Bishop Nicholas delivered this homily at St Mellitus, Tollington Park on 8th December 2019 during a Mass to celebrate 60 years of worship in the church.
Sixty years on the one site really is an achievement to savour. There will be some people in the congregation who can tell me they’ve received all the sacraments here: Baptism, First Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage. I was thinking about this as I walked past the font on my way in. We’ll return to the font shortly. Suffice for now just to recall what it was that first brought the Catholic community here. You’ve been in Tollington Park a lot longer than sixty years, of course. Your roots go back nearly a century, to 1925. But, by the 1950s, you had got too big for the old church in Everleigh Street.
Your Parish Priest, Fr Groves, hadn’t been idle, though. He’d observed that the large Congregational church at the corner of Evershot Road was no longer in use. Fully convinced it would serve ideally for the needs of the expanding Catholic community, he put his leg over the low boundary wall and placed one foot inside the grounds of the church. He then said a prayer, asking God that the church would pass into the hands of the Catholics. After that, he walked around the outside of the church property praying silently that he would acquire the church. His prayers were answered. He was given permission by the Diocese to buy the church for £50,000.
The church needed to be adapted for Catholic liturgy. One parishioner remembers a vast crowd of volunteers. The most obvious necessary alteration was to move the pulpit and organ from what is now the centre of the sanctuary; the organ being moved to its place upstairs. The first Mass was celebrated on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8th December 1959, exactly sixty years ago. The celebrant was Cardinal William Godfrey, Archbishop of Westminster.
Today is an appropriate day to let your minds wander back over the parish’s glorious past, not least all the baptisms that have taken place here. Because today we hear in the readings about the Baptiser par excellence, John the Baptist, cousin of the Lord who prepared the way for him. As Jesus himself affirms, John preached a baptism of repentance. As we hear of John’s appearance, we might ask ourselves how often we think about our own baptism.
I remember once seeing Pope John Paul II giving a rare television interview. ‘Holy Father’, the interviewer asked, ‘what was the most important moment in your life?’ Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied, ‘My baptism’.
Soon after he became Pope, Pope John Paul returned to the place of his baptism. I saw a photo of him kneeling at the font. I said to myself, ‘I know where I was baptised; I could do that too.’ And so I do. I return from time to time to the place of my baptism; I kneel there; and recommit myself to him. You might like to do this too. Even if the font isn’t the same as you were baptised in; or even if it has moved its location in the church, you can still return to the place of your baptism and recommit yourself to him.