The Parish of Saint Giles-in-Reading’s Memorial to the late Fr Michael Melrose
Three years ago, on 18 March, 2020, (Eve of the Solemnity of St Joseph), High Mass with blessing of the memorial tablet to Fr Michael Melrose, former Rector & Vicar of S Giles-in-Reading, was planned to take place. An array of priests with a link to the parish or to Fr Melrose were ready to attend, but our attempts were thwarted by the COVID pandemic. The memorial had been fixed to the wall of the Lady Chapel and there it stayed covered from sight until 20 March, 2023, the Feast of St Joseph this year.
Fr Melrose was inducted into the post of parish priest on the Eve of S Joseph 1994 at a difficult time for many of us in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Having been Chairman of Forward in Faith in Manchester, he was soon involved in setting up the Oxford Region branch of FiF and assumed the role of Chairman. He was proud to hold the title of Regional Dean for Oxford. Fr Melrose was also SSC Regional Vicar but above all he was a faithfully dedicated Parish Priest who wanted little more than to celebrate mass every day and tend his flock.
The Church of St Giles is an ancient one and has within its walls many fine memorial stones and tablets to former incumbents, notably one to Blessed John Eynon, one of the Reading Martyrs. So it is not only in keeping with the long tradition but wholly right that a new memorial stone, to a former much loved incumbent is now to be found in the church.
At the invitation of the current Rector & Vicar, Fr David Harris, Fr Charles Card-Reynolds agreed to preach the homily and bless the memorial which was designed by Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley and it was carved at the Cardozo Workshop in Cambridge.
Fr Melrose had few surviving relatives at the time of his death in 2009 and his executors, Sue Mott and Christopher Mott (also church officers at S Giles), undertook the preliminary work which allowed the monument to be completed and installed.
Michael Melrose was called into the chosen priestly life. His life became a memorial, a re-membering of the saving priestly life of Jesus. And so carved into the memorial are two symbols – a cross held within an eternal circle – a consecration cross, for ‘Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’ The symbol of the sacrificing nature of priesthood is shown by the Precious Blood of the chalice topped with the Host. Michael lived within the Great Tradition of being a sacrificing priest.
Fr Michael lead many of us to that saving mystery; by his sacrifice he brought us to make our sacrifice. Often we remember with love and gratitude those priests who allowed us to be ‘priest and people together’. The back and forth of the liturgical conversation becomes a reality of priesthood experienced.
The Eternal and Almighty God is the God of particularity. He chose St Joseph. He chose a moment in time to reveal the Holy Name. He chose Our Lady to be the mother of the Incarnate Word. Our faith is so often lived by God’s grace in a series of particularities – this is the particular church to which I belong we say, this is my parish, my community. He is my priest. That is what many of us could say of Michael Melrose. In his presence we knew we were in the presence of priesthood.
These truths of priesthood Fr Michael received, he believed them, his life was consecrated and set apart to serve them. It was a costly sacrificial witness. He was sometimes overlooked, discounted, dismissed. He was a sensitive and intellectual man. He was a very lovable combination of being a naughty worldling and other worldly. There was an attractive humanity and humour to him.
Fr Michael because of himself and despite himself lived within that sacrificing presence of Jesus the Saviour, Jesus the High Priest. It made him happy. It gave him a love for the Church and in particular this church and her people. He loved you and that drew from him wisdom and laughter. Michael James Gervase Melrose, priest, a sacrificing priest, your priest and one of many faithful priests of this sanctuary of St Giles. Eternal Rest grant unto him O Lord.
Fr Charles Card-Reynolds