Yesterday, 25 July was the 95th Anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of this present St. Stephen’s on the Cliffs Church
17 May two years later, 1927, the new church was consecrated. Fr Freshwater, ‘Freshie’ who had begun the parish in 1910, was the driving force.
The new building was to cost just over £20,000 in 1925, (Just over £1.2 million in today’s money. It was huge undertaking – even more so when you consider that when the foundation stone was laid, they had just over £4,000!
An appeal during the previous five years had not gone well. By February 1925 only £1,000 had been raised.
Nevertheless, the foundation stone was laid. Was that foolish? Probably.
History showed that in 1929 there was still a debt of £13,000. The debt, £7,000 then, over £220,000 in today’s money, was not finally paid off until 1951, a year after Fr Freshwater’s death in 1950.
So, what was it that drove Frank Bertram Freshwater and those he gathered round him, to act in a way that few of us would dare to do today?
We need to go back to our collect and gospel reading.
The Collect contains the petition
“Lord of all power and might,
who art the author and giver of all good things:
graft in our hearts the love of thy name,
increase in us true religion,”
44The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Quite simply, Freshie and his co-workers had found the Pearl of Great Price, they had found the Catholic expression of Christianity. They found it and loved it so much that they were determined that all in that community should be able to experience it and put it into practise and to make it the driving force in their lives. They had discovered a love of God’s Name that steered, drove even, their every action.
Throughout the history of the formation of, and early life of the parish it was that Anglo-Catholic expression of Christian Faith that was behind everything they did. The congregation was taught – in a robust way unlikely to find favour today(!) the importance of regular Holy Communion, of penance, of fasting. The importance of regular reading of the Bible and private prayer. They were taught also of the importance of sacrificial giving both financial and in terms of hard work. [As an aside I was amused to read how Freshie was not averse to using methods that would make us wince today – when fund raising, he would publish in the Magazine the names of those who had donated to a particular cause – and how much! In one letter I read, he named those on the PCC who had not given at all! In another he castigates some of his members for going away on Holiday for Holy Week and Easter. Perhaps I should try it!!]
Those early members of the Church on the Cliffs were determined that The Kingdom of God would be built in this place, and that a building fit for the proper Catholic worship of God would be built. Having found the pearl of great price, they were willing, like the merchant, to sell what they had to buy it. But they recognised too, the importance of proper Christian Stewardship. In November 1927 there was a terrific storm and fatal flooding in Fleetwood. Despite being in the midst of an appeal for funds the PCC decided unanimously to give to the disaster fund an entire Sunday’s collection.
95 years later we are in place of either great opportunity or great disaster. The COVID-19 pandemic has almost destroyed our Christian life as we have become used to it. Our finances are in ruin and our regular congregations greatly diminished.
What are we to do over the next two years? The pandemic WILL go away in the end. But what will be the legacy? Will we survive?
Many of you are here because you find here the Pearl of Great Price. You find here the Love of the Name of God. You find here the liturgy and music. You find here a fitting building where God can be praised in the way he should be.
Over the past two weeks I have preached on the theme of taking the Gospel message as it pertains to oneself rather than ‘the crowd.’ In other words, moving from ‘Someone should do something’, to I should do something.
If we are to even survive, let alone grow we need to make a choice, a community and a personal choice.
What shall we do over the next two years? What will YOU do? Will you just watch as the vision fades? Will you accept the worldly wisdom that the Church is finished?
Will you pray, really pray, even harder than ever? Will you, when you safely can, attend mass more often? Will you repent of and seek forgiveness for your sins? Will you fast in a meaningful way, of comfort & security?
Will you give of your money in a sacrificial way, a way that means you can no longer do something you would like to do?
In the next two years shall we building as 95 years ago, or shall we dismantle?
I’m for building. How about you?
And I won’t even put your names in the Magazine!