This event marks the beginning of another period in our history, when Father Hawkes’s biretta became as familiar a sight on St John’s Hill as Mr David’s ‘mortarboard’ had been before the War, for the church now became one of Catholic rather than High-Church practice. The new vicar introduced the daily Mass and, after consultation with the congregation, substituted Sung Eucharist for Matins as the principal Sunday morning service at 11am. Vestments were already in use at St John’s and reservation of the Blessed Sacrament was introduced in 1924, then incense in 1925. The various church groups were now organized as ‘wards’, each with its patron saint, of the all-embracing Guild of St. John, The Mothers’ Union, for example, became the Ward of St. Monica. By the end of the 1920s the Stations of the Cross provided regular Lenten devotion, and in the 1930s an annual parish retreat was held at St. Leonard’s Retreat House under Father Horner, C.R. There were parish branches of the Church Union and the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament. St John’s also became closely associated with the annual Anglo-Catholic Congress (especially with the centenary celebrations of 1933) and with the Universities Mission to Central Africa.
These changes did not take place entirely without friction, in what Fr Hawkes himself described in 1925 as “the largest and most difficult parish in the district”. One parishioner asserted: “I am not sure I like all the methods” and boldly in the third person: “Other people tell me it’s all wrong!” Nevertheless there is little doubt that Fr Hawkes’s zealous love for the catholic faith and for his people won for St John’s Church the faithful support of most practising Anglicans in the parish.
This process may be observed in the vicar’s monthly magazine letter of instruction, which he always addressed to his “dear Fellow-Workers”, a phrase which well expressed the spirit of his ministry: serious, demanding, austere. Themes of the monthly letter, constantly repeated, were preparation, hard work and perseverance, with the reiterated promise of joy for the faithful in this world as well in the next. His suggestions for Lenten abstinence were sometimes intriguing, as when he said that sleeping was one luxury that might be rationed. Others were lounging in armchairs, riding by car or bus instead of walking and washing with hot water when cold would serve! One rule he advised all to keep was a daily visit to the church for private prayer. The decline in attendance at Evensong on Sundays, characteristic of our time, greatly grieved Fr Hawkes who, while admitting that Sunday obligation was discharged by attendance at Mass, repeatedly insisted that Evening Prayer was an admirable devotion for Christians who loved Our Lord enough to be dissatisfied with mere duty.
Fr Hawkes was actively assisted in his ministry by his wife. She acted as honorary assistant organist from 1927 to 1957, thus saving the church hundreds of pounds. Fr Hawkes declared that if he had been any use as a parish priest “it is very largely due to the care with which my wife surrounds me”. He also paid tribute to a succession of curates, nine in all, of whom the most eloquent record is that of Father W.J. Jillings (Rector of St Peter’s, Walworth, before coming here) who acted as assistant priest during three separate periods: 1925-27, 1932-33 and for the war years, 1941-45. Also specially to be remembered is Arthur Meeks, whom an experienced priest described after his death as bearing “more than anyone I have known the marks of holiness”. Another notable figure from that time was William Jeffrey, for thirty-seven years verger, who died in 1947. His voice in the responses, described as stentorian, was remembered by many. The memory of Frances Sarah Styan, who died at the age of 101 in 1924, should also be preserved; at the age of 100 she was still a regular worshipper “week by week at the altar” of St John’s.
During these years before the Second World War, the annual bazaar was a mainspring of cooperative work and pleasure upon which our solvency largely depended. This was a very popular event at which Fr Hawkes’s ascetic views did not prevent his wife from supervising a ‘Vanity Stall’, or the holding of a coiffure competition!
The parish weathered a minor and major storm in this long period. The first was a serious financial crisis involving a debt of £1,350, which, however, was redeemed through economy and hard work within four years [1933-37]. The second was the cataclysm of the Second World War. Like every other parish, St John’s was from the first affected by the revolution in our lives made by total war: an immediate black-out followed by the great wartime migrations, the evacuation and the call-up. The Blitz followed. In September 1940, the church buildings were badly damaged by a parachute mine, but despite all difficulties, “services went on as usual and every act of worship was maintained”. Although the fabric remained intact, the repairs were not finished until the 1950s, when the church found itself burdened with a bill for some £4,000, of which the War Damage Commission was responsible for less than £1,000 . This was a trifling matter in comparison with the loss of those who died or were bereaved in the War, without whose sacrifices St John’s would not have survived as a church, or even as a district in all probability, in the second half of the century.
At the end of 1956 the restoration was nearing completion and it was perhaps appropriate that Fr Hawkes, having celebrated his golden jubilee in the ministry in 1954, should lay down his heavy burden as vicar. He retired in 1957. This devoutly Catholic priest laboured ardently at his vocation during his long incumbency of 37 years, and thereby performed a great work at St John’s.