The Reverend John Hall

Fr. John Hall was born on 13th March 1949. He was educated at St Dunstan’s College, Catford and St Chad’s College, University of Durham (BA). Following two years as a teacher he studied for ordination at Cuddesdon Theological College, Oxford. Previously Curate at S. John the Divine, Kennington, on All Saints’ Day 1978 Father John Hall was inducted as Priest-in-Charge at All Saints’ by the Lord Bishop of Southwark. The ceremony attracted hundreds of people from all over South London and filled the church. The Borough was represented by the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress of Merton – Councillor Harry Cowd & Mrs. Una Cowd. Also in attendance were the Mayor and Mayoress of Lambeth (to whom John Hall had been chaplain), and over 120 parishioners from Fr. John’s previous parish – S. John the Divine, Kennington.  Dr Stockwood, in welcoming them all, addressed the congregation of All Saints’ telling them: – “I’m sure you will quickly take your new parish priest into your hearts and give him all the encouragement you can.  And what a wonderful day it is to be made parish priest.  It is All Saints’ Day, one of the greatest festivals of the year. And,” he added, “you have all been called to be saints and your lives should be spent working towards that end.  You have no right,” he said, “to expect from your clergy what you don’t expect from yourselves.”

Fr. John quickly introduced the ‘passing of the peace’ and services became ‘westward facing.’ He also introduced a daily Mass and was pleased that this was regularly well attended “because,” he said, “this was an indispensable basis for parish life.”

The South Road School was to close at the end of the academic year in 1979, with celebrations planned to mark the event. There were now only 35 children on the roll – the same number that had been in attendance when the school first opened some 112 years ago. Progress on the new school was well on schedule with completion due in 1981. In a drive to make the church more efficient, and to go forward constructively, several sub-committees were set up in early May 1979.  Each committee was charged to meet once between every meeting of the full church council and then report back.  The committees were to cover finance, buildings and social matters, with the building committee allowed to put in hand essential work up to a maximum cost of £500.  Other projects under consideration were conversion of the boiler from oil fired to gas, and necessary work on the organ.

The final closure of the South Road School came in July 1979.  Pupils were to be transferred to the Haydons Road School and a special service was to be held in the church on July 18th conducted by Canon Peter Penwarden – currently Vice-Provost of Southwark Cathedral.  Former pupils and teachers were invited to say farewell to the old school – to have a last look around and to hear readings from some of the old log books.  The school had been opened on January 21st 1867 and the present head – Mike Hayter – said that it would be his duty to close the doors for the last time.  The Wimbledon News reported that “to the casual observer the building looks no different now than it did at the turn of the century when it accommodated more than 1,000 pupils – aged between 4 and 14 years – working in three separate schools housed under one roof.  However, upon entering the building it is possible to see how a programme of modernisation has enabled the place to continue.  All Saints’ is still well remembered by many local residents who recall their school days with much affection.  The log books, official hand-written documents, completed by the headmaster since 1867, recount the life of the school from major event to minor detail.  Also included, word for word, are the reports of School and Church Inspectors who frequently commented on such things as the cleanliness of the children – or otherwise, the thoroughness of the work, and the teaching abilities of the staff.  Discipline, despite what we are told, seems to have been as much a problem in Victorian times as it is today – truancy, swearing, horseplay and rudeness were often encountered.  What is different today is the punishment.  How many children or parents of today would tolerate a child being told to write out the word obedience for a week?”

The school could claim no famous ex-pupils, no headlines of national status, no educational doctrines of lasting importance and no achievements of any great significance – it had been a bread-and-butter school from beginning to end and yet thousands of other schools like it enable man to walk on the moon, surgeons to perform heart transplants, generals to win battles and creators to create.

Under Fr. John’s guidance the profile of the parish was raised. Greater use was made of publicity and it was hoped that the church could be kept open during the day. Somewhat controversially girls were to be admitted to the choir and sixteen girls soon expressed a willingness to join, whereas the organist wanted to recruit more boys!  It transpired that the resulting ensemble of mixed voices would number about 40, all of whom would sit in the choir stalls and wear cassocks and cottas. 

