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Fr Jones Returns to St Mary's Church

By Brian Robjohn
Saturday 15th August 2009

At least it was a dry day, very windy, but dry.

Having parked the car well away from the foot of the hill of St Mary’s, I walked the last two hundred metres and rounding the corner, I saw immediately that ‘something’ was happening. Balloons festooned St Mary’s gate, which itself was open.

Fr Jones reunited with St Marys.
Whilst not expecting there to be a huge number of people at the gate, it was disappointing to see so few, perhaps four or five and none that I recognised. On getting closer however, I realised that I did recognise one of that small gathering; clearly it was Fr Victor Jones.

I had worked with Fr. Jones’ photograph several times for the different magazine articles I had written, and there really was no hiding those distinctive angular features of his.

Introducing myself, I had the strangest feeling that I actually knew him. Perhaps the raised profile of St Mary’s over the last 12 months and hearing so much of his lead in the reconstruction led me feel that I knew a lot about Fr Jones. Then of course there were also the many conversations with those who had known him and were always pleased to speak about their experiences of the time.

As an aside, wouldn’t it have been lovely if Joe Barry was still with us? I’m sure that that day would have been so much the richer if he had been there to share it. What tales would have been exchanged!

After the briefest of conversations, I made my way up the hill, which I am sure has got considerably steeper since I walked it last, finding St Mary’s buzzing with activity. There were many there from our own congregations, but equally there were many who were part of the life of the Parish and St Mary’s of the late 1950s/early 1960s.

The Friends of St Mary’s had prepared things well, with a suitable banner to welcome Fr Jones, and ‘Communities First’ organised the gazebo for the most welcome provision of warming tea and drinks for the children. The grounds of St Mary’s had also been made a little less hostile by the hacking back of the encroaching undergrowth. It was clear that an effort had been made to welcome back the person that had breathed new life into the site and structure of St Mary’s.

At last Fr Jones arrived at the top of the hill; he walked towards the gate of the church grounds almost unnoticed. It seemed that history was alive and was being re-created by all those gathered there together, everyone totally wrapped up in their shared experiences.

He stood there quietly focused, beyond the faces, onto the bricks and the mortar before him. It was some minutes before he continued his walk into the grounds. I imagine he must have had very mixed feelings, being at the site of all his efforts and aspirations; memories of the success of completion, yet seeing it once again, in a state or disrepair and almost razed once more to ground level.

In his brief talk about those days of rebuilding and renewal, there was no hint of disappointment at seeing the destruction around about him, yet he must have felt it very deeply. Pointing precisely to a spot in the Chancel, he explained, “It was there that it all began,” the moment when he and Charles Jewell had knelt in prayer at the wrought iron altar rail.

After some little time, he recalled that he had said to his companion, “Charles, I’m going to rebuild this place! Are you with me?” The answer he received was in the affirmative; the project had begun!

Looking around him, he then pointed to the masonry at the corner of the chancel close to where he was standing and told us that they were the very first bricks that he had laid. Movingly, he said, “I know each of these bricks, individually, because I laid them!”

This was just the beginning of a long and interesting story in its own right.

Throughout his visit to St Mary’s, there was no hint of sadness at the physical reality of the Church and grounds, but a real and genuine interest in meeting and talking to his ex-parishioners, not to forget the now mature ‘Boy Scouts’ and ex-Sunday School children. Clearly he was trying so hard to put faces, names and events into context aided by prompting to assist his recollection. There was no disguising the real interest and joy that he displayed as stories unfolded and memories prompted and shared.

It was quite astonishing what Fr Jones was actually able to recall. He was often heard to enquire after the family of a questioner, by name, asking after the health and fortunes of others who were not with us and keenly interested in their response.

In conclusion, it must be said that this really was a very special event; joyful certainly, memorable, definitely! It was made all the more exceptional by meeting and talking to the man who, challenged by the Holy Spirit, took on the momentous task of rebuilding the 18th Century Church. Without recourse to industrial tools, workforce or methods, that ancient place was transformed into a living and worshipping Church.

Fr Jones reminded us that by trade he was a carpenter, looking heavenward, he reminded us of another carpenter. He then made clear that the work that he had started and completed was only achieved by the grace of God, through his Son, Jesus Christ.

It is humbling to meet someone of such huge faith, yet simple trust, rising to the challenge of rebuilding such a Holy Place. The story of St Mary’s Church is evidence of a Living Faith and the part played by Fr Victor Jones is truly inspirational and should never be forgotten.