Masses bringing faith very much into the heart of the community."

I return to the office, along St John's Wood Road tree-lined, the canopy of Lords' distinctive stand floating above like some marquee blown loose from its guide ropes and pegs. Peeking through the railings you catch glimpses of the men in white, the emerald turf, the thwack of leather on willow. They'll convert me yet.

Christina White




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