Jonathan Baker celebrates the 160th Anniversary of All Saints Notting Hill
Brothers and sisters, what a constellation of reasons for rejoicing are presented to us today. First of all, of course, comes the seventh of the eight days of the Easter Octave, eight days of the celebration of the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, eight days with, liturgically, the character of one great day. (Let me note in passing how fitting it is that Prince Philip, the servant of an heavenly as well as an earthly Monarch, should have gone to his rest during this Week of Weeks.) Everything else, all the other reasons why we are here this morning, flow from this premise, that Christ is Risen, that we are an Easter people, that we can say with the psalmist, This day was made by the Lord, we rejoice and are glad. We are here because, like Peter and John in our second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we are ‘associates,’ companions, of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead; and we are to do as they did, we are to go on ‘proclaiming what we have seen and heard,’ handing on the Easter Gospel afresh in our own generation.
Second, we are here to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the consecration of this church, dedicated to God in the name of all the Saints – the Saints being those in whom the resurrection life has so taken hold, that the Church can profess with confidence that they enjoy the vision of God in the heavenly Jerusalem. Now there is not time this morning for this sermon to become a history of this parish from its origins to the present day – we look forward to Fr Davage’s forthcoming publication for that – but I cannot resist noting what the parish website tells us, I assume reliably, that when the first attempts to establish a church here failed, and before the church and parish were successfully inaugurated in 1861, the abandoned church building became known locally as ‘All Sinners in the Mud’ – this part of north Kensington being, fatally for the original project, marshy ground. All Sinners into All Saints – well, there is a parable for the Christian life if ever there was one. The saints of ‘All Saints’ are not just those whose names have been enrolled into the calendars of the churches; they are all those, known and unknown, whose lives have been transformed by grace, by the power of Christ’s resurrection; and in another, biblical, and complementary use of the term, they are all of us, all the baptised, in whom Christ’s redeeming work has begun, though yet it remains uncompleted. The saints in Corinth, the saints in Rome, you, dear brothers and sisters, the saints in Notting Hill.
It is deeply fitting that we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of this church in the Octave of Easter. When King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem was profaned during the reign of the Roman vassal king Antiochus Epiphanes, there was a period of mourning and cleansing which concluded with the rededication of the altar of sacrifice eight days later. Octaves, in Christian worship, take their origins, partly, from this event in history, as well of course from the cosmic conception of the Eighth Day as the day of the new creation, the first day of the week. And for we Christians, the rededicated and restored Temple is of course the body of the risen Lord Jesus Himself, and the place of sacrifice is the Cross, memorialised and made present by the altars (the primary symbol of Christ) in our churches, and by the eucharistic sacrifice offered upon each of them.
To preside at the sacramental sacrifice at the altar of the new covenant, to speak in Christ’s name and to perform the actions He performed, the Church calls some to be priests. That brings us to the third cause of our joy this morning. We are here to mark a new and significant moment in the ministry of one particular priest – and therefore a similar moment in the life of this parish and congregation. Fr Philip Corbett comes to be instituted and installed as the 10th Parish Priest of All Saints, Notting Hill, and he follows in the footsteps of a number of distinguished predecessors who have served faithfully in this place. Father does not come untested! You, the parishioners of All Saints, have been able to road test the product before completing the purchase, as Fr Corbett has been the Priest-in-Charge here since July 2019. Father, both here and at St Michael’s, Ladbroke Grove, next door, you have shown the leadership, commitment and creativity that all involved in your appointment were confident that you would do, not least of course through the year of coronavirus which none could have predicted when you were licensed back in the summer of 2019. It is with further confidence, therefore, that we come to this important moment of institution and installation today, and, together with all the people of this parish, you can look to the future with confidence too.
A critical part in today’s proceedings belongs, of course, to the Patron of this living, the Society for the Maintenance of the Faith, represented today by its new President, Dr Colin Podmore, whom we congratulate on his appointment – another worthy successor in a distinguished line of those who have held that office, if I may say so. The relationship between bishops and private patrons can be a complex one, and I am something of a poacher turned gamekeeper, or perhaps it’s the other way around, in this regard. It is an uncomplicated delight to be working in partnership with the SMF today, and not just because it is this particular Patron with whom I am working. Private patronage, like the place of hereditary peers in the House of Lords, is a feature of life which seems to exist always under the proverbial sword of Damocles. I am going to add to our reasons to rejoice the visible exercise of the rights of patronage at this service.
A new Vicar then for this parish of All Saints. And what a parish! What an inheritance, Fr Philip, for you to receive into your care and take forward. As we look around this church, we see a vibrant, lively community at worship, rich in diversity (look at all the flags!) Some, some even in the Church of England, might have a view of parishes in the catholic tradition, sustained by the mass and the other sacraments of the Church, offering that liturgical worship which makes present that new Temple which is the risen Christ – and their view might be that such parishes have smaller, probably declining, perhaps even moribund congregations, incapable of relating to their local communities, and probably doomed to extinction with in a generation. Let such doomsters come to All Saints and see what it means to live out the catholic faith in worship and sacrament and through deep engagement with the parish and all its people1. Truly, this place fulfils the vision of the prophet Ezekiel2: a temple from which life-giving and healing waters flow. Of course, there is no space for even a moment of complacency, and I know Fr Philip well enough to be confident that he will not indulge in a single such moment. There is a great deal to be done, and, to paraphrase our longest serving Prime Minister of the modern era, the work starts today.
All Saints has long embraced and embodied the fullness of the catholic faith as received by the Church of England. At an earlier rededication service, that presided over by Fr Twisaday in 1951 marking the re-opening after the destruction wrought here in the Second World War, protestants demonstrated against the fixtures and furnishings which he had installed and the triumphantly catholic ethos for which the parish unashamedly stood. That catholic faith, that catholic ethos surely is the future here as well as the past, and no doubt it will have to be fought for in the future as in the past. Yet that catholic faith will prevail, will flourish – because we are confident that it is the fullest and most faithful expression, and continuation, of the faith of the apostles, of the faith of the earliest witnesses to the resurrection, whose successors we are. I believe, Fr Philip believes, people of All Saints, you believe, that this faith is what brings people to Jesus Christ, and so brings them, pray God, to heaven. I referred earlier to the history of this parish as found on your website and I end with another brief quotation I found there, this time from an account of the incumbency of Fr Leary, in the years when the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth. Then it was said of All Saints, Notting Hill that it was a place where people found ‘the solution of their travails in penitence and in receiving new hope and joy through conversion to the catholic life.’ May that be said of this church today, 160 years hence, and always.
The Rt Revd Jonathan Baker is the Bishop of Fulham. This sermon was preached at All Saints Notting Hill, on Easter Saturday, 10th April 2021 at a Mass which marked the 160th Anniversary of the Consecration of the Church, and at which Fr Philip Corbett SSc was inducted as Vicar.
1 Contributions from parishioners and local community leaders after mass provided ample evidence of the work of the parish in providing a foodbank, in ministering in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, and in numerous other ways
2 The first reading at mass was composed of verses from Ezekiel chapter 47