Parish Letter – July 2024.

My dear friends,

I met a delightful Roman Catholic priest in Lourdes in May who told me that he realised God was calling him to be a priest as a young man when he went to help a drunken man whose false teeth had fallen out – it is a good story, and one I shall save for a future sermon. In my own case it wasn’t a dramatic moment, but rather something like a constantly dripping tap which I started to ‘hear’ aged about 16. In the end I had to do something about it, which meant summoning up the courage to talk to my Vicar. My mother later said she had known of my vocation to the priesthood when I had been a toddler. Eventually, after graduating and working in London to ‘test’ my vocation, I went to study at the theological college at Cuddesdon, just outside Oxford. I was ordained Deacon in 1988 and Priest in 1989 by Bishop Timothy Bavin in Portsmouth Cathedral. I have served in parishes in the Dioceses of Portsmouth, Leicester, Chelmsford and now Chichester.

On Tuesday 2 July at 7.00pm I shall celebrate a special Eucharist at St George’s Church, Crowhurst, to mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of my ordination to the Priesthood. The preacher will be the Bishop of Chichester and H.M. Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex will join us. There will be a retiring collection in aid of the work of the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group in Gaza. If you are free, I should be delighted to see you.

I am keen to stress, however, that this service is not really about anyone thanking me for thirty-five years of ministry – I have only tried to do my duty. Rather – and this is crucial – the service is all about my offering heartfelt thanks to Almighty God for the privilege of priestly service in His Church and for all the wonderful people I have met in parishes over the years.

Do please pray for the Church’s clergy. Being a priest is tougher than you might think because one encounters much pain and suffering, and sees more of the seamy and tragic side of human life than many people realise. Much of my work over the past thirty-five years has gone on largely unseen. And yet, even in the most stressful and challenging moments, I have found that there is much joy and gladness in ministry. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, other than to say it is about an awareness of being used by God – being a tiny cog in His big machine – to nourish and help His people. You have heard me say on Sundays that standing at the altar at the Eucharist and saying the prayer of consecration is awesome and deeply humbling as one realises just what one is doing. For me, the most moving part of the service is walking along the altar rail administering Holy Communion to the congregation. As I do so, I try briefly to recall something nice about each person before me, and as I give them the Sacrament, I thank God for each of them and commend them into His hands and safekeeping.

In your prayers, do please pray for an increase in vocations to the Sacred Ministry. The Church needs clergy to minister its Sacraments. In the coming years a lot of priests are due to retire. Offering oneself for ordination takes faith and courage. Do please pray for the people God is calling to serve Him, that they may find the faith and courage to respond.

With love and prayers,
Father Robert.