On March 19, 1990, I became vicar of St Mary’s and team rector of Littlehampton and Wick. Sounds very grand, I thought, as the Bishop licensed me that evening; though I soon came down to earth when I got back to the vicarage and found I had been burgled.
During the service I was taken to various places in the church: the church door, the font, the altar; and the congregation was reminded of the significance of those places in the priest’s ministry: baptisms at the font; marriages, funerals, the celebration of the Eucharist at the altar; the priest’s ministry of teaching and reconciliation.
That evening I was also required to ring the church bell – a custom which, people say, indicates the number of years the new vicar will be staying. I rang the bell 18 times. Little did I, or they, think that I would be here for 28 years.
Thinking back to that service in 1990, as my time in Littlehampton draws to an end, I wondered how many services, baptisms, marriages and funerals I had taken.
Somewhere in the region of 10,000 services; and 576 baptisms, 110 weddings and 1,525 funerals. During the last 28 years God has touched the lives of many people through the Church’s ministry: day by day at St Mary’s where the Eucharist is celebrated every day of the year; and at significant moments in people’s lives: in the joy of marriage, as two people commit themselves to each other and ask God’s blessing on their new life together; at baptism, when a child – or someone not so young – becomes part of the family of Christ; in the sorrow of parting, when we commend a loved one to God’s care and ask his strength and comfort for those who mourn.
I am writing this on the day when we give thanks for the first English martyr, St Alban. He was a Roman soldier.
Towards the end of the third century he gave a place of safety to a priest who was being hunted down for no other reason than that he was a Christian. Inspired by the priest’s faith, Alban himself became a Christian; then he changed clothes with the priest and gave his life to save his fugitive friend.
A priest is called to lead his people as they bear witness to Christ. The word martyr means witness, though, unlike Alban and Christians in some parts of the world today, for most us that doesn’t involve great suffering.
There are times when that has been challenging. And so many times when, as I look back and think of the friends I have made here and the many acts of kindness I have received, there has been such great joy in serving God and his people.
I may be moving away, but there will continue to be a place in my heart and in my prayers for the people of Littlehampton.
• By Fr Roger Caswell, Vicar of St Mary’s, Littlehampton
Upcoming Littlehampton Churches Together events
• Jail Break – A Roger Jones Musical: the exciting story of Paul and Silas in Philippi (Acts 16) at All Saints Church, Wick, from Friday, July 13, to Sunday, July 15, at 7.30pm. Tickets £5, or £10 family, available online at www.allsaintswick.org.uk/JailBreak
• The Barn Choir Summer Concert takes place on Monday, July 16, at 7.30pm at the Franciscan Convent, East St, Littlehampton. Free entry but collection for the Sisters’ charities.
• Lyminster Church Summer Fete: Saturday, July 21, from midday to 4pm. Barbecue, bouncy castle, classic cars, traditional games and a raffle.
• Littlehampton Quakers coffee morning on Saturday, July 7, from 10.30am to midday at Friends Meeting House, Church Street, with proceeds going to the Meeting House redevelopment project. All welcome.
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