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Friends of St Mary’s, Bourne St

2009 November 29
by Gordon Reid

I have just enrolled as a Friend of St Mary’s, Bourne St in London, a church I have loved and appreciated for many years.

My first visit was in 1964, soon after I went up to Oxford. Canon Donald Nicholson, whom I had known in Edinburgh when he was Vice-Principal of the Scottish Episcopal Theological College, had just become Vicar of St Mary’s. During my three years in Oxford I went to see Canon Nicholson many times, and I loved the Anglo-Catholic worship of St Mary’s.

In those days, St Mary’s still had a pretty upper-class congregation, and it was said that you had to be a Peer of the Realm or at least a knight before you would be asked to carry one of the poles holding up the canopy over the Blessed Sacrament in the Corpus Christi procession. Canon Nicholson was not averse to dropping the names of dukes and duchesses he knew, to say nothing of archbishops and cardinals; so he should have been the perfect fit at St Mary’s. But I don’t think he was ever very happy there, and it may be that for once he was outshone by a flock who could drop grander names than he!

Over many years I would visit St Mary’s when I was in London, but this was not often, since I was working in Scotland for sixteen years and then in the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe in Turkey and Sweden. But when Bishop Satterthwaite, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, appointed me Vicar General of the Diocese, I came to London to administer the Diocesan Office. There was no house for the Vicar General, so until a suitable one was found, I went to stay in the Presbytery of St Mary’s, Bourne St.

This happy event came about because the Vicar at that time was Fr Bill Scott, whom I had known when he was a seminarian in Edinburgh and I was Rector of St Michael & All Saints there. The famous Dr Eric Mascall had just had to give up his flat in the Presbytery to go to a retirement home, so Fr Bill offered it to me in return for help at St Mary’s. I felt I was in a special apostolic succession, succeeding Dr Mascall, whose books of philosophy and theology I had always loved – as well as his lighter works such as “Pi in the High”.

So for the next five years (two from the Presbytery and three from the house in Islington which the Diocese bought for the Vicar General) I said one of the daily Masses at St Mary’s and helped out on any Sundays when I was not visiting chaplaincies on the Continent. It was a great privilege for me and a very happy time – one of the busiest times of my clerical life. St Mary’s kept me grounded in daily Mass and Divine Office when my job could have been just diocesan business and travel. Not that this was not very interesting, but as bishops and archdeacons and other diocesan officials can testify, there are great dangers for a priest who has no church of his own. Although I was not the Vicar, St Mary’s was my home parish, and I have always been immensely grateful to Fr Bill Scott for sharing his ministry with me at that time.

This is why I was so pleased to hear of the formation of “The Friends of St Mary’s”, and joined up immediately.

One Response leave one →
  1. Michael Thompson permalink
    December 16, 2009

    Is there somewhere on their website that offers this?

    I am being characteristically dull no doubt but I cannot find anything about this excellent venture.

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