The Reverend Christmas

The Reverend Alan Christmas was inducted to the living of All Saints’ in April 1961. He had trained for the ministry at Kings College, London and S. Boniface College, Warminster. He had latterly been Priest-Vicar at Southwark Cathedral and had also served with the South London Industrial Mission visiting factories and apprentice schools in the area between Battersea and Woolwich.

During his time as Incumbent much local news focused on the ‘South Wimbledon Plan’ – a vast undertaking which envisaged a completely new layout for seventy-one acres which would be transformed into a self-contained community costing seven million pounds and taking ten years to complete. All that would remain – should the scheme go ahead – were two pubs, All Saints’ Church, the Vicarage and the Connolly Leather Works.  Everything else would be demolished and re-built to provide housing for 1,500 families. In a long letter to the Wimbledon News Father Christmas expressed his feelings on a number of matters regarding the plans.  He felt that the scheme had been pushed on the area. It contained certain unacceptable proposals – including the demolition of the school – and he was determined that the suggestions and proposals made by the residents should be listened to and considered by the council.   “The difficulty in such a scheme,” he said, “is always to ‘sell’ or put over the facts in such a way that the people involved feel they have been considered, consulted and taken into the confidence of the planners.  The existing community spirit which exists in many of the roads needs to be kept.  The problem is how?  The character of the whole area will be changed, but thought must be given to the people who live here and the maintenance of such a community spirit. I write this letter out of concern for the lives and way of life of the people in this parish, and the need for the Church to take a lead in her concern for God’s people.” 

At the church Fr. Christmas announced his intention to sit outside for Gift Day in order to raise the profile of the parish, but during a stint on Haydons Road one Saturday in September he received only a pint of beer from a parishioner, an ice lolly from a small boy, but little cash – the final collections only amounting to £73.  The Vicar thought that the lack of a football match at Plough Lane was in part to blame as there were fewer people about!

New hymn tunes were to be practised one Sunday morning instead of the customary sermon and a new form of service was planned for the Parish Communion, beginning in October 1964.  There would be a crèche for the young children in the hall and then they would be brought in to sit with their parents at the offertory. Some of the other changes were not welcomed, and a long discussion on the service ensued shortly after its introduction.  The majority of the congregation objected to the use of an altar in the nave despite the fact that the Vicar felt himself ‘cut off’ at the High Altar.  As ever, a compromise was reached whereby the nave altar would only be used on the 1st Sunday of the month. 

The work of the church with the children was a high priority for the Vicar, and as the South Wimbledon Development Plan continued to be discussed, he called for play centres and a community centre for the lonely to be retained in the latest blueprint.   “Small gardens are alright,” he said, “but young children need the company of others of their own age.  With the roads getting busier and in our unsettled climate, covered play areas should be provided and supervised by qualified staff.”  He was also proposing to ask mothers for their opinions and, if they were in favour of his idea, intended to ask them for help in running it.  And he thought too of the older generation and those who experienced loneliness in their lives – needs that could be aided by the provision of a community centre.  “Loneliness,” he said, “is apparent not only among old folk, but in all age groups, from the newly-weds who have moved into a new area to the mother who has devoted herself to her family.  In our parish there are strong communities and excellent fellowship in every road.  Yet many are still lonely.”

In 1966 work was finally begun on restoring the bell tower, but although all the bells themselves were in good condition only one was to be rehung in order to minimise any future stress on the wall.  It was all ready by the end of April when the tower was dedicated by the Archdeacon of Kingston and the rope pulled for the first time by the Vicar. After eight years silence, the bell rang out again over the parish signalling the end of work that had cost some £4,000 – the majority of which had been met by the War Damage Commission.

Shortly afterwards Fr. Christmas announced that he would be leaving the parish that August. He had been at All Saints’ for five years and was now leaving to join the West Slough Group Ministry at the church of S. Michael and All Angels with the official title of Bishop of Oxford Industrial Chaplain, with special responsibilities in Slough.  “Life today is very much involved around industry,” he told the Wimbledon News.  “Christianity must play a part in one’s life in industry to help people with modern problems, but I will miss the friendly people in the parish and the children in the Church Schools.”

In August 1966, Father Christmas celebrated his last services at All Saints’.  In a farewell letter to his parishioners he extended an open invitation to anyone in the parish to visit him and his family in Slough.  “The best way anyone can say farewell and help us on our way,” he said, “is to join us on our last Sunday at the Parish Communion.  To be one in prayer and worship that day would be the best send off anyone could wish for.”  In recognition of his services to All Saints’ he was presented with cheques from the parish and the Infants School.  From the Junior School pupils he received a book and from the Girl Guides a ‘thank you’ badge for being their sponsor.  It is also recorded that Mrs. Christmas was given an umbrella – though the significance of this remains a mystery! 

The Reverend Alan Frederick Christmas died at Bracknell, Berkshire on May 17th 1987

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