Fr Joseph Fernandes was made Prebendary at St Paul’s Cathedral on 28th May in recognition of his work as the Diocesan Chaplain for the Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities in the Diocese of London.
‘When I was first asked about becoming a Prebendary at St Paul’s Cathedral, the accompanying rationale for the honour was a “considerable contribution as the Diocesan Chaplain for the Gypsy Traveller and Roma Communities”. My immediate thought on this appointment was: how will it contribute to furthering the ministry amongst GTR communities in London Diocese? I believe there is a clear intentionality and signposting from the Diocese, particularly from Bishop Sarah, in reaching out to GTR communities, which are ‘hiding in plain sight’ and face ongoing discrimination. I am currently looking into a pan-diocesan joint approach in Greater London, learning from one another and sharing resources. As a wise friend pointed out, centuries of persecution and ostracism will not be resolved in our lifetime, but it is a step forward. It is by no means a small task, but I look forward to further discerning where God is leading and use my involvement with St Paul’s Cathedral to establish links with GTR communities.’
Prebendary Joseph’s Journey with Gypsies and Travellers
‘I did my curacy in the villages of Wraysbury and Horton, Berkshire. The village of Horton is part of an area which has a long-established Traveller community, which is a reflection of the broader context that can be found in the Thames Valley. Although the local relationship between Travellers and the broader community has witnessed a steady improvement over recent years, there is still much work to be done regarding building lasting bridges. At the heart of the village sits St Michael’s Church, a much-loved building for over a millennium. It is a place that has witnessed key life events for many Travellers, from the joy of celebrating a new life, through the affirming of relationships, to the harsh reality of death, in many cases prematurely.
‘Although the church plays a central role in local Traveller society and culture, it is not representative regarding attendance. It was in this context that the concept of a service aimed at Travellers was born. This was only possible through the involvement of key members of the local Traveller community. The name chosen for the new service was Travelling Home (TH). The first service took place in July 2015, with an attendance that exceeded all expectations. Due to its success, more followed in 2016 and 2017, both with the added blessing of the churchyard. Due to the popularity of the summer services, I proposed an extra Christmas one, which took place in 2016. The service, entitled Travelling Home for Christmas, was followed by a light meal with traditional food, served at the village hall.
‘As part of TH in 2016, I put together a liturgy, based on a tradition held in Ireland among the Roman Catholic Irish Gypsies, for a priest to bless the churchyard every year, usually taking place during the summer, and blessed a part of the churchyard where Travellers are buried. It is called the Annexe, in use since the early 1900s, as Traveller burials do not take place in the main churchyard. In 2017, rather than just the Annexe, I decided to bless the entire churchyard, as I wanted to address segregation in death. The blessing was profoundly poignant and very well received by the Traveller community.
‘It was during my curacy that I heard about the Churches Network for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma (CNGTR)*. I approached the Chair, Rev’d Martin Burrell, and asked to join, and I have been a member ever since.’
*Now known as Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller Friendly Churches.