Fr. John was also desirous of admitting children to communion before confirmation. “This,” he said, “would be after a period of instruction, and there would be a small ceremony at some point in the Mass.  Confirmation would then take place in the later teens, when the candidate is old enough to make an adult commitment.” Consequently on Easter Day 1980 30 children were admitted to Holy Communion. Many came from the top class at the school, strengthening the church/school links and encouraging children into the worshipping community of All Saints’.  A special preparation course had been designed to instruct them, entitled ‘Follow the Master,’ and this was to continue into the future.

Lay ministry was also encouraged during Fr. John’s time at All Saints’. The P.C.C. were asked to support Joan Ellis in her courser to become a Lay Reader in the parish and Fr. John spoke on the need for all baptised members of the church to take some responsibility in the work of the church.

In another first for the parish Fr. John got special permission from the Archbishop of Canterbury to marry an elderly couple in their Dryden Road Home.  Bill Laming and his partner Joan had been together for 22 years but, as Bill said, they had never got round to getting married.  Now he was terminally ill with lung cancer and had said to Joan, “All I want to do is marry you gal, that’s all I want now.”   Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave special permission for the couple to marry in their own home and “the simple and beautiful marriage service was performed by the Reverend John Hall, of All Saints’ Church.  The bride dressed in a blue skirt and blouse stood by the bedside of her husband-to-be. Holding hands Joan and Bill declared their love for each other in the sight of God and Bill placed the symbolic ring on Joan’s finger.  Best Man Dan Waters supported Bill in bed as he signed the register.” Inevitably it was not to be a long marriage and Bill passed peacefully away some two weeks later.

In 1981 the new school was opened by Princess Margaret. She was scheduled to arrive at 3.00.p.m. on November 23rd and, as well as opening the school, she was to tour the parish. The residents of the All Saints’ Estate planned to put on a special display of pictures at the soon-to-be-opened Community Centre and she was also to meet some residents in their homes. The visit ‘delighted the Vicar,’ the Wimbledon News reported in an article that included a full page picture of the opening.  Entertainment was organised by Mrs. Coleen Garrett and performed by the children, and the Princess toured the school talking to teachers, pupils and support staff.

In October1982 Joan Ellis became a Lay Reader in the parish. “A remarkable woman, endowed with courage and faith,” wrote the Wimbledon News, which went on to speak of her early life, how her family had moved to the area from Dorset and how she had lost her husband at the tragically early age of 41. “I have been impressed by the extraordinary courage and determination which has carried Mrs. Ellis through difficulties in the past and now enabled her to tackle the very hard work involved in the course of studies to be a Reader,” said Fr. John Hall.  Mrs. Ellis herself added, “I am certain the intensive work I needed has strengthened my own faith.  It will, I hope, enable me to be of great help to the ministry at All Saints.”   

All Saints’ was ninety years old in 1982 and celebrated its Birthday with the donation of a free-standing crucifix for the high altar and a special Dedication Festival Mass followed by a family party in the hall. Local clergy were invited to attend and the preacher was the Rev. Hugh Marshall, Rector of the Wimbledon Team Ministry and Rural Dean. “The choir of All Saints’ under organist and choirmaster Christopher Caine sang Mozart’s Mass No7 in B Flat,” reported the local paper. “The gentle tender voices of the choristers were augmented with guest soloists, and tomorrow at 7.30.p.m., augmented with the choir of S. Andrew’s Church, Mottingham, they will sing Faure’s Requiem and Haydn’s ‘ The Heavens are Telling.’

There was no shortage of plans for 1983.  There were to be ‘Bring-and-Eat’ suppers at both Easter and Harvest, a Parish Outing to Aylesford Priory on the May Day Bank Holiday, the Dedication of the church would be celebrated on the 6th May – at which the preacher would be Fr. Peter Penwarden – , a Midsummer Ball was planned for June 25th, a coach outing to Oxford in celebration of the Oxford Movement was planned for July 16th, a Parish Retreat was planned for September 9th – 11th and the Bishop was visiting the Deanery between September 25th – 27th.   Father John also announced that he was considering introducing Solemn Evensong and Benediction on special occasions and that he intended to stand for General Synod in the forthcoming elections. At Easter there were twice as many communicants as ten years previously and, after a drop in numbers, the choir was again up to full strength – several children from the top class at the school having joined and also been admitted to Holy Communion.  A new choirmaster had also been appointed following the resignation of Chris Caine. The appointment of David Coram – a classics master at Rutlish School and a tenor soloist – was announced by the Wimbledon News, who also informed the public that he had been organist and choirmaster at S. Mark’s Church for some years as a member of the Guild of Servants of the Sanctuary.

