Welcome to St John's

A friend and I started going to St. John's Walham Green in 1949 as young teenagers. Coming from a non-observant family, I found St John’s to be quite exotic. It was an example of the Anglo Catholic movement that began in the early twentieth century, though I knew nothing about that when I joined. The priest at the time, Father Harold Greaves, used to say that we were more Catholic than the Romans because we had every practice they did, but we had the Mass in the vernacular long before them. We also had Choral Mass, an all male choir including boy sopranos, incense and sanctus bells at the High Altar. We made individual confession to Father Greaves once a month before taking communion.
 
Entering the church in those days, the first things I always noticed were the constant aroma of incense and the beautiful light falling through the stained glass windows. Father Greaves loved ceremony, processions, great music. When the hymn in the hymn book for a feast day didn’t satisfy him, or there wasn’t one at all, he wrote one for us. They were stirring melodies! I remember the Feast of St John, the choir processing around, the thurifer energetically swinging the censer so that clouds of incense poured out,  the choir and the congregation singing “Sons of Thunder, called by Jesus!” On St George’s Day, another procession and his hymn, “England, my England!” I can hear them in my head even today, though I’ve forgotten most of the words. Totally entering this rich world, I abandoned the plain gold cross my father had given me when he went off to war in the 40s for a small gold crucifix bought from a Catholic Supply shop in Westminster.
 
Learning that I had been baptized hurriedly in hospital as a baby because I wasn’t expected to survive the night, Father Greaves insisted that I formally be admitted to the church. Later I was confirmed at St John’s, an ordeal made very scary by his practice of administering the preparations to each candidate in the vicarage. (He was a widower when I knew him, and lived in the vicarage in Dawes Road with a housekeeper to take care of the cooking and cleaning.)  I remember that stern face with the bushy eyebrows, thundering the question at me: “What was Christ’s most important work here on Earth?” I trembled, the consequences of getting it wrong seemed dreadful! Would I be cast out? (The answer, which I stumbled to – ordaining the disciples to carry on his teaching – was apparently the right one and I was accepted. )
 
It was fairly large congregation in those days. St John’s offered three services each Sunday, communion at 8 am, High Mass at 11 am (we didn’t take communion at that service except for Christmas Eve), and Evensong. Father Greaves was the sole priest the entire time I was there. A lot of work for just one man! He also kept up a full schedule of visiting sick parishioners and the shut-ins.  A thriving Sunday school for the younger ones met across North End Road in the Parish Hall; I taught a class for a year just before I went away to college. Every summer, St John’s hired a motorcoach and took the Sunday school children to the seaside for a day of fun. Fulham at the time was just recovering from the devastation of the Blitz, and for many children in the parish this one day was very precious.
 
II think the primary attraction for the teenagers to come to church was the youth club This was a real drawing card, for in the early 1950s there weren’t many opportunities for the youth to gather and enjoy themselves apart from going to the cinema. One night a week, St John's  provided a youth club – the "Boanerges," which we learned means "sons of thunder," the name Jesus called the brothers John and James. It was held in the church hall. We used to dance to records on an old gramophone, and drink tea, and the girls would huddle and talk about the boys. I don't know what the boys talked about, but I'd guess it was football. It was a very exciting thing for us to do, and since it was under the auspices of the church, parents usually didn’t object to this new idea. Since we didn't have much money in those days, that meant, for girls, mending runs in our stockings, and fancying up plain clothes by sewing colorful braid on them or adding fancy cuffs to an old coat.
 
Every now and then the church put on a jumble sale of donated items, things people had discarded but someone else might like. They were fun because you never knew what might turn up. Even better was the occasional a social where the ladies of the guild made refreshments, sandwiches and home-made cakes – truly special when you remember that wartime rationing didn’t end until 1954.
 
My most treasured memory of St John’s is of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I don’t remember if the electric lights were lowered, but in memory the church is filled with the blaze of candles. No Christmas trees in the nave, but holly and ivy garlands, and the very best music of the year. Afterwards, my girlfriend and would link arms and walk home down a deserted North End Road to our homes and the aroma of mince pies and sausage rolls and all kind of goodies for Christmas Day festivities.
 
In 1954, I went away to college to train as a teacher. By then, I was so formed by St John’s that I chose a Church of England women’s college, Bishop Otter College, in Chichester, and I’ve never regretted it. Father Greaves officiated at my wedding in 1957s, and then I moved overseas. 
 
Sheila Finch

WEEKLY AT ST JOHN'S

Sunday
8.30am Holy Communion (BCP)
10.30am Parish Mass (CW) with choir, Crèche and Sunday School
 
Monday
6.00pm Mass in the Weekday Chapel
6.30pm Parish Surgery for enquiries about banns of marriage, baptisms, house blessings, etc.
 
Tuesday
9.00am Holy Hour and Morning Prayer
9.30am Mass in the Weekday Chapel
11.00am Lunch Club activities
12.30pm Lunch Club dinner is served!
 
Wednesday
9.00am Holy Hour and Morning Prayer
9.30am Mass with Anointing of the Sick in the Weekday Chapel
   
Thursday  
11.00am Mass in Farm Lane Residential Centre monthly; see calendar for details
11.30am Latin Line Dance with Open Age H&F
2.30pm Mass in St John's CE School
   
Friday  
The church is open from 8am till late for prayer in the Weekday Chapel - come in and light a candle.
   
Saturday  
The church is open from 8am till late for prayer in the Weekday Chapel - come in and light a candle.
 
 
   

 

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St Johns Church, North End Rd, London SW6 1PB
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