The Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Rev Dr Martin Warner led clergy at today’s (June 26) memorial service for the Rector of Uckfield, Father Martin Onions, at Holy Cross Church.
Fr Onions died suddenly on May 22, see here
Clergy from all over the Diocese attended the service along with members of the congregations from churches in the Uckfield group of parishes, townspeople and representatives of churches where Fr Onions had served before coming to Uckfield.
Priests from other Uckfield churches were also present.
The church was filled with many people sitting outside.
Some arrived by coach. A temporary car park was set up on the town council’s Luxford Field. Around 80 vehicles parked there, marshalled by members of Uckfield ATC.
Holy Cross Church bells tolled as the robed procession of clergy made their way into the church with Dr Warner at the rear.
Two little girls charm congregation at memorial service
Two little girls charmed the congregation at the memorial service for Uckfield rector Canon Martin Onions.
They were Father Martin’s grandchildren Alanis and Melika and they were having such a happy time near the altar that they brought smiles to faces throughout Holy Cross Church.
The church was packed and more people sat outside to take part in the Memorial Eucharist of Thanksgiving which was conducted by the Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Rev Dr Martin Warner.
Dr Warner spoke about the human qualities of Fr Martin who had touched so many people in so many different places across the diocese.
Long standing colleague and friend Bishop Nicholas Reade delivered the sermon, a eulogy to the “hardworking and amazingly gifted priest”.
And Fr Martin’s four sons, Jamie, Phil, Dom and Matt, and his brother Steve spoke movingly too of the man who made such a difference to so many people’s lives, a husband of 28 years who had “an inappropriate joke for every situation, the only one who took things too far”.
Shouting at football
Phil told how strange it was to see their father switch from Family Martin shouting at the football to answering the phone as Father Martin.
Matt said he was an inspirational father and he and his brothers only hoped his qualities had been passed to them.
He said it was overwhelming to see so many friends celebrating their Dad’s life and thanked everyone for their love, support and prayers.
Bishop Nicholas said it was exactly one year and 16 hours ago that he last stood in the pulpit at Holy Cross Church to preach at a celebratory Eucharist to mark the 25th anniversary of Father Martin’s ordination to the priesthood.
“I began by reminding Martin of the evening he turned up on my doorstep in 1982 on a wet Saturday night, and left two hours later with some bottles from my first efforts at making home brew beer, and with an old RAF surplus raincoat.
“The bottles were returned the next day – to be refilled of course – but even after the reminder of last year the raincoat has never been returned, its whereabouts to be one of those mysteries to be solved later when face to face with Martin again and I enjoy with him that perfect vision and glory of God for which he and you and I were created.”
Long, happy friendship
Bishop Nicholas said that evening in November 1982 was the beginning of a long and happy, not only working relationship, but a friendship in which Martin and Gill, Martin’s wife, “gave considerably more to me, and Christine, than we have been able to give to them”.
He went on: “And this is exactly what the tributes to Martin, that have poured in, have said time and time again.”
Bishop Nicholas said that in the five parishes of the diocese that he served in, eight if you counted all three in this plurality, in this deanery of Uckfield, Fr Martin was a priest who gave with “deep generosity and love and we all felt he was our friend”.
Much-loved parish priest
First thoughts and prayers were for Gill, Jamie, Matt, Dom, Phil, said Bishop Nicholas, and for grandchildren Alanis and Melika and Martin’s parents Pat and Ivor, and his brother Steven and sister Ellen who had all lost their beloved Martin and to this parish and deanery who had lost their much-loved parish priest.
“For them, for us, Martin was a deeply loved rock and we shall all miss him as we have over these last five weeks.”
Bishop Nicholas said after the service that he was vicar of Mayfield when Fr Martin arrived as a pastoral assistant. Fr Martin was married at St Dunstan’s, it was the last place he preached before his death and his ashes will be laid to rest in that church.
From there Fr Martin passed the General Ministerial examination at Chichester Theological College and went on to gain a certificate in theology from the University of Southampton, and then a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in theology.
He moved to St Mary’s at Eastbourne, St Peter’s the Hydneye, All Saints’ Findon Valley, and then spent 13 years at St Mary’s Willingdon. About 100 people travelled from that church to attend the memorial service.
Fr Martin, who was 51, spent less than two years at Holy Cross, Horsted Parva and Isfield.
Bishop Nicholas said Fr Martin was a selector for ordination candidates and he was expected to go on to hold a senior post within the church.
In his sermon Bishop Nicholas added: “He was an outstanding pastor, a fine administrator, a very good trainer of curates, and not surprisingly sought out by other priests to give them wise counsel, encouragement, nourishment and refreshment in their life and ministry.
“And he was richly blessed with that gift of bringing out the humour in a situation, and making church life fun, even if we did have to look at him in the Church Times with rabbit ears on in Easter week …
“If often seemed to me that he had all the gifts and skills, but he was always humble about them, and when praised he would say it was a corporate effort, or someone else had rowed in, and in some gentle way pass the compliment on to God.
“He showed us how great things can be achieved in a parish when you are not concerned about who gets the credit.”
Bishop Nicholas finished by saying: “But now the journey is over and you are safely home, and you leave us with many happy memories, but one final thought – if Martin was the gift, what must God the giver of the gift be like.”
A short video below of the clergy and Bishop entering church