As I am writing this article, I am just recovering from the Walsingham National Festival, this year held on the early May Bank Holiday. As usual it was the wonderfully uplifting event it always is with the added joy of being the first one for three years! It was great to meet up once again with colleagues from all over the country as well as some Walsingham locals.
The one thing that has not changed is the length of the journey! On the way there you are sustained by the knowledge that when you get there everything is going to be just marvellous and you will soon be immersed into the deep spirituality of the shrine. The journey back always seems longer, and like many an excited holiday maker all of a sudden the County sign pops into sight “Welcome to Devon”, the trouble is that I live at the other end of the county so there are still miles to go, because situated on the eastern side of the River Tamar and before you cross into Cornwall and the Diocese of Truro you’ll find Plymouth.
Plymouth has a fine heritage in the story of the Catholic movement in the Church of England and we are determined to ensure that that heritage continues. The thread which can be clearly seen throughout that history is the emphasis on social action and a eucharistic based spirituality, from the days Lydia Sellon and the Devonport Sisters to our present-day projects. It is always good to see the regular inclusion of Ebbsfleet parishes in diocesan press and social media releases which talk about the action being taken by parishes and groups in Plymouth.
Last August Plymouth hit the news headlines for all the wrong reasons, when a troubled individual took a gun and killed his own mother and four others including a 3 year old girl before turning the gun on himself. Our churches were quick to react, with St Thomas’, Keyham, an Ebbsfleet parish opening for prayer, free refreshments and a listening ear and yes, a message of Christian hope, just hours after the terrible events. In the evening of the following day an open-air requiem mass took place with people from all parts of the local community. What we learnt from that terrible time is that our parish churches are important in such an emergency, and traditional parishes are always equipped for such events. We had candles and resources for prayers for the dead, we were able to provide a place of prayer (a place of entertainment was not needed!), and most importantly we had the liturgical resources to hand for such an occasion because that is our tradition.
The aftermath of the shootings in Plymouth and the general situation in Plymouth has led to thoughts of creating a Centre of Mission in the Keyham area of Plymouth. Hopefully in partnership with several groups including the Diocese of Exeter, Church Army and one of the Catholic Societies we can make this a reality. The Centre of Mission will have at it’s heart the creation of new eucharistic community, rather than many of the other projects we see and hear of which seems to gauge success purely on numbers.
In times of emergencies whether it was the Cholera outbreak of 1849, the shootings of 2021 or the cost of living crisis of our present times, the Ebbsfleet parishes in Plymouth are here, everyday serving God and serving his people!
Ps. We are here for holidaymakers also, so if you are more than an hour from the “Welcome to Devon” sign, you’re in our “patch” and we would love to see you.
Fr David Way SSC, Bishops Representative, Archdeaconry of Plymouth