Friends of St Michael’s
A warm welcome to the Friends of St Michael’s!
St Michael’s is well-known for its fine music, Anglo-Catholic ritual, festive atmosphere and hearty celebrations. Over the years it has drawn to itself a diverse group of people with a wide range of religious and other views. Here you will find a warm welcome, respect, support and the love of God for everyone, wherever we are on our spiritual journey.
View some of the Friends’ profiles below and discover individual’s stories of St Michael’s over the years. Their words will appear at the foot of the page below the gallery of photos. Please do feel free to contact us and share your experience of St Michael’s using the bar tab below the gallery of photos. You can also connect with us via the Friends of St Michael’s facebook page and also on Twitter
Our programme of events and activities will keep you in touch with what’s going on. The Friends share a common love for and connection with St Michael’s, whether they gather regularly, visit occasionally or are part of the St Michael’s “Diaspora”, whose arms reach across the world. If you’re in Exeter, please visit us; you will often find us enjoying refreshments in the west end of the church after services.
The church is a listed Victorian building; assisted disabled access is available via movable ramps at the West Door.
To support the Friends events and activities, please give generously via the church’s MyDonate facility. Thank you!
Dr Nigel Browne
We first came to St Michael's on Christmas Day 2001. The choir consisted of Tamsin and Richard Parker, and we were offered mince pies with clotted cream and sherry after the service. Within a fairly short time we had joined the choir, and then when Charles Argall resigned I was asked to take on the job of organist. This would have been about 2003/4, so I have been organist at St Michael's for about 10 years.
Relationship to St Michael's
Organist of St Michael's and member of the Music Team. Nigel also sings bass in the choir.
When we were first here, my husband Mike and I decided to try to be self-sufficient. We had chickens and geese, and grew vegetables. After our third son was born we inevitably ran out of money. I worked with naughty boys and troubled children in Modern Foreign Languages at a local Comprehensive, but have now retired. I enjoy gardening, singing and reading, the family and grandchildren, and the continuing delights and friendships I have found at St Michael and All Angels.
I was attracted to St Michael’s by a poster, which advertised a series of ‘special’ evening Masses. The poster was beautiful. The Mass in question was to celebrate St Theresa of Avila, about whom I knew nothing. It promised intrigue, so Mike my husband, and a couple with whom we were, and still are friendly, agreed to go.
The church was candlelit, and full. The choir was good; there was incense and strange bells. The effect, to me, was mysterious. Thus it was that when casting around for a new church adventure, Mike and I started at St Michael’s, and stayed.
The attractions of St Michael’s at that time were many. There were two excellent priests who celebrated every Sunday. They wore superb vestments. The service booklet was sensible and straightforward. The Mass, with its traditional language, began at the beginning and went on until the end with no insertion, interruption or addition. Soon the symbolism and ritual fell into place. I loved working through the church’s year. There was no amplification; there was no indiscreet modern decoration. And above the altar hung the light signifying the presence of the reserved sacrament, not, as is usually the case, to one side, or in the Lady Chapel.
St Michael’s is a great barn of a place. It has a generous acoustic. Charles Argall was then the organist and choirmaster. The organ was an electric Compton. I remember being enchanted by the sound, which seemed to start high up in the vast arches of the place and tumble gently down, echoing around. Two things were impressed upon me when I joined the choir, one that when singing the plainsong Propers if you didn’t get it absolutely right, pitch, words, intonation, you had to go back to the beginning and start again. The other was that nothing, not a hymnbook, pencil, scrap of paper, nothing, ever, should impede the sight of the altar.
Effie Gillard was Chapelwarden. ‘Of course we have The Presence’, she said with great humility. Our sons looked forward to coffee after the Mass, amazed by Effie’s ability to make a brew you could chew.
Relationship to St Michael's
I am a choir member, and currently the assistant to the Electoral Roll Officer.
