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Departing Upper Street vicar: Keep church doors open

‘We have provided something pretty unique in Islington. It’s important to have a quiet place’

26 October, 2018 — By Emily Finch

Rev Simon Harvey, flanked by parishioners Barbara Quantrill and Sylvine Wilkinson

A DEPARTING vicar has called on the borough to help him keep his church open during the day as his parting gift.

Simon Harvey, the spiritual leader of St Mary’s Church in Upper Street, announced to his shocked congregation on Sunday that he is leaving the church in the new year.

Rev Harvey has spent the last eight years at St Mary’s but is moving to Bury St Edmunds with his wife Jo to head a church there.

The 55-year-old has introduced an open-door policy during the day so that passersby can drop in to rest or pray – something the church hasn’t allowed for more than a century.

But the open-door policy is under threat unless funding can be found to restore the disintegrating entrance, also known as the portico, which was built in 1904.

“We’ve discovered that there is a serious problem with the structure. It’s on the national heritage ‘at risk’ register and we’ve got an architect to examine it. We’re short of £100,000 to do the works and we found out last week our application to the National Lottery fund wasn’t successful. It’s not dangerous but it is deteriorating,” he said.

Rev Harvey says he may have to look to online crowdfunding to fix the structure.

He said: “We don’t want to get to the stage we have to close the entrance to the church as a precaution. Having opened the church door we don’t want to close it again. We’ve provided something in Islington which is pretty unique. It’s important to have a place of quiet.”

The vicar has faced some of the toughest moments of his life while living in the borough when his first wife Jennifer died in 2016 following a short illness.

He said: “We were married for almost 30 years, had the most amazing happy marriage. I didn’t know what life would be like without her.

“People outside of church and inside were supportive, they didn’t try to explain it away. Quite often people said: ‘I don’t have any words and I’m so sorry’. Just to make a human connection was really important. I am so grateful to people who reached out to me. They stood with me. Islington felt like a very kind place.”

The vicar led the funeral service for Jonathon “JJ” McPhillips, who was fatally stabbed less than a five-minute walk away from the church in February, last year.

The 28-year-old’s school friend, Lee Jay Hatley, was also stabbed to death a few months later at a flat in Barnsbury. The Rev Susie Paddock led a service for Lee Jay at St Mary’s church.

Asked why knife crime seemed to be on the increase in London in recent years, Rev Harvey said: “For some people life has become quite cheap, the threat of taking a life has become an acceptable risk.

“I wish I could help everyone to understand just how precious life is, and we should do everything we can to keep peace on the streets.

“Life in the 21st century is intense and quite overwhelming,” he added.


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