Saturday, June 21, 2008

A memorable missionary celebration

A visit to Streatham Parish Church today to join the celebration of the fortieth anniversary of priesthood and marriage of my friend Patrick Rosheuvel with whom I worked and often sang in the days when we were both USPG Area Secretaries twenty years ago.

Patrick and his brother Terrence, born in Guyana both trained for ministry together at Codrington College in Barbados, and were ordained deacon there before being sent home for ordination to the priesthood, to undertake work that embraced both town and country mission stations deep in the rain forest, all within the same parish. Patrick gave one of our Lent lectures five years ago when he was still Chaplain of Brixton prison.

The Bishop of Southwark, Tom Butler preached. Patrick and Terrence concelebrated the Eucharist. After several years working between the multi racial towns, and jungle mission stations with nomadic amerindians as parishioners, Terrence went to New Jersey in the USA to minister among afro-Caribbean immigrants there, and Patrick came to England, to a different sort of curacy at Worksop Priory in mining country.

It was after this that he and I met in USPG and made music together, telling stories about the world church and singing songs which Patrick, a gifted composer, had written. Nearly forty years as a missionary priest, then just as he was about to retire, Patrick had a stroke which left him paralysed down his right side, rendering him virtually speechless, and dependent totally on others. Such a blow, to such a gifted pastor.

Bishop Tom said how much there was to give thanks for in their forty years of ministry but instead of referring to Patrick's stroke as a tragedy over which to sympathise, he said that in many ways now was the most outstanding period of his fruitful priestly life. And all those present knew and understood what he meant.

Smartly dressed, Patrick had greeted us as we arrived at church from his wheelchair, accompanied by his wife Judith. He was radiant with smiles, embracing everyone with his one good arm, filling the air with his characteristic laugh and whoops of joy and delight to see his friends again. His usual old uninhibited self shone out from his broken body - spirit unbroken, joyful as he ever was, welcoming the world to come and worship.

The Eucharist was a lively catholic celebration accompanied partly by a string quartet and a horn player, with a dozen priests surrounding the bishop - women and men, black and white - with the two Rosheuvel boys leading from the altar, supported by their Vicar. Patrick, fully vested was able to stand for periods alongside his brother, and join in with actions and say such words and phrases as he could master in unison with his brother.

It was too much for him to distribute communion, but his place was taken by a Guyanese woman priest who had been a young girl in Patrick's congregation when he was first a curate. What a journey that represented for both of them. Guyana forty years ago was still a tough call served by celibate missionaries - priests of zeal and integrity who awakened faith in people and places that surprised even them.

It was such an outstanding witness to the Gospel that someone as handicapped as Patrick could be the centre of attention with full dignity as the priest gathering people to worship, this being taken in stride by all who made it happen. Two brothers, priests sharing and united in active prayer, overcoming the practical challenges of the moment with ease, because for them Christ was the centre of attention, not them.

Patrick has been robbed of some of his gifts by his stroke, but in his weakness, God's love shines from him, stronger than ever. And not least, because of the love of his nearest and dearest, determined to give back to him what they've received from him. There's not much he hasn't experienced, when it comes to racism, sexism, power games in the church and in public institutions - now physical powerlessness.

The burden of the Cross to be carried can take many shapes. But he has learned to accept everything with love and laughter, and with joy to say 'Yes' to everything God throws at him, convinced there is going to be a blessing in there for others somewhere. Such faith, from an individual set in a faithful community was a real inspiration.

It was good to meet up again with a couple of former USPG Area Secretary colleagues in the feast that followed (curry goat, rice 'n peas, taking me down gastronomic memory lane to my days in St Paul's Bristol). As is customary at such re-unions, we lamented at the down-sizing of The Society from the way it was when we remembered it thirty years ago. It's still doing a good job channelling funds to third world churches, and publicising this in a credible way. While there is still a modest sized team of 'mission advisors' maintaining the links around UK, it's not quite the same as when the Home Team had something of a missionary role on its own doorstep. People like Patrick, early practitioners of 'mission in reverse' were fine examples of this. I'm proud to have worked with him.

1 comment:

acmassiah said...

Patrick was a dear friend. I met him whilst I was undertaking research at Brixton prison towards my Masters in Sociology and we kept in touch since then. I was also at this anniversary service, and found it quite moving.

Sadly, I am now to attend his funeral on Tues 3 March. My heartfelt sympathy to his family and all who called him friend.