Born on New Year's Day 1956, Richard grew up in Fontmell Magna, Bridgwater and then Gloucester - where he started singing in the large, mixed, all-age Parish Church choir at Holy Trinity, Longlevens, and in the choir at Sir Thomas Rich's School. At university (St Andrews and Oxford) Richard sang in various church and chapel choirs.
"With visiting choirs I have been privileged to sing in over two dozen of our great Cathedrals, sometimes standing in as Precentor. For a number of years I also sang Orthodox Church music each summer with the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius."
During 20 years in Berkshire, singing at Bracknell, Sunningdale and Reading, Richard did some amateur solo work in Stainer's Crucifixion and Handel's Messiah, and moved into High Church musical circles as the only places that celebrated mid-week Festivals with Sung Masses.
Coming to Exeter with the Met Office in June 2003, my first impression of St Michael's was arriving slightly late to find Fr Peter Lee and the Servers processing down the Nave towards me with Incense and Holy Water going in all directions! My second impression was of a small but welcoming, friendly and committed congregation, using Services largely untroubled by decades of liturgical revision.
After worshipping at St David's Parish Church for a few years, circumstances forced me to come more often to St Michael's, and gradually I moved from the Nave into the Choir. I now hugely value the opportunity to sing the best of six centuries of sacred music in its proper liturgical setting with the friendly, enthusiastic and really rather good St Michael's Choir.
Relationship to St Michael's
Richard sings Tenor in the Choir at St Michael's and writes a brief commentary each month on the Music List for the Parish Magazine, New Leaves, and for the Blog. He is also a member of the local Deanery Synod and hence of the Parochial Church Council.
Richard is part of the Heritage and Music Development Group that has managed the delivery of our Heritage Lottery Funded Projects; to install a refurbished pipe organ at St Michael's, to show our breeding pair of Peregrine Falcons to the world via a live streamed camera, and to use this new website to share the special heritage of Mount Dinham as widely as possible.
Download exmaple of Original Work
Professor Oliver Nicholson
Having spent twenty years of leaves-and-summers-at-home trying to support the village church, in the summer of 2008 I came to the conclusion that I could not stand another Family Service, I did not like the condescending preaching and overpowering sense of Puritan righteousness, the tiresome sub-liturgical gimmicks and the lack of focus on the Sacraments. I had done my bit, I had played ghastly ditties on the Rector's keyboard, I had done several years as Lay Chairman of the PCC (including during interregna), I had composed a Terrier and Inventory as long as a scholarly article (and all this despite the fact that the Rector had been so rude to Caroline that she had actually had to show him the door, because of which none of the family ever went to the village church). Anyway, by 2008, frankly I felt in need of nourishment, I needed to be worshipping somewhere where I could exercise my mind - and for that matter my voice - sing with the understanding also. Much of what I did for the village church I continue to do - I have just rewritten the Terrier, I do the bookstall at the fête, but I now do it while also being able to exercise my soul in a place where it feels at home.
And that is exactly what I felt when I first came to an Evensong and Benediction at S. Michael's, as part of a congregation of two. I had been very much an Anglo-Catholic in my teens at boarding school and college, so coming to a place with the Reserved Sacrament, with good music and sermons (and lectures) and familiar and predictable patterns of prayer was like putting on a comfortable and well worn coat. For the first time in ages in public worship in England I did not feel self-conscious and so was able to turn and try and be conscious of God. There was also the wonderful music. I sang in a church choir in America, which is good and well-drilled and so on - S. Mike's is all of that and also FUN.
Relationship to St Michael's
I have enjoyed singing, I have made friends, I have tried to put something back by promoting our participation in the Food Bank. I think S. Michael's is one of the best-kept secrets of Exeter, and I would love more people to find it.
Oliver was elected Chapel Warden earlier this year.
Richard William Parker
Richard William Parker, born 25th June 1967.
