Monsignor Ray Charlton, Parish Priest of St Joseph’s in Stokesley and St Margaret’s in Great Ayton, has celebrated his Golden Jubilee as a priest and announced his retirement from active ministry. He has served Stokesley, Great Ayton and the surrounding areas for the past 27 years.
After service coding and deciphering in the Royal Navy from 1943 until 1946, Ray felt called to serve Christ in the priesthood. He studied first with the Jesuit Fathers in London, then in Waterford, before being ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Brunner in 1957 in Hull, his home town. He served initially in St Francis’ Church, Acklam, before being appointed Financial Secretary to the Diocese by the late Bishop McClean, a post he held for 30 years. In 1980 he was appointed Parish Priest of St Joseph’s, Stokesley. He was created a Prelate of Honour by Pope John Paul II in 1982 with the title of Monsignor.
In his address at his Jubilee Mass, Monsignor recalled his ordination day as a time of looking forward with hope for the future in the love and service of the Lord, a day of thanksgiving for being chosen, conscious that he had been chosen and not the other way round. He gave grateful thanks for the wonderful gift of the priesthood bestowed upon him. He reflected on his 80th birthday and how, apart from the fact his family and close friends remembered, it seemed much like any other day. The sun rose in the morning and set in the evening. Yet it is true, he said, that in Psalm 90 the term for human life is proclaimed as three score and ten: he was ten overdrawn! Or as a close friend reminded him: ‘You are well past the sell by date’! But he added that his golden jubilee and imminent retirement has made him realise it is a time for preparing for life’s last lap, a time for moving on, a time to say a sincere thanks to the people of the parish who had been so supportive over the last 27 years, not just supportive but friendly, in some way reflecting the grace of God as Monsignor Ray made his own journey of faith.Looking back, he said, he had seen so many good folk, many he was able with the grace of God to assist on their last journey and one day, please God, he will meet again in that wonderful Company of the Blessed.
To his many dear friends he gave an assurance of a remembrance in his prayers noting that faith will not just console him in the future but will hopefully transform him, just as each preceding age provided its own consolation. He noted that the future should not be left to mere chance describing old age as a natural stage in life which he wanted to make the best of, an opportunity to repair the many mistakes of his youth. He had discovered through the years that all our natural faculties tend to deteriorate: hearing, sight, memory and general health, wisdom alone seems to improve. By wisdom he meant a sense of discernment in life, for that he was grateful.
Old age will give him an opportunity for more prayer, a closer union with God the Father, His Divine Son and His Blessed Mother. It will be a time for silence and thoughtful recollection. He had meditated recently upon the Gospel of St Luke where the disciples on the road to Emmaus were joined by Christ who they did not recognise. He explained the scriptures to them and then ‘as they came to the village to which they were going, He walked ahead as if to go on. But they urged Him strongly saying stay with us, it is nearly evening and the day is far spent’. Monsignor said this was his prayer, a cry to the good Lord: ‘Stay with me, my day is far spent’.
Following the Jubilee Mass, the congregation assembled in the Church garden for refreshments and a formal presentation to Monsignor by Mr Philip Tucker, on behalf of the Parish. Mr Tucker thanked Monsignor for the spiritual leadership and guidance he had given to the Parish in the 27 years that he had been with them. Monsignor Ