Parish of St Matthew the Apostle,
Douglas, Isle of Man
I am writing to you just before we celebrate our Feast Day for St Matthew. I think of our Church there on the quayside; its congregation is the oldest congregation in Douglas. Bishop Wilson was our benefactor, and he raised the money to build old St. Matthew’s. The large window at the back of Church looks out on the inner harbour, and at the centre of that huge window there is placed the figure of St Matthew. His face is taken from that well-known portrait of Bishop Thomas Wilson. He gazes down the aisle towards the High Altar.
The East End is dominated by a splendid reredos. Above it we see some of the finest stained glass on the Island. I will come back to that later, as I want to say a few words about the donor of the reredos. The donor was a wealthy man, and as our Island’s Attorney General, a clever man who was a generous. He also knew that St Matthew’s was home to many different people from all sorts of homes and different families. Father Taggart insisted that there should be no pews, and only chairs. That was to stop people buying their seat in the Church. All the seats were free, and there was no distinction between those who had wealth, and those for whom making ends meet seemed always to be a constant battle.
What will be future of St Matthew’s with a new Bishop and a new parish Priest in Father Tom? I wonder if there will be many changes? I hope there will be measured change, well-rooted in a return to the Gospel message of Christ’s Life. There is a danger in change just as there is in standing still where we are. If we stand still for too long then we will have little of the Gospel to hand on to the generation that is coming after us. However we need to be very careful not to fall into strategies, and ministry that does not begin with the human contact, and a human contact that is fortified with that contact with God that comes in prayer before the Altar. The Mass is our Holy Communion with the Divine that lives in us all. We are not born to be creatures blown about with the secular world and its fashionable thoughts of the age. Our life comes from a Rock that is Christ, and his presence is gifted to us in prayer, and carried out into our daily living.
The mission of the Church needs to meet the present age, and it can only work if it has its eye firmly fixed on the prophetic message that God gives in every age.
It is the prophetic message of Saint John the Baptist that brought Jesus to go down with His Baptist Cousin into those challenging waters of repentance. It was then that people were told how to repent, how to turn their lives around, how to love themselves and their neighbours as themselves. Then the Mission can begin because there is something to say. And how long has it been since the Church has had anything that has shaken this world?
We used to teach in our Church Schools, give people a religious sense. We used to look after the poor, tend to the sick, and so many good works. However, the State has taken so much of this from us. We can only hope and pray that our only Church School will survive its removal from being alongside St Thomas’ Church. Christian education is the foundation and heart of Christian living, at home, in school and before God’s Altar.
I wish we had a school at St Matthew’s!
With my best wishes Fr Robert