A SILVER celebration was held in Morpeth as Fr Lawrence Jones marked 25 years in the priesthood.
The parish priest, who serves at St Robert’s Church in Oldgate, was joined by family, friends and 40 fellow priests in an evening Mass in celebration of his anniversary.
The church was packed with parishioners and visitors from other communities that have been served by the clergyman, with the congregation spilling over onto the grass outside where the service was relayed over a loud speaker system.
Afterwards there was a party in a marquee, complete with a hog roast from Gebhards, desserts from parishioners, decorations by St Robert’s First School and entertainment by Fr Lawrence’s friends.
“It was fantastic,” he said.
“I was overwhelmed by the response. I really didn’t expect that much, but it was a great night.
“The parishioners did tremendous work behind the scenes organising it all and I’m grateful for all the hard work that went into it.”
Born into a mining community in Easington, Fr Lawrence knew from the age of six that he had a calling.
“It started when I was very young. I used to pretend to say Mass when I was six so even from that age I was thinking about the priesthood. I could never imagine doing anything else,” he said.
He formally began his religious studies at Upholland Junior seminary, before transferring at the age of 18 to Ushaw College in County Durham, where he was ordained by Bishop Swindlehurst in St Cuthbert’s Chapel on June 21, 1986, as one of two priests that summer for the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.
His first posting was as a curate to St Peter’s Church in Low Fell, where he served for six years, as well as working as chaplain for Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead.
He then spent two years as a curate at St Aidan’s in Ashington and was chaplain at first Ashington Hospital and then the newly built Wansbeck Hospital.
Fr Lawrence’s first spell as a parish priest was at English Martyrs in Stockton on Tees, where he stayed for 10 years and served at North Tees General Hospital.
He then took a sabbatical year, studying for three months in Jerusalem before going on to live with and support drug users at a church-based rehabilitation centre near Turin in northern Italy.
The bright lights of Las Vegas were the next port of call.
“I wanted to experience a different sort of parish so I went there for three months,” said Fr Lawrence.
“It’s a crazy place and a lot of people wouldn’t associate Las Vegas with religion, but the churches over there are really thriving.
“There are certainly a lot of marriages. People think it’s a joke. When I was there a couple of Italians came to church and were telling me how they had got married the day before. They thought it was just make-believe.
“It was a different experience there.”
On his return to the UK in September 2005, the priest was sent to St Cuthbert’s in Kenton, before moving to Morpeth in October 2009.
“I’m delighted to be here and in such a short time the people have shown such great kindness,” he said.
“Even though I’m still settling in and getting to know people, they have really pulled out all the stops to make me welcome.”
The Silver Jubilee Mass on Friday, June 17 began with an entry procession of altar servers from St Robert’s, ministers from the local churches and the priests. Concelebrating the Mass were Morpeth’s Fr Jim Doherty and Fr Lawrence’s friends from their seminary days, Canon Michael Loughlin and Fr Steven Forster.
Readings reflected the ministry of priesthood, prayers were offered for all priests and bishops and there was a mix of traditional and modern hymns, with soloists and a choir accompanied by the organ, guitars and flute.
Fr Lawrence was presented with many gifts and cards, including a painting of the church.
Earlier in the week, he was given a book and cards from pupils at a special assembly at St Robert’s First School.
Reflecting on his time as a priest, Fr Lawrence said: “It is a great joy to serve people. People are always very grateful for whatever you can do to help them.
“As a priest, you are there for people at the main points in their lives, whether it’s baptisms, funerals or weddings. In times of joy and sorrow the priest is there and it is a privilege to be involved in people’s lives like that and to help them through the struggles and the ups and downs and joys of life, bringing something of God and faith to them.
“We are not just there for Christians or Catholics, but for everybody. People can come to the door, it doesn’t matter who they are, or of what faith, or of no faith, it is about being available for anybody in need.”