St Pauls vicar Michael Riley retires after 33 years

Image above: Rev Michael Riley

Parishioners gather to say goodbye as vicar takes his last service

Reverend Michael Riley, who has been the vicar of St Paul’s Church Grove Park since 1989, has retired.

Michael’s farewell service on Sunday (17 July) was well-attended by parishioners wanting to thank him for his decades of service to the community.

Under Michael’s tenure as vicar, the church’s congregation has grown, something which Cassandra Barker, one of St Paul’s churchwardens, told The Chiswick Calendar was thanks to Michael’s engagement with the local community.

“The church was quite poorly attended when he joined”, Cassandra said, “he’s raised attendance phenomenally… Attendance in the church was around five to eight people before he came.

“[He started] Children’s Church and a Youth Club and has fostered a great deal of music and festival type things the gardens.”

Image above: parishioners gather for Rev Riley’s farewell service in St Paul’s garden on Sunday (17 July)

Festivals and concerts

St Paul’s Church Grove Park has regularly held concerts and festivals, including GroveStock, which became a popular annual community music festival until in stopped in 2013. This church has recently celebrated 150 years of the building itself and the area which grew up around it in Victorian times.

Among the events to mark the anniversary St Paul’s has hosted a Flower Festival, with displays by other local churches, horticultural and community groups and schools. The church has hosted a comedy night, a poetry evening and performances by local musicians.

Cassandra praised Michael’s inclusive attitude over his 33 year tenure, which she said was another reason for church’s popularity.

Image above: parishioners gather for Rev Riley’s farewell service in St Paul’s garden on Sunday (17 July)

“He’s always been a very tolerant priest”

In the early 1990s, a section of Michael’s congregation broke off and joined a different church, because they were uncomfortable with his tolerance of homosexuality.

While a “substantial” number of people remained loyal to St Paul’s and to Michael, Cassandra said the incident had been “distressing”.

“Conflict within your own group is distressing”, Cassandra told The Chiswick Calendar, “you know, the church carried on, the group left and the church carried on … 80 people turning up yesterday to say goodbye to him, it was a very substantial group that remained.

“He’s always been a very tolerant priest., he has accepted people into his community.

“Whereas some other parishes are more demanding, more judgemental, he has not been judgemental, he has accepted anybody who wishes to come into his community.”

“He’s always been a very good listener”, Cassandra added, “so people who want to talk privately about problems they’ve experiencing have been able to talk to him.”

Image above: Shaun Evans as Inspector Morse in the TV series Endeavour

St Paul’s regular site for film crews

St Paul’s, its vicarage and its enclosed garden are also often used as a location by film companies, and the work raises valuable funds for the parish, Cassandra told us. The vicarage features heavily in the TV series Endeavour, which follows the story of a young inspector Morse.

Scenes from the movie Sylvia (2003) in which Gwyneth Paltrow plays poet Sylvia Plath, were also filmed at the Grove Park church and vicarage.

Filming in the vicarage and on church grounds rakes in “substantial amounts of money” for the church, Cassandra said.

“Michael has had some filming in his house. Michael has often generously given the proceeds to the church. Filming has been quite regular, about two, three, four times a year.

“There hasn’t been filming in the church because in the church you have to ask permission from the diocese. They like to know what the film is going to be about and if they don’t approve of it then there won’t be any filming in the church.

“It’s made substantial amounts of money for the church, which has been very welcome.”

Image above: Rev Michael Riley poses with a parishioner Bea Vickers on Sunday (17 July)

Commenting on why he decided to retire early, Cassandra said:

“33 years is a long time, he feels quite wistful. He is, well aren’t we all, getting older. I think he just felt it was time to go, he’s going to a clergy college in Bromley. He reads a lot, he walks a lot, he loves to travel and he will have more time for that.”

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