Chris Brice presided at his last Sunday service at the glorious Grade 1-listed St Martin's, Gospel Oak today. He's retiring this week after more than a decade as the vicar of this north London parish. And I was one of a congregation of, I'd guess, 250 who came together to wish him well. The service lasted two hours what with all the gifts and tributes, and the Rev Chris's own numerous speeches, declarations and asides - oh, and a fairly full-on sermon which seemed to be unyielding in its theology (about Christianity being the truth, which I suppose means that every other religion or belief system is in error).
I should be able to work out what Chris Brice's tradition within the C of E is, but I can't quite place it. It's not standard Anglo-Catholic (no cassocks, incense, and he's not a Father), but nor is it happy-clappy evangelical either. It does take liturgy and ritual seriously - the doxology got a mention on today's order of service (look it up for yourself!)
Chris himself has worked his personal magic on a difficult parish - this is not the Heath-side part of Gospel Oak, but the bit surrounded by a fairly tough post-war housing estate. He's brought compassion and service to his calling. He also presided over the successful application for funds, and then the building work, which saw all the towers and turrets on this crazy, fairy-tale mid-Victorian church restored to their full glory. And he was the incumbent too at the 150th anniversary service a couple of years back, which benefited from his sense of occasion.
St Martin's will miss Chris - and I am fairly sure Chris will miss St Martin's. I am a resolute non-believer, but this was a church I was happy to go to from time-to-time. I was once even prevailed upon to read the lesson - which says something about the vicar's powers of persuasion.
Take care, Chris!
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