"I became an archaeologist by mistake (like most of the other decisions in my life). I went out, wrapped in a suit and tie at the insistence of my mother, and knocked on doors until someone gave me a job. I remember walking into the city museum’s Archaeological Field Unit and gabbling, bright red with embarrassment; 'I can do that....'. They sent me to volunteer on the excavations at Cricklepit Mill and, one morning, while I was lying asleep in a puddle, the late Mr Henderson crept over the craters and barbed wire, shook me by the shoulder to wake me and said 'Would you like to work for us?' I kid you not. This is really how I began my glistening career.
"I am now a freelance archaeologist, specialising in the recording and interpretation of historic buildings including ecclesiastical structures, vernacular housing and industrial, agricultural and military structures in both urban and rural contexts. I am widely published in local journals, and less widely so in national journals. My reconstruction drawings of ancient buildings and townscapes are well known and loved in the area and also further afield. I am a committee member of the Devon Buildings Group and a Chapel Warden of St Michael's.
St Michael's has always loomed large in my mental picture of Exeter; towering over the river, where we sailed our boats, and over the Lower Cemetery, where we sought thrilling terrors among the catacombs. When I first visited the church properly I was running away from some equally fearsome life-drawing classes. My tutor said: ‘you need to draw things with corners’. I wandered into the church and found several little old ladies polishing the furniture. They sat me down and were so welcoming and kind that I have never forgotten them. I later returned for a service, and was bowled over by the sense of the continuity of the worship, though chants and hymns and liturgies, with all ages and forms of Christianity. After that you could not keep me away, and now the place feels like a part of me.
Relationship to St Michael's
Chapelwarden, Plainsong Cantor and Choir member for about 20 years.Download exmaple of Original Work
Revd John Alfred Thurmer
John Thurmer, born 31 December 1925, died 25 January 2015, was Canon Emeritus of Exeter Cathedral.
"I was at school in Essex (Witham and Chelmsford) and was called up into the army in 1944. In the Royal Engineers my official army trade was Railway Clerk CIII. I was posted to the Middle East (Egypt and Palestine) and spent two years in Jerusalem, where I narrowly escaped terrorist bombing. After three years at Oxford (Oriel College) and two years at a Theological College I was ordained and served a three year curacy in the modern Newham (outer east London). I lectured at a Theological college for nine years, and came to Exeter in 1964 to be Chaplain at the University, with some part-time teaching. For the rest, see my first impressions."
"I have written various articles, reviews and obituaries, and four short books, two of which are still available. A life-long interest has been the work of Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote popular detective novels in the 1920's and 1930's and whom I knew (or knew of) at Witham, Essex."
"My books have been published by the Dorothy L. Sayers Society (no commercial publisher was interested) :
Reluctant Evangelist and A Detection of the Trinity, publishers details below."
• A Detection of the Trinity, 2nd Edition 2008
£8.00 incl. p&p
Available from the Dorothy L Sayers Society;
Essex CM8 1AX
• Reluctant Evangelist 1996
(£5.00 from the author
Canon J A Thurmer
58 Velwell Road,
Devon EX4 4LD.)
Canon John Thurmer's words remain here as a reminder of a wise priest enormous support to St Michael's and the greatest friend to many. He died at home in in Exeter in January 2016.
"Since I came to Exeter in 1964 to work (as University Chaplain) I have been aware of St Michael's and its Anglo-Catholic tradition. I came occasionally for funerals and as a visiting preacher."
Relationship to St Michael's
Canon Thurmer had been an Honorary Assistant Priest since 1991.
"When I retired from the Cathedral (where I had been a residentiary Canon from 1973 to 1991) I acquired a house in the parish of St David with St Michael & All Angels. The Vicar left at Easter 1991 and the Archdeacon of Exeter asked me to help the non-stipendiary curate, Father Lee, with basic parish work during the interregnum. The new Vicar, John Henton, and his successor, Tom Honey, asked me to continue as an honorary assistant priest. As such I served both churches and congregations."
"I am too old now to do much priestly work, but members of the congregation give me lifts to church, without which I couldn't get there, and also give me, an old man without close family, most valued friendship."
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