Fr. John also had plans to ‘revitalise’ All Saints’. It was a radical plan.  The choir stalls were to be removed and a platform was to be built in the present chancel area for a new altar.  The screen was to be re-sited and a new window cut in the south aisle.  In addition the church would be completely redecorated, there would be new chairs, new heating and a sound reinforcement system installed. Fr. John conceded that there was no hiding the fact that it would be costly, but he said that there were 200 charitable trusts which could be approached.  He proposed initially to write in ‘broad terms’ to the congregation. However, the P.C.C. and the whole church would have to agree to the plan before it could be discussed by the D.A.C. If they found in favour of the scheme it would then be forwarded to the Diocesan Pastoral Committee before being sent to the Chancellor for final approval.

The re-ordering plans received a generally favourable response, and the architect was soon in the process of obtaining costings. The Archdeacon too felt that the plans would be acceptable and that some money might be available through Diocesan Grants. It was decided to hold an exhibition in the church to be followed by a public meeting to discuss the proposals before launching a fund to finance the whole project.  All Saints’ were under no illusion that the bulk of the money would have to be raised by themselves, and there were three ways that this might be achieved: – through large loans on an interest-free basis, by ‘lump sum’ donations that could be covenanted over four years, and by covenanting a weekly or monthly donation over a period of four or seven years. This whole fund-raising project was to come under the umbrella title of ‘The All Saints’ Church Renewal Fund’ and soon attracted the attention of the local press which reported it as a ‘parish partnership for the refurbishing and modernising of the interior of the church.’  “We have inherited a beautiful church,” said Father John Hall, “and we need to preserve it and improve it for a more fitting worship of Almighty God.  The first and most important need is to create a new sanctuary.  I would wish the altar of our church to be near enough to the congregation for all to see and know what is there and to feel part of the action of the Mass as the one people of God.”

Fr. Jonathan Francis was licensed as honorary assistant priest at All Saints by the Bishop of Southwark late in 1983.  Fr. Francis was deputy headmaster of Rutlish School, and a large congregation of clergy and parishioners from All Saints’, S. John’s, Holy Trinity and S. Andrew’s attended the service.  The Bishop spoke of his pleasure at coming to All Saints ‘and spoke of unpaid ministry in his sermon. “Long before it was fashionable to talk about shared ministry and non-stipendiary ministry,” he said, “I can remember saying this in a sermon as a signpost for the future. In the last few years we have begun to see a remarkable change.  More and more people willing to share in pastoral and teaching work in parishes are emerging.”  His words were very prophetic for today the church relies very heavily on those prepared to give their time in unpaid ministry throughout the Diocese and beyond.

The plans for All Saints’ never came to fruition for Fr. John announced that he would be leaving in September 1984 to take up a new appointment as Vicar of S. Peter’s, Streatham. His last service was to be on Sunday 16th September and the news of his departure was widely reported in the local press.  “Father John will be greatly missed,” reported the Wimbledon News.  “During his time in charge at All Saints’ the new church school has been built and the former church school developed as a South Wimbledon Community centre in Haydons Road.”  And Father John himself added, “I’ve greatly enjoyed my ministry in Merton, especially my own involvement in education in the borough as the Church of England’s representative on the education committee.  I have also been a member of Merton’s Community Relations Council education panel.” 

Fr. John Hall served at Streatham until 1992. He then became Diocesan Director of Education in the Diocese of Blackburn in 1992 (and a canon residentiary of Blackburn Cathedral in 1994). From 1998 to 2006 he was General Secretary of the National Society for Promoting Religious Education and from 1998 to 2002 the General Secretary of the Church of England Board of Education, subsequently Chief Education Officer of the Church of England from 2002 to 2006. He also served as an honorary curate of St Alban’s South Norwood from 2003 to 2006. He was appointed Dean of Westminster in 2006 – taking up the post in December of that year. On 29 April 2011 he officiated at the wedding of Prince William of Wales and Catherine Middleton. On 28 September 2018, Fr. John Hall’s retirement was announced for 1 November 2019.

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