A large congregation filled St Alphege Church in King's Bench Street on Sunday to mark the formal taking possession of the adjoining St Alphege House by a Franciscan community.
Presiding at the ceremony was Bishop of Woolwich Christopher Chessun who noted that the gathering was taking place in the week of the 800th anniversary of foundation of the order. Bishop Christopher was vested in the mitre, cope and episcopal ring of Bishop Michael Fisher SSF, Minister General of the Society of St Francis, who died in 2003.
The five-strong community of Francisan and lay members, male and female, led the bishop round their new home for him to bless each room including the roof garden. The ceremony was briefly interrupted when incense being carried in procession triggered a fire alarm.
Fr Ray Andrews, in welcoming the Oratory of St Alphege to St George's parish, said that it was Archdeacon of Southwark Michael Ipgrave who had the inspiration to suggest that that St Alphege Clergy House might become a suitable home for the community then in Brixton. "God opened every door and cleared every path that led to today."
Sister Joyce, Minister General of sisters worldwide and a member of the St Alphege community, said: "Our journey from Brixton to Southwark has been for us a remarkable one of generosity writ large from the diocese. It's been an experience of sudden death transformed into glorious resurrection so to have the house blessing on the feast of St Alphege in the Easter season seems right and proper."
She promised a "ministry of hospitality and spiritual accompaniment" with the "beautiful house" as a resource to the parish, diocese and beyond.
Referring to her own wider responsibilities, Sister Joyce pointed out that not all the St Alphege community were Franciscan. "To refer us collectively as such is not quite right. We are still grappling with that in our day to day life. We do not have one of us in charge. It is a shared responsibility."
Guests included Southwark Cathedral canons and Franciscans from Canterbury Friary and other houses.
St Alphege House dates from 1910 and has frontages on Pocock Street, King's Bench Street and Rushworth Street. It was built for the clergy of the first St Alphege Church which stood on the eastern corner of Borough Road and Lancaster Street.