The life of a Catholic priest can be a disciplined and exacting one. We speak to the meditative Fr.Alex Angodage of the English Martyrs church in Tower Hill, about how a day spent in dedication to god typically unfolds and what it’s like to work in a place, ‘‘where the work never ends.’’
Fr.Alex, as he is fondly referred to, is a quiet, softly spoken man and has been the parish priest for the English Martyrs Church in Tower Hill for the last 4 years.
Having been ordained as a priest in Sri Lanka, Fr.Alex moved to Pakistan as a missionary before settling in the U.K., where he has made his home for the last 26 years.
We sit on wooden pews at the back of the church facing the skilfully carved altar. The grey light of the afternoon seeps in through the stained glass windows, dimly illuminating the churches richly furnished interior.
The interior of the building is marvellously decorated; filled with marble monuments, intricate mosaics, and a stained glass depiction of thirty-two Catholic martyrs, who died in the locality, grouped around Jesus Christ on the cross.
It is as beautiful a workplace as one could hope for, both inside and out. The church is a grade II listed building, built from 1873 to 1876, by Pugin & Pugin the Gothic architectural firm founded by Augustus Pugin who designed the interior of Westminster and built the Elizabeth Tower, wherein Big Ben resides.
What does your typical day look like?
‘’I get up in the morning at 6 o’clock. After that I get ready and say the morning prayers with Father Ray. Then I have breakfast at home, just next to the church.’’
‘’Breakfast is followed by private prayer at eleven and then Eucharistic Adoration at twelve until one.’’ [Eucharistic Adoration is a devotional practice where the consecrated blood and wine, seen as the body and blood of Jesus Christ by Catholics, is worshipped.]
‘’We then have Mass every weekday at 1 o’clock, it is usually over by 1:30 because people have to go back to work and get their lunch.’’
I then inquire as to whether he gets his lunch after mass as well, and he tells me that he does, jokingly warning me that mass had just finished and that it was rapidly approaching time for him to eat.
I took the hint and decided to speed up the pace of my questioning of the hungry Father Alex.
Having worked all morning, after lunch do you get some time to relax?
‘‘Noooo…’’ he responds resoundingly, relaxation a seemingly foreign concept to the tireless cleric. ‘’We get back to the working office where I have various appointments with people from the community and other activities going on.’’
Then you’re surely finished?
‘‘Then I finish work, but I still have some personal work to do usually. After finishing with that I get time, now that the weather is nice, to go for a little walk in the evening before bed. In a place like this the work never ends.’’
Do you enjoy your labour though?
‘‘Yeahhh.’’ He responds again emphatically.
‘‘I particularly enjoy reading the liturgy and meeting the people.’’
I can tell from his animation that he clearly finds spiritual fulfilment in his hard work.
‘‘Sometimes you come across difficulties though, but there’s not one specific thing which I find hard about my role.’’
What are your general responsibilities?
‘’Performing Mass, confession, sacraments, blessing the sick when they call us and praying for them, and also preparing the children to receive their first holy communion and confirmation. We just finished this week’s confirmation service about a week ago. Now we’re getting ready for the first holy communion which is coming up in June for the parish school.’’
What size is the congregation usually?
‘‘Before the pandemic the church would be full but now we still haven’t got back to the same level. It is still not in full swing but it is increasing gradually.’’
His church reflecting a post-Covid trend in Western society where congregation sizes have generally not recovered to pre-Covid rates.
Why do you think it is that less people are going to church since Covid?
‘‘Some elderly people are still scared and tourism hasn’t returned to full swing but people are gradually coming back. It depends on tourists in this area, because this area is more touristy than residential.’’
Are your parishioners usually from the local area?
‘‘Before moving here I was in Kilburn in West London, where we had a lot of Irish parishioners. Here it’s very mixed though, with people from all nationalities who are working in the city coming out to pray… this parish used to also be chiefly Irish when the docklands, where a lot of Irish people worked, were still in operation. Now the working people have moved out to be replaced by a different crowd, wealthier office workers and tourists. There aren’t many residential flats around the church these days, mainly just office blocks and hotels.’’
Do you like the area?:
‘’I like how multicultural London is, that you get people from all over the world here. It is an interesting area to work in. I meet a lot of people… business people, tourists local and foreign and also the people working here.
I enjoy walking along the Thames at night, getting exercise and seeing all of the historical places in Tower Hill.’’
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