As the clock struck noon, the choir began to sing the first line of the opening hymn. The huge congregation stood up and joined in: “Let us build a house where love can dwell….”
Sixteen priests and two deacons processed from the rear of the church. As they reached the sanctuary, the whole congregation sang the chorus with gusto: “All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”
We were in St Mary’s Church, Ipswich to celebrate 25 years of service from Fr John Warrington. It was a fitting hymn because as well as St Mary’s parishioners, many from Fr John’s previous parishes – Poringland, Peterborough, and Bury St Edmunds -had travelled.
On the sanctuary were his brother priests and deacons both locally and from across the diocese. The hearty singing “all are welcome’ focused too on Fr John, who had returned to St Mary’s – just for the day- from his programme of recuperation after a serious illness.
Canon David Bagstaff, Vicar General of the Diocese, who clearly knew Fr John very well, preached beautifully. In his homily he gave some insights into Fr John’s personal faith and spiritually: two Shrines of Our Lady are the backbone of his faith. One is Walsingham, in his native Norfolk. It had a deep influence on his vocation.
The other is Lourdes, which Fr John has visited every August since 1986 with the Diocesan Pilgrimage and Catholic Association Stage Group and at Easter since 2007 with the Handicapped Children’s Pilgrimage Trust alongside various groups in the diocese. He always goes as a roll-up-the-sleeves worker – putting his faith into practice.
After Mass, it seemed like the whole congregation retired to the Parish hall for refreshments – a delicious bring and share lunch was bolstered by authentic Indian curry and rice from the local Keralan community. It was a wonderfully happy and memorable afternoon during which Fr John was presented with a cheque and all raised their glasses and promised prayers for his continued recovery.
The final words came in a short tribute from a primary school pupil: “We love to see Fr John come to our school because he makes us laugh and he talks to us. Fr John come back soon, we love you.”
Pictured above is Fr John Warrington celebrating Mass and, above, cutting a silver jubilee cake.