A papal medal has been awarded to a Lancing couple for long-standing service to their church and community.
Patrick and Sheila Dunbar were presented with the Benemerenti Medal by Bishop Richard Moth at The Holy Family RC Church in Lancing.
The award had been kept as a complete surprise and the presentation was part of a day of celebration for the East Worthing Parish.
The Rev Fr Daryl George, parish priest, said he applied some months ago to Pope Francis, through the Bishop’s office, for Patrick and Sheila to be considered for the Benemerenti Medal for long-standing service to the diocese, the parish and the community in Lancing.
The Bishop was due to attend the Parish Mass on June 30 to celebrate Deacon John Body and wife Sue’s 40th wedding anniversary and the 15th anniversary of his ordination, so it was hoped the medals could be presented at the same service. However, it was not until the Tuesday before that Fr Daryl heard they had finally arrived from Rome.
Fr Daryl said: “At this point, I made contact with the recipient’s large extended family to tell them about the award and invite them to be present. Many of the family were from surrounding parishes and their presence would have tipped-off the recipients that something was up, had they been seen. But, by several means during the few days before, many had arranged excuses as to why they would be at the Mass to allay any suspicions.”
When the medals and framed certificates were presented, there was rapturous applause from the congregation.
This momentous day of celebration developed from a chance conversation in the autumn, when Deacon John told Bishop Richard about his double anniversary.
Fr Daryl said: “Bishop Richard suggested he would like to come to celebrate with them at the Parish Mass. It was from such an off-the-cuff conversation that a whole series of events was to join forces to bring about a wonderful celebration of the church as family here in the East Worthing Parish.”
The date had already been set as Certificate Day and Sending Forth for the young people from the parish who had celebrated confirmation at Arundel Cathedral in May or at their first Eucharist at Holy Family in June.
During the celebration, Deacon John gave the homily, highlighting the family of the church, with Bishop Richard as head and the commitment this represented.
He said how appropriate it was that members of the community were receiving Sacrament Certificates, marking increased commitment and that he and his wife would be renewing their 40-year commitment to their marriage vows.
The East Worthing Parish was formed in 2007, bringing together the previous parishes of The Holy Family in Lancing and St Charles Borromeo in Worthing.