Father Ernie Stroud
31st August 2014
ACS Council member, Father David Sherwood shares his memories of Father Ernie:
When I was instituted as vicar of what proved to be my last parish the bishop was greeted at the west door with the anthem "Ecce, sacerdos magnus," "behold a great priest." It struck me that this would have been entirely suitable for Fr Ernie for I believe he was a great priest.
In 1975 he came to be our vicar at S Margaret's Leigh-on-sea, a well-established Anglo-Catholic parish in the borough of Southend-on-sea, Essex. I was then practising as a solicitor in the area and singing in the choir at S Margaret's. Fr Ernie was to spend eight years at vicar of S Margaret's during which time wonderful things happened. The parish magazine had a sketch of the church with a representation of the Holy Spirit pointing down into the church. It seemed that the Holy Spirit was working overtime in S Margaret's during the time that Fr Ernie was there.
He taught the Catholic faith straight with no hint of liberalism nor watering down. At the same time he was a warm and compassionate man who loved laughing and he got everyone else laughing too. He taught us that church was meant to be fun, although the liturgy was well done, properly and seriously. The fun was immediately afterwards. After all if the mass is meant to give us a foretaste of heaven then we should enjoy it, for who wants to go to heaven if it is not fun? He pulled people in. When he arrived there were two main masses on Sundays, one at 9am for families, said with hymns and another at 10.15 with a full choir singing a different setting each Sunday. So many came to the earlier mass that the later one had to be moved back by a quarter of an hour so that the church could be cleared in time for the later mass to start on time.
He had the knack of choosing good curates over the years. I am told that if something was funny when the offices were being said together by Fr Ernie and his curates they would all collapse into giggles and have to stop saying the office out loud, concluding in silence. Fr Ernie had the good fortune to have a delightful wife, Jeanne, who laughed even more than he did and was a superb cook so that social events at the vicarage were an enormous pleasure.
He had a wonderful store of stories which often seemed to involve his arriving at a parishioner's home in the middle of the might to solve some practical problem and he and the parishioner often ended up sitting on the floor helpless with laughter.
I went to theological college in 1981 with three others from the parish and we were all ordained in due course. All of us were encouraged and supported by Fr Ernie. He had time for people and he listened. He was short and tubby and I always thought he resembled a wheeble, a popular toy in the eighties, a little plastic figure with a rounded base whose catchphrase was "wheebles wobble but they don't fall down." Prior to S Margaret's he had been vicar of All Saints Chelmsford where he was greatly loved. After S Margaret's he went on to be archdeacon of Colchester and but for the glass ceiling for traditionalists I am sure he would have made a wonderful bishop.
He returned to serve at S Margaret's in retirement and was able to celebrate his golden anniversary of priesting in 2011. He was always a great supporter of ACS and served as chairman for a while. He got me onto the council from which I must retire this year due to the age limit. His funeral mass was a splendid affair with over thirty concelebrating priests of whom I was one, all of us wearing black vestments! It was not a sad occasion, but more a celebration that Fr Ernie had finally passed to his well-earned rest. He was my confessor for some years. On one occasion I was complaining about the lack of success in my then parish. He said "We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful." Those are words which I think of as Fr Ernie's epitaph for they encourage us all through life. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
Fr David Sherwood