Special celebration for Trust’s chaplain – Father Philip celebrates half-century

A half-century of ordination to the priesthood was celebrated by Father Philip Gray at the weekend.

The vicar of St Mary’s, Mendlesham, for 45 years, he also serves as honorary chaplain to three church heritage charities.

Father Philip, who was ordained priest at Chelmsford Cathedral on September 21, 1969, is an honorary chaplain to the Norfolk Churches Trust and chaplain to the Round Tower Churches Society. He is a trustee and chaplain of the Friends of Friendless Churches.

After a special celebration lunch, he was invited to cut a fruit cake, which was decorated with icing images of three Norfolk churches, Beeston St Lawrence, complete with its round tower, St Peter, Great Walsingham and St Mary’s, Anmer.

The cake also featured icing showing a steam locomotive and four carriages of the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway, which runs from Brockford through part of the neighbouring parish of Wetheringsett.

Earlier almost 150 people had filled the Mid-Suffolk church for a sung mass on the feast of St Matthew. Family, friends and parishioners also celebrated another anniversary when on September 22, 1968 he was ordained deacon at St Mary the Virgin, Prittlewell, Essex.

Father Philip’s long career has included six years as curate of St Clement, Leigh-on-Sea until 1968 until moved to Mendlesham in 1974.

His five children, Peter, Catherine, Andrew, Rachel and Tom all took part in the service and Bishop of Richborough, the Rt Rev Norman Banks gave the sermon.

In a brief address to the congregation, Father Philip also thanked his wife, Anne, for her great support in his ministry and his work in the parish. He had specifically requested that no personal donations be made but gifts could be made to the Friends of St Mary’s Church. Adding that in cricketing terms, he was 50 not out, he hoped to continue his innings for as long as possible.

Then the entire company was invited to a hog roast lunch, which had been prepared by members of the parish.

It later emerged that the parish had clubbed together to give “a much loved friend and priest” an engraved glass decanter and also a special steam railway holiday break. And, it was revealed too that as a teenager while staying with his grandmother, he had visited the village in the 1950s in the days before electricity when the streets were cobbled and oil lamps light homes. He had declared that one day he would like to return to serve the parish – and a quarter of a century later, he came to Mendlesham as its priest.