I recently turned 50, a time of reflection as to times past and what maybe to come. A week before this ‘significant’ anniversary, I went cycling with a friend in the Sussex countryside near Rye. It was something of a trip down memory lane, going around the area where we used to go on holiday as children.
The cottage where we used to stay, the village of Broad Oak and town of Rye all formed part of the tour. But perhaps the height of the trip was a visit to St Teresa’s of Lisieux Church at Horns Cross, Northiam. It is a little church built in the 1930s by the author Sheila Kaye- Smith, who together with her husband Theodore Penrose Fry lie buried in the graveyard.
As a family on holiday in the 1960s and 70s we used to go to the church every Sunday. On Thursdays, the then priest Canon Hopetoun Curry would come out in his allegro car to serve mass. There would often be five in the congregation, three of them being my Dad, who served, brother and myself.
In those days St Teresa’s was in something of a no man’s land served from St Andrews, Tenderden, which is in the Southwark Diocese, while the church is geographically in Arundel and Brighton.
This has now changed with St Teresa’s being served from nearby Battle in Arundel and Brighton diocese.
On the sunny day of our cycling trip we were sitting on a seat in the graveyard when the sacristan and her husband arrived. We chatted about the old days of Canon Curry, who served St Teresa’s for 50 years up to 1984. Other memories included Father John Hagreen, who succeeded Canon Currie and some of the families that had been around at the time. A lady called Edna Burton, who had been a friend of my Mums was buried in 2002 in the graveyard and had some new stations of the cross dedicated to her memory.
The most striking thing though on entering the Church was a link that had been made with Peru. There was one of the beautifully woven material clothes depicting Peruvian life on the altar. At the back were pictures of life on the barrios in Peru and the Columban priest Ed O’Connell, who I was told sometimes visits when he comes to England. There was a strong charitable and spiritual tie up between the people of the Lima barrios and those of St Teresa’s.
The significance for myself came because after leaving the University of Kent in 1983 I went into banking for a few years. It was mainly as a result of being involved with a group in my own parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in London that a link with Peru was established. The group known as the Association for Relief in Crisis Areas raised money to support projects in the south. The group also endeavoured to raise awareness as to the injustice of such situations.
One of the major projects was in Lima run by the Mercy sisters. In 1990s, two of us went out to Peru to see the project that involved supplying water and electricity to this barrio area. The Columbans were very supportative at that time, with Ed O’Connell playing a major role in the Peru Support Group. Ed later returned to the same barrios, where he ministers to this day.
The visit to Peru was life changing for me. While previously I had been content to work in the City of London, doing charitable work with some justice attached in the parish, now I wanted to work full time on social justice. The poverty of the barrios, combined with the spirit of the people had a lasting effect.
It took a couple of years from then to get out of the bank totally but eventually I moved over to social justice journalism and initially a lobbying support role for the non-governmental organisations on Cambodia, based at Christian Aid.
The whole reflection born of that day was just how the spirit works in mysterious ways. Going to St Teresa’s all those years ago. Then the growing involvement with social justice work in my own London parish, leading eventually to Peru. Then the return on the eve of the 50th birthday to St Teresa’s only to find that this church was now linked up to the same area of Peru. The fate element was added to, given that had we not taken a wrong turn at the start of the day and arrived an hour earlier at the church, we would never have met the couple or discovered the Peru connection. What a strange and small world we live in. The inter-connectedness of us all is something wonderful to behold. God certainly does works in mysterious ways