Journeying Together - in God's Love

Very early on in our conversations about how we might celebrate 950 years of worship and witness at St Michael the Archangel in Southampton’s Old Town, we realised that the ‘journey motif’ was key. The people who began to build St Michael’s were Normans, who had journeyed to England. Southampton is a place where journeys sometimes begin, sometimes end; certainly where people are en route – on a journey – to another destination. 

Students may come to acquire knowledge or skills, then journey on. St Michael’s is blessed in term time with a choir of choral scholars from the University of Southampton (and Cantores Michaelis marks its 20th anniversary in 2020). Mariners sail the seven seas to come, and then journey on. Of course 2020 not only marks the 950th anniversary of St Michael’s founding, it also marks the 400th anniversary of a voyage whose consequences could never have been foreseen by those on board the Mayflower. And it is certainly possible that those on board who were not Dissenters may well have worshipped at St Michael’s. 

One of the ironies of the Mayflower anniversary is that while some of those on board the vessel were leaving England seeking religious freedom, Southampton was a place to which others came in search of religious freedom. St Michael’s is on the edge of the French quarter, so called in part because of the Huguenot refugees who fled persecution in their homeland and settled there. And refugees have continued to seek freedom in Southampton over the subsequent centuries. 

I am writing this in the week of the 75th anniversary of the D Day landings. For the thousands of soldiers who embarked from Southampton St Michael’s Church will have been one of the last landmarks they will have seen [Holyrood having been destroyed in 1940] before leaving Blighty. 

If the stones of St Michael’s could speak, what tales they could tell. The woolmark in the window near the Lady Chapel reminds us of the wool export trade which flourished. Yet if prosperity came by the high seas, so also did raiders. And the bloodshed of one of those French raids spilled over into killing in the church. 

The journey had ‘stuttered’, had come to a violent end? Could it go on? The answer was – yes, after re-consecration. 

Astonishingly, it wasn’t murderous raiders who threatened to terminate the journey of the church in the late twentieth century, but rather fellow Christians who sought to close St Michael’s. We are deeply grateful that this was resisted by the Diocese of Winchester. The doors remained open; services continued and continue – thanks be to God! 

The journey of St Michael’s has yet untold chapters. In 2018 we joined the Community of the Cross of Nails, a dispersed worldwide community based on Coventry Cathedral, seeking reconciliation. Unexpectedly, links have been developing with both St Petersburg and Minsk – with long journeys bringing musicians to us; one a secular choir, the other a monastery choir. 

St Michael’s was built to honour and worship and serve God. We are deeply conscious of the amazing heritage of which we are heirs – but it only really makes sense to us if the whole of St Michael’s journey is seen as a response to God’s love. So our goal as a congregation – welcoming whoever comes with us – is ‘journeying together in God’s love’. 

You are welcome to join us for any or all of the amazing events

Just in case you miss it in the small print: our celebrations of 950 years begin at the start of the church’s new year – Advent Sunday 2019. We are delighted that the Bishop of Southampton will be joining us. If that weren’t highlight enough, we will be giving the world premiere to a hymn specially commissioned from the distinguished Anglican hymn-writer, Christopher Idle. Don’t miss it! 

My enormous thanks to all who have dreamed and planned and worked to facilitate this, especially our Director of Music Keith Davis. 

Fr David Deboys Vicar St Michael the Archangel