by KATHLEEN CASEY
CHRISTCHURCH — A crowded church testified to the wide ministry
that Fr Simon Eccleton has had in his 25 years as a diocesan priest.
At his jubilee Mass at St Gregory’s Church, Bishopdale, Fr Eccleton
celebrated with Bishops Barry Jones and Basil Meeking, fellow priests and a joyful congregation from many parishes.
Fr Eccleton, the parish priest of St Francis, Mairehau, has served in several parishes since his ordination.
At his jubilee celebrations, he said: “The Lord is always calling me onwards, away from the comfort of what is known. This has been a beautiful gift for me over that period.”
In early 2011, Fr Eccleton took over the earthquake-disrupted parish of Dallington. He worked through stages over the following year or so, emerging as parish priest of Mairehau — incorporating
Dallington and Burwood, where churches had been demolished.
When the large Our Lady of Fatima Church was declared earthquake
prone two years ago, Fr Eccleton’s next job was to convert an old hall (originally the first church) back to a church. The little church now has five regular weekend Masses.
“I am aware that so much of what’s around us is passing,” Fr Eccleton said. “This truth is always unsettling. We’ve grieved as a city in Christchurch since the earthquakes. We have all felt
this heaviness of loss. Yet it’s purifying — we’re not making camp here; we’re moving towards something more beautiful, and this is the kingdom of heaven.”
So as his silver jubilee approached, Fr Eccleton decided to, “do what we do best, and gather together to worship God. As a priest, that is my greatest joy. Whoever gathers with me — those are my friends.
“It’s a rare privilege to be allowed to work in the vineyard of the Lord as a diocesan priest,” he said. “The parish setting has always been my first and deepest love.”
The O’Malley Choir (named after the late Fr Miles O’Malley of Dallington) sang and lifted the hearts of anumber of former Dallington parishioners who had had to move away and hadn’t heard the choir for more than three years.
A supper at St Joseph’s parish centre concluded the evening.