Project Canterbury

Father Pollock And His Brother:
Mission Priests of St. Alban’s Birmingham

Transcribed by Robert Stevens
AD 2001


CHAPTER IX.
THE SUN SETTING

“Their sun goes down, but as the glow
Is fading on the clouds of time,
It rises in a purer clime
Whose light we wait and long to know.”
—FATHER TOM.

TOWARDS the end of July 1895 Father Pollock again became ill, and was sent away for three months for change and rest. He returned to S. Alban’s in the early autumn, seemingly benefited by his visit to Scotland; but it was with a hope that trembled into fear that his people heard him on September 15, 1895 (three months before he was called away), announce from the pulpit “James Pollock desires to return thanks to Almighty GOD for recovery from sickness.”

His recovery was only temporary. On Sunday, November 17, he preached his last sermon. On the 23rd of that month the foundation stone of the new S. Patrick’s was laid by Earl Beauchamp. Both Father Pollock and his Brother looked extremely ill. The appearance of the former was painfully fragile, and one of his people was heard to remark, “He has got gloves on, poor dear!” It was the first time any one had seen him wear them. He was, however, able to be present at S. Alban’s tea party on November 27, and the words of both brothers on this last occasion were most touching.

During Advent, 1895, Father Pollock again became very seriously ill, and a deep shadow of foreboding fell over the whole parish.

He recovered slightly once or twice, and on the fourth Sunday in Advent, December 22, 1895, a day never to be forgotten, Father Tom felt able to leave him and come down to the Choral Eucharist at S. Alban’s. But during the Celebration an urgent message called Father Tom from the Altar. His place was at once taken by one of the assistant Clergy. The Divine Service was continued; and for the first time in the history of S. Alban’s, the Priest at the Altar wore no vestments.

There were some long moments of anguished suspense,. and then the solemn music of Chopin’s “Funeral March” told the kneeling flock that their beloved Pastor was in Paradise.

The grief of that bereaved flock is a thing not to be described or dwelt on. The following lines, written by one of them, and much treasured by Father Pollock’s brother, express what was in those stricken hearts

“‘He whom Thou lovest, LORD, is sick.’
Our hearts For many days this mournful burden bore:
Then came Thy call; and our loved shepherd feeds
    Thy flock on earth no more.

The lamp, that long before Thine Altar burned
With flame so pure, is from the Temple reft,
And we, who in its beams sure guidance found,
    In gloom and grief are left.

‘He whom Thou lovest.’ Was it not, dear LORD,
A very token of Thy lovingness
That Thou didst with the signet of Thy Hand
   
His parting moments bless?

That he, who ever with deep love was filled,
And adoration for Thy Gift unpriced,
Should be called upward in the blessed hour
    Of solemn Eucharist?

‘He whom Thou lovest.’ While his children knelt
The sacred pledges of Thy Love to claim,
Thine Angel, with glad tidings of great joy
    To his still chamber came.

While with those sheep for whom his life was spent
His soul was knit in that Communion blest,
And prayer’s sweet incense for him Heavenward soared,
   
He entered into Rest.

‘He whom Thou lovest.’ LORD, to that dear Love
We leave him, while our eyes with tears are dim
By our hearts’ anguish we may faintly know
   
What is Thy love for him.

A Brother, born for sore adversity,
Be, LORD, to him, whose life is rent in twain,
And grant us all in peace around Thy Feet,
    JESU, to meet again.”

Father Tom was not in time to see his brother alive.

“I am alone for the rest of my life,” was his heart-broken cry when told that his best beloved had gone from him.

The scenes of the week that followed were indelibly stamped upon all who saw them. The empty, or ape-hung stall, the surplice and stole laid upon it, the coffin before the Altar—and no one who was present could ever forget Father Tom’s face as, standing in the chancel, he placed with his own hands every wreath upon his brother’s bier.

Father Pollock was laid to rest in Moseley Churchyard on the Feast of S. John the Evangelist, December 27, 1895. There had been an early Celebration at S. Alban’s Church at 7.30. Then came the funeral service, with a church filled with mourners, and the long procession to the churchyard, a procession how different from those which the whole neighbourhood had so often turned out to see, and then the laying in the earth of all that was mortal of him who was to so many their dearest and best.

Father Pollock was in his sixty-second year, and among other points of resemblance, the term of their earthly span was almost the same, Father Tom being just over threescore when his call came to go up higher.

The entire route of the funeral procession was lined with silent crowds on that December day; for there was no one in Birmingham, whatever might be his religious Opinions, who did not respect Father Pollock. The churchyard was filled with a throng of mourners, amongst whom were the children of S. Alban’s Mission, sobbing as if their hearts would break. It was characteristic of Father Tom that even in this hour of deepest sorrow he took thought for the children, and arranged that they should be driven to the churchyard in brakes.

Many words of eulogy were spoken and written about the saintly Pastor whom GOD had taken to Himself, but it was in the hearts of his people that his truest epitaph was written.

The saddest year of Father Tom’s life had now begun. The desire of his eyes had been taken from him, and he was, as he said, “alone.” His brother had been all to him, and it made the heart ache to hear of his coming, as he did, into the empty house, and forgetting what had happened, calling “James, James,” at the foot of the stairs.

He never occupied his brother’s stall, and the asterisks (* * *) with which on The Gospeller cover he had marked the absence of Father Pollock’s name, remained till his own name was also missing.

His own “in memoriam” words preceding that empty space are these:—

“He who for thirty years guided and inspired the work of S. Alban’s rests from his labours. Let us all pray that the Divine care and blessing may abide upon the work for which he lived and for which he gave his life.”

The star of Father Tom’s life had set. He was in the most delicate state of health, and seemed to know that the shadow of death was hovering near him also. “Ah, you’ll lay me there before the year is out,” he said, as he was standing one day near his brother’s grave.

But Father Tom was a soldier, of the sort that dies game. A true hero of the Cross, he, though with trembling hands and bowed shoulders, took up the burden of his life and mission work again. He went in and out among his people, preached and visited as long as he could do so. At the earnest desire of his people, though he did not feel, and was not physically, fit, he accepted the vacant cure, and became Vicar of S. Alban’s. On the occasion of his institution in March 1896, his words to his people were:—

“It is with great misgivings I have accepted this work.  I never wished to be beneficed. I do not feel physically fit for it, and have other misgivings, known only to GOD and myself. I would much rather have taken a subordinate position, but this has been represented to me as impossible. I must leave altogether or take the position I have accepted, and which, I am told, is the united wish of the communicants of S. Alban’s. I thank GOD for two things—one, for the helpers I have in the clergy; the other, for your great sympathy, not your sympathy to me personally. This is not the place to speak of that which will be one of my tenderest memories while life shall last, but of your sympathy in this work.

“I have accepted, and now throw myself upon GOD and your prayers. I know you will pray and strive for this work, which is weakened by the loss of him who is gone from us in body, not in spirit, and who intercedes for you, and whose joy, if possible, is made greater by seeing his work prove by its continuance that it is of GOD.”

This was Father Tom’s mind. Having accepted the charge, he would have fulfilled it to his very utmost. But our loving FATHER does not lay upon His children impossible burdens. Father Tom could not have carried on their lives’ work without his brother, and he was not called upon to do so.

His health continued to grow weaker. He was obliged to go away from Birmingham, and it seemed sad that a part of his little remaining time should have been spent in a spot so uncongenial and “unpeaceful” as a large Hydropathic Establishment.

A few extracts from letters written during that time will speak for themselves:—

“It is not pleasant,” he wrote in March, “to be chained down and unable to see people about whom I am anxious.

In a later letter, alluding to lengthened absence from work: “It troubles me much to throw so great a burden of work on other men.

One of his letters says: “I am putting in a window in memory of my brother. The subject is the Resurrection, my brother’s favourite.”

Other letters when, as he said, “I do not mend so quickly as I should like,” contain pathetic words.

“I do long to be home among the people of S. Alban’s, who are almost all I have to live for.” And again, “I trust I may look forward to my exile ending.”

Sorrow could not make Father Tom selfish or faint-hearted, or anything but what he had ever been. He would have struggled on for the sake of his people even under his fresh and overwhelming load; but his “exile” was indeed near its ending. He became very seriously ill in October, and was brought back to Birmingham. After some weeks of great suffering—for his illness was most painful and trying—he also fell asleep on December 15, 1896, within just a week of the anniversary of the passing of his brother. Those who had been so truly lovely and pleasant in their lives were not long divided, and Father Pollock had but to wait a short time in Paradise for the brother he so tenderly loved.

Again the flock of S. Alban’s were sorrow-stricken, this time with a double grief, and again through the silent throngs that lined the streets the mournful procession passed; and on the Vigil of S. Thomas, and also that of his own Ordination, the dear form of Father Tom was laid to rest with his brother. His own beautiful hymn, “We are soldiers of CHRIST,” was very fitly sung over this “good soldier’s” grave. To quote the words of his funeral sermon: “There was one thing he could not do—he could not give up. Retreat was the one thing impossible to him, and so he died at his post—thirty years Curate, ten months Vicar, of S. Alban’s, Birmingham.”

Of Father Tom, no less than of Father Pollock, it may truly be said that he lived and died for S. Alban’s Mission. They gave to it their prospects, their hopes of preferment, their money, their patrimony, and their health, for the anxieties of their work, and their unceasing and almost incredible exertions, undoubtedly hastened the day of their departure. Their removal from this world was a loss not only to S. Alban’s Mission and to Birmingham, but to the whole Church.

Of none of CHRIST’S toilers has it ever been more true to say that they died in harness, and of none are we more certain that they now, to use Father Pollock’s own words, experience “the running over” of their “measure,” “the fulness of joy in GOD’S Presence for evermore.

A lovely little poem, “The Beech in the Forest,” by E. H. Mitchell, which either by design or coincidence appeared in the issue of the Church Times containing the notice of Father Pollock’s call to rest, concludes with these lines—

“It is fashioned by pain for a glorious part,
For the Face of GOD is carved on its heart.”

They are a fitting and beautiful description of the life of each of these two sainted Mission Priests.

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