In a town near here there is a little wooden Church, a quiet suburban parish which is now part of a larger parish, though for a long time it was a parish in its own right. It is the little Church of Saint Paul and for many, many years, this was my home parish. A couple of days ago I learned that the little Church is now to close, with a final Mass taking place in a few weeks time, which I will attend.
St Paul’s Parish was in one of the housing estates of the town, and not – in those days, at least – one of the better ones. But it was home. That little Church was home. I visited the Church a couple of months ago for the funeral of a friend and neighbour, which is when I took the photograph above; I was struck that other than a few minor cosmetic upgrades, the place remained essentially unchanged compared to how it looked at the beginning of the 1980s. The statues, the pictures, the colours were all as they had always been, though the building itself had clearly suffered to some degree with the passing of the years and it now looked tired, rather alike a favourite coat which is past it’s best but which, despite this, you still keep.
For so many years, I went to the Sunday evening Mass and even now, I can easily picture the faces of all the people who were there too, as though they were with me here in this very moment. Our house was two minutes walk from the Church and I must have made that walk thousands of times across those years. Confession was on Saturday mornings, before the Mass. From time to time we had various novenas and other devotions, and there was a little side room where there used to be a small Eucharistic Chapel at various points. Services there were generally simple, as the parish itself was, but lovely. And for some years, I served there as an altar server, before moving away to college.
There were also the very specific occasions which I recall with great clarity, such as the funeral of my mother, and which I think of every time I go there to that little Church. And the funerals of other close relatives, my grandmother and aunts and uncles, who all lived very near us in those days. There was also my own Confirmation, which took place there, such a long time ago now. Events like these give a Church a certain place in the heart.
I understand all the reasons for why this little Church has to close – the state of the building itself, first and foremost, but also the declining use in terms of numbers of people who actually attend there these days; and in this latter point, I suspect St Paul’s shares something in common with many other places.
And so the date of the final, closing, Mass has been published and I will be there that day, no doubt filled with an intense sense of nostalgia, and with a heart full of memories of days and people past and long gone.