Meeting our neighbours…


    Revd John Thackray has been the parish priest of Saint-Mary-at-the-Elms in Ipswich for five years. He was ordained in 1984, was an assistant curate in Loughton, Essex and this is his first post as a parish priest.

    For most of his ordained ministry John was a school chaplain, in four very different schools. For many years he was also the chair of the (national) School Chaplains Association. John’s school role, supporting students and staff of all religious beliefs, has meant that he has become very accustomed to ecumenical ministry. It is therefore very fitting that Bishop Martin has asked John to be his ecumenical adviser and the Church of England’s representative on the executive committee of Churches Together in Suffolk.

    John is a keen member of the flourishing informal ecumenical network, Churches Together in Central Ipswich which includes St Pancras (R.C.), Museum Street Methodist, Christchurch Tacket Lane (Baptist/U.R.C.) and St Mary-le-Tower, the CofE civic church.

    Although he is an Essex boy, John’s father subscribed to the East Anglian, which is why John’s football team as a schoolboy was Ipswich Town. “The parish boundary lies along Portman Road”, he says, “so I’m responsible for the spiritual well-being of the club’s car-park!”

    The Anglo-Catholic part of the Church of England, in which John, by upbringing, finds himself, is the successor of the nineteenth century Oxford Movement.

    “The theology at St Mary-at-the-Elms is incarnational”, says John. “This means we believe that, as God is ‘The Word made flesh’, we know him not only as he is in heaven but also in our service of others, which helps make known his love in this world.”

    “The worship here is sacramental; we believe God is present in a very real manner in the Holy Communion. Not all in the Church of England share this belief: the Church is indeed a broad church, containing within itself an ecumenical breadth of theology and worship.”

    St Mary-at-the Elms has, within it, the shrine of our Lady of Grace of Ipswich. This was a popular shrine before the Reformation and only the shrine at Walsingham attracted more visitors. However, the shrine was suppressed during the Reformation and its famous statue was taken to Chelsea to be burnt. But did that happen? Curiously, a wooden statue of the Madonna and Child displayed in the local church of the Italian seaside town of Nettuno closely matches various descriptions of the Ipswich statue. In recognition of this mystery, on 10 September 2002, a modern wooden replica of the statue, carved by sculptor Robert Mellamphy and funded by the local ecumenical group Meryemana, was blessed and installed at The Elms.

    When you can, why not have a look for yourself?