The above picture might, a first sight, look like a forgotten relic of a bygone age. Perhaps it is but it is a picture to which I return over and again.
It is, of course, a funeral. It is 1913 and the crowds are mourning the passing of Fr. Stanton, a perpetual curate at St. Alban's, Holborn in London. He had served there for 45 years. The streets of London were packed, thousands upon thousands of people lined the way to say goodbye to "Dad" as he was affectionately known. 800 then crowded onto a train to Brookwood for the interment.
Stanton was one of a group of priests who we now know as the "Slum Priests". They were convinced that bringing back ritual, beauty and color into worship alongside vigorous work for social improvement would revolutionize the lives of the many thousands who lived in the Dockland Slums.
The work of this movement kept going until the slum clearance after the second world war. If you have seen the TV show "Call the Midwife", this is about one of the religious houses formed at this time.
From the outside the London Docklands looked like a hopeless place to work. Apparently full of lost souls with no hope and, certainly, only passing religious feeling, they offered no hope of material or worldly advancement to the priests who served them.
When I look at this picture, I wonder how many people we can really serve. I wonder which difficult places can we get the Gospel into. I wonder how we pair our preaching and our living. How we give hope for paucity of soul and body.
This does not have to be a photo of a long forgotten past. There are plenty of people who need to know the love of Christ in word and action. Victorian London, shrouded as it was in squalor and loss, was no easier a "market" than our modern age of disenchantment.
We, as the Church, must have, somehow, the sort of determination that led these priests to stand up for what they believed and to love as Jesus loves, wholly, selflessly and without reservation.