IN MAY 1998, Fr Brian O’Shea led the Parish Pilgrimage to Lourdes. Later, he would write in the Newsletter how he “felt a powerful presence of prayer, and of our united parish giving a sign of friendship, support and encouragement to the world.” Fr Brian again led pilgrimages to Lourdes in 1999 and 2000.

In the Spring of 1999, Bishop, priests, family, friends, and parishioners joined to congratulate Fr Brian on the occasion of his Silver Jubilee. Then, on New Year’s Eve, St Edmund’s new bells rang out to welcome in the third Christian Millennium, at a special service and celebration. The bells were made by Gunning and Kavana in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, at the foot of the Mourne Mountains.

Churches Together in Loughton continued to thrive. From Loughton we journeyed to join hands with Christians nationwide, in Birmingham in 1998 and Central London in 1999, to form a “human chain” calling on the cancellation of the Third World debts. In the summer of 2000, we helped with the Bible Comes to Life exhibition at the Loughton Methodist Church.

At St Edmund’s, the Sion Community led our parish “Mission 20000”, with the theme “Harvest Home”. The Lourdes Grotto was enhanced in 2001 by the donation of the Snowdrop Corner, a little place in memory of beloved children who had been miscarried or stillborn. Later in the year, Sr Anne Clarke, our Parish Sister, retired to Cork after fifteen years helping with first communions, confirmations, prayer groups, the library, and much else. Towards the close of the year, the parish celebrated St Edmund’s Diamond Anniversary.

In May 2002, Fr Brian led a successful seven day Pilgrimage to Rome, and in July the Scouts and Guides celebrated their Fiftieth Anniversary. But it was a year of major change. At the end of the summer term Eugene Keddy retired as head of St John Fisher School, replaced by Jacqueline Richardson (née Ryan). Then, on 7 July, Fr Brian announced in the Newsletter that he was to leave the parish for a new position in Chelmsford. In October, Fr John Harvey joined us from Springfield in Chelmsford. Fr John has studied Canon Law at St Paul University, Ottawa, and works closely with the Marriage Tribunal.

Lent 2004 saw two important developments. The Brentwood Diocesan Vision forecast the future role of the diocese in the world and the Church. Key issues were the decline in the priesthood and the linking of parishes and churches. The laity, said the document, need a sense of “ownership” of their parishes.

In the second development, St Edmund’s set up a Third World Project, which unites us once more with our Claretian roots. Since Lent 2004, the parish has supported the Claretian Missionaries in Dangriga in Belize, Central America. Stationery and toiletries are collected and shipped out for the six thousand children at the school, and financial donations are (as usual) generous.

Parishioners responded enthus-iastically, in 2004, to a call to Stewardship, giving their time and talents to the redecoration of the Retreat in the Hall. Fr John led the annual parish pilgrimage to Lourdes that year, and young families were brought together with the re-establishment of the Parent and Toddler group. In June 2005, Fr John set on course what has become an annual event, the celebration of the Forty Hours. In this year, too, a second pledge of Stewardship completed the redecoration of the parish hall,

Fr John wanted 2006 to be “a special year” for the whole community. The church was redecorated inside and out, and the Blessed Sacrament Chapel enhanced by the donation of a beautiful new tabernacle. Of Spanish manufacture, it is decorated with enamels depicting the Nativity, the Four Evangelists, Christ Reigning in Glory and the Alpha and Omega. Then, on the Feast of St Benedict in July, a Mass and Reception to celebrate Fr John’s Silver Jubilee crowned what had, indeed, been a “special year”.

Towards the end of 2007, St Thomas More Church was redecorated. Now, at St Edmund’s, we celebrate a Silver Jubilee which is “an opportunity,” says Fr John, “to share and celebrate the fruits of the life of this church”.

After that, the pilgrimage continues…