Our Priest: Father Chrysostom

Father ChrysostomBorn in Bristol in 1954, Fr. Chrysostom was brought to his Mother’s home, Ireland, to be baptized Charles Leonard at the age of two months. Raised in an Anglican family, his parents, Charles and Pat, ran a pub in Bristol and then, in Clevedon, Somerset. In 1973, he began studying Theology at Bristol University. Graduating in 1976, he trained for the Anglican ordained ministry at Ripon College, Cuddesdon (Oxford). In 1978 he married Mo (Maureen), a teacher, soon after his ordination. For sixteen years he served as an Anglican minister in Swindon, Bristol and Cornwall. It was in Cornwall that their daughter, Eleanor, was born.

It was whilst in Cornwall Father's long-standing interest in Orthodox Christianity had time to develop. Finding time for study, especially in the areas of Liturgy and Church History, he was increasingly convinced of the rightness of Orthodoxy and that, correspondingly, the whole western Christian tradition was, in varying degrees, evidently heterodox. As for Anglicanism itself, there was much in its history that might be admired but it was clearly losing its intellectual and moral power. From the Nineteen-Eighties, liberalism in particular was the driving force of the Church of England and with the advent of "women-priests" in 1994 the break was inevitable.

In the early Nineties Father Chrysostom formed the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy movement that gathered together like-minded clergy. He was soon receiving post from all over Britain from fellow Anglican priests distressed at what had become of the Church of England. These were clergy for whom the allure of the Roman Church did not exist yet they felt at a loss as to what they might do. Many knew very little about the Orthodox Church.
In September 1994 Father Charles, as he still was, together with a party of other clergy from the movement, now led by Michael Harper, met His late Beatitude, Ignatius IV, Patriarch of Antioch in Paris. So began the history of the British Antiochian Deanery with the ordination of priests and the formation of Orthodox communities in various parts of the country.

Taking the name Chrysostom at his Chrismation in April 1995, he was ordained deacon in Paris in September of the same year and priest, a week later. Having left the Church of England, Father trained as a teacher, so was only able to minister in his free time. The small congregation in the Church of St. Petroc and St. Keyna never really developed with its rural location and several members moving out of the area. With the death of Fr. John Nield in Dorset, Fr. Chrysostom was asked to take over his parish at Athelhampton. This proved convenient for family and work reasons and with the help of his deacon, Fr. David, he ministered once again in a rural setting.

Father ChrysostomIt was evident, however, that although it had a beautiful setting, such "hidden" Orthodoxy was not able to contact or attract many who might be searching for the truth of salvation. So, a mission was started in the Poole-Bournemouth conurbation, reflecting the missionary zeal of what had now become the Antiochian Orthodox Deanery of the United Kingdom and Ireland. With the ordination of Fr. Deacon David to the priesthood (to serve at Athelhampton), Fr. Chrysostom was appointed priest of the new community of St. Dunstan. Gathering in people of Orthodox background, as well as inquirers, the community has now become established as a parish with the Deanery. The Community, originally sited at the former St. Osmund's church in Poole, worshipped for a time at the church hall belonging to the Roman Catholic parish of St. Edmund Campion at Castlepoint, Bournemouth through the kindness of Fr. Marcus Brisley. Eventually, the community was able to buy the former St. Osmund’s building and are actively working to restore it, both internally and externally. Fr. Chrysostom established the Bourenmouth-Poole Orthodox Christian Foundation as both a registered company and a registered charity to manage the care and maintenance of the building, now renamed, St. Dunstan of Canterbury Orthodox Church. Ministering within the church at this time, though, was limited, as both father and his wife were employed in teaching.

However, they have both now been able to take their pensions, so having retired from teaching, Fr. Chrysostom can once again give his time to the full-time ministry at Poole and moreover, take a wider interest in the affairs of what has become the Antiochian Archdiocese.
Fr. Chrysostom envisages St. Dunstan’s parish as primarily a mission to the English, to enable as many as possible to find the ancient Christian faith of these islands, that Orthodoxy that had taken root here before the Great Schism of 1054. At the same time, the church needs to bring in those in the town who are Orthodox by historical or ethnic background. The first task of acquiring our own building has, however, now been achieved and the programme of restoration is well under way. To assist in this The Bournemouth Poole Orthodox Christian Foundation has been established since 2011, a charitable company, which owns and runs the building. Alongside this, there is the Parish Committee, organising the parish community's life.  

With God's blessing, the growth of the parish has now started to happen, though Fr. Chrysostom is aware that there is a need to look to the future. If St. Dunstan’s is to become a centre for the propagation of Orthodox Christianity, the work of restoration must be completed, the parish put on a firm financial footing and the continuation of the priestly ministry must be assured. These local circumstances, are to be seen alongside the broader picture and as the Nicene Creed states, there is only ONE, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church; anything else must be part of a fragmentation. In common with the whole Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of The British Isles and Ireland, this  parish must hold to a single vision: the Re-hallowing of these islands, calling all into the unity of the One Faith in One Lord.