Spent a few days around London this week. It’s always a nice chance to meet a few people. I used the train more the past week than I have done in a long time. There’s no doubt it’s a great service. I was struck again by that phrase “mind the gap” that is announced with such frequency and urgency as the train approaches the platform. A reminder to all that there’s need for care as the step is taken from the train to the platform.
That image of “gap” remains with me and I realise again its potential to cause danger in friendships, relationships, family life and faith. If we don’t address the “gap” there’s a real risk that much of what is important in life falls between “the track and the platform” – the journey we’re on and where we stand. The gap, like track and platform, needs to be acknowledged.
During the week, I had the chance to bridge one gap! The year before I was ordained a priest, I spent a few weeks in the summer of 1986 in a parish in North London. It was called St Gabriel’s on the Holloway Road. I returned a few times after I was ordained for a quick visit but the priests I knew there moved to St Mellitus in Tollington Park and later, back home to Ireland, so my link with both these places ceased and “the gap” took its toll!
I visited some friends in Wapping on one of the days and planned on meeting two cousins later in the evening so in between I decided to bridge the gap:)
The Northern Line took me to Archway Tube Station and when I reached the street it all looked so different. I had to ask someone for the Holloway Road which was just around the corner. There used to be an old dance hall on the Holloway Road. It was called “The Gresham” and, I’ve no doubt, many’s a match was made there. It was directly opposite the church but not anymore. It wasn’t in use for many years but seems to have been totally replaced now. I’m not sure what stands where it stood but St Gabriel’s is there and I was happy to find it open and welcoming.
I really can’t say whether it has changed or not but I remember preaching there the first Saturday evening I went as a deacon. It was such an experience to look into this modern church, with the people in a sort of semi-circle before you and have the chance to speak to a congregation. At the time, it was a parish in the care of the Irish Chaplaincy and was a very “Irish parish” in many ways. I met many young people there and it was lovely to think they saw the parish as a place to meet others, share a bit of faith and go on their way. The priests there at the time were good men and worked hard to keep a link with the existing parish and the many Irish people who saw it as part of their landscape for a while.
My mother, God rest her, was coming out of Tubbercurry on the Monday or Tuesday after I went to St Gabriel’s and gave a lift to two young people who were thumbing. They told her they were going to Boyle and when she said she was going to Gurteen, they told her they’d met a priest from Gurteen at Mass the previous Saturday evening. Then they said “he wasn’t a priest he was a deacon”!! Needless to say my “proud” mother left them to Boyle:) A small but connected world.
There was a lady saying a few prayers in the church and as we left I spoke with her. I told her I’d been in St Gabriel’s for a while in the summer of 1986, when I was a deacon. She then asked the reassuring question “are you still a priest?” It’s a sign of the times I suppose when it can’t be assumed a person is still a priest! An understandable sign of course. I told her I am and she said she likes St Gabriel’s though it’s not her parish. We chatted for a little while and then she left. I wandered around for a while and tried to connect with that summer. I’m not sure it was a totally successful connection but I was glad to be there.
I looked at the Parish Bulletin and noticed the parish is now in the care of the Holy Ghost Order. The three priests attached to the parish are African – two of them born the same year as myself and the third a few years younger. Their photos are in the porch and they look like happy and good men. I’ve no doubt the parish is in good hands. The names of people involved in the various ministries told a story of a parish that has changed. I think I spotted one name that would have a loose connection with Ireland. All the others were African or Oriental. That’s not new. It was one of the lovely aspects of St Gabriel’s and a welcome eye-opener to me that there was such a variety of people and cultures there. That said, I thought the shift had changed and a new team of workers had taken to its task. The Irish Chaplaincy team had its opportunity to put a shape on a place and now these three men and their many helpers add another dimension. I wondered how many remembered the Irish priests that were there in the 80’s?
I was very pleased to be there again and many happy memories came back to me. I won’t leave it as long next time but for now, I’ve “minded the gap”.