...in Whitstable. This enchanting little town on the Channel coast is famous for its oysters, and even in driving December rain its bright little shops and pleasant streets made it a joy to visit. I hadn't been expecting this: making plans to visit Fr Stephen Langridge at the new Vocations Centre for the diocese of Southwark I kept muttering about the inconvenience and the hassle of going all the way out of London. I was wrong. It was no hassle - train from Victoria, settled with some coffee and some correspondence, and a straight run through to Kent. And the new Vocations Centre is a welcoming place, all bright and attractive thanks to team efforts by young volunteers and generous gifts from various Southwark parishioners, and Fr Stephen showed me around with enthusiasm and quiet pride. It's also a busy place: see programme for the next months/year on the link given.
Southwark diocese is doing quite well for vocations to the priesthood at present - part of a general upward trend - but of course the Church needs more and more priests, and also dedicated religious Brothers and Sisters... and the key is not "recruitment" but evangelisation and helping young people to hear God's call and follow his call in life's great adventure.
I very much enjoyed my day: the Channel was grey and rainswept, the town cheery. Some of the buildings have a faintly French style, as happens along that stretch of the coast. There's a row going on at the moment as rents in the High Street may be raised, thus squeezing out local tradesmen, and that would be a ghastly blight as there are lots of real shops and it would be so dreary to have them replaces with the usual battery of starbuckstescocaffenero.
Fr Stephen is busy, but took time to catch up on news and views over lunch. A happy day. Train back to Victoria, quick cup of tea at the station, and then I joined a grand team from St Joseph's Roehampton, who were gathering on the main concourse to sing carols. It was magnificent! We do it every year - three hearty cheers to Yvonne who organises it all - and this year it was somehow even better than ever before. We have some lovely Sisters with musical instruments to lead us, and we sing and sing - the sound fills the whole station, right across the whole concourse, and the choir is a cheery sight as some don bright Santa Claus hats (Yvonne again) and we have proper carol sheets, and we are formed up properly as a choir (not a bleak little embarrased circle, or a spread-out straggly group, which minimises the sound). People stop and thank us, donate money, join in the singing, take photographs. We started at 5pm, and at 6 o'clock during a split-second break between one carol and the next, Father said "It's six o'clock - how about the Angelus?" and we said it all aloud, then and there...possibly the first time that this great prayer has been prayed aloud on one of Britain's main railway stations. Then we started singing again, and finished on the dot of 7pm when our allotted time was up (you have a licence, and wear badges etc). Then I asked Father if he's give us all a blessing, which he did, precided by a beautiful prayer, and finishing with a hearty "Praised be Jesus Christ!" and then Yvonne offered coffee and bikkies and there was chat and Christmas greetings and we'll all definitely be back again next year. "It's a highlight of my Christmas!" said one lady, and I agree.
I somehow sensed, this year, that there was an extra strength and meaning to our singing - people seemed especially grateful, there was noticeable enthusiasm when we sang the carols that have a "Gloria in excelsis" chorus, or when we sang other old favourites such as "O come all ye faithful" and "Away in a manger"...
I am the conductor - much vigour and waving of arms - and at one stage, I urged everyone on with "Let's dedicate this next carol as a prayer to defend marriage, and pray for David Cameron!" and this got 100% support and much enthusiasm.