Fr Bill writes: 43 meters underneath the Thames and about three minutes’ walk along the narrow gantry that runs beside the narrow gauge railway built to take the tunnellers to work the tunnel makes a right. From the shaft that goes down sheer for 90 feet the tunnel has been making its way out from the north bank of the Thames towards the centre of the river, now it takes this right hand curve at the start of what Ivor Thomas, the head of the tunneling operation at Tideway West calls “The Barrel”. He calls it that because the view from that point is as straight as the inside of a gun barrel, the longest gun barrel you have ever seen, travelling straight and true over two kilometers towards Putney railway bridge.
The inside of the tunnel wider than a London Tube and lined with concrete has the grey colour of a gun barrel. The tunnellers are on target to complete the whole 7K to Acton by the summer. Then they will spray another coat of concrete on the walls of the tunnel and take out the railway line to give the barrel a smooth surface along which will flow, in two years’ time, the sewage of London. The tunnel has a shelf life of 125 years but Eoin who was acting as my server on Thursday reckons that it could last 100 years after that. It’s even proofed against the inevitable tidal surges that will overwhelm London in the coming decades as global warming raises sea levels and overwhelms the Thames Barrier.
For we were there for a unique Carol service, eighty or so construction workers and myself. Dressed in bright orange and green working gear, wearing massive boots you could drop a weight on and do yourself no damage, gloved, hard-hatted and wearing protective glasses we were down at Pit Bottom at the base of the shaft, gathered to sing God’s praises before the work-force went home for their hugely deserved two week Christmas break.
One tunneller, Maeve Kelly from Mayo sang ‘O Holy Night’ with the voice of an angel. Her perfect voice filled the huge space of this modern cathedral with its soaring grey tower reaching up from the depths to the surface. Duncan, who was at the top of the shaft standing by to lead a rescue team should anything have gone wrong was moved by the ethereal beauty of that voice. We were standing in awe and silence as we listened to those haunting words of hope sung in such a totally manufactured, artificial environment- “A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn! Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices, Oh night divine, oh night when Christ was born.”
We prayed for that workforce, for their children and a baby to be born in January, for their younger siblings and for the forthcoming joy of families reunited, we prayed for those who were not well, One had been hit by a bus, others were in hospice or having bone marrow transplants from their own family; we prayed for those who had died. Then we sang carols, not so well though we tried hard but the scaffolder choir who we had expected to reinforce our efforts had been called to another site.
I reflected on Christmas: “In a field above Bethlehem there is a cave where the shepherds were sheltering when they heard the angels singing in the sky above them, ‘peace on earth, goodwill to all humankind’. The reason the angels were singing was that a baby had been born in Bethlehem that night and he was to be called Jesus and he was to bring peace to a troubled world. Two thousand years later we still hear the angels singing and we still pray for peace, peace in our hearts, peace in our lives and peace amongst families, peoples and nations. For that is what Christmas is about, spreading peace and goodwill around us.”
Then Eoin who had been standing beside me and giving me strength read the opening words of John’s Gospel about the darkness not being able to overcome the light. Then I blessed everyone and we sang “God rest you merry gentlemen” and then thanked everyone and presented a bouquet of flowers to Maeve and we all had our photo taken.
The tunnel stretches out straight and true, like the barrel of a gun. It will take all the bilge and bile, the dirty water and excreta that we produce and take it way and it will be processed. Faith in Christ at Christmas is about this tunnel of his love that will take all our sin and sadness away from us and process it through the cleansing power of God’s love. It is that which gives us peace at Christmas time. The little baby of Bethlehem will save us from our sin and folly and set us again on the right path. Happy Christmas!
Enjoying the first of our fortnightly community lunches cooked in our new kitchen in Our Lady’s Hall, Since October we have provided lunch once a month on a Tuesday and Sands End Adventure Playground in Pineapple Park has providing lunch two weeks later. We will start again in the New year.
The icon of Christ appears in glory lit by the late evening sun
Marie at the BBQ on Pentecost Sunday
Above: The Church Tower at evening time.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help here in Fulham, near the Thames is open for each and everyone of us all through this coming year. The church that carries her name is in Stephendale Road in Fulham, SW6. We have had many occasions to thank her for her intercessions to her Son in whose name we live and move and have our being. Here there is a welcome for everyone of goodwill, a place of prayer and beauty.
Our postal address is Parish House, 2 Tynemouth Street, Fulham, SW6 2QT. You will find Sand’s End east of Wandsworth Bridge Road, south of New King’s Road, north Imperial Wharf. You can contact us on 020 7736 4864. Fr Bill’s email is email@example.com and his parish mobile is 07598878599 and the parish email address is firstname.lastname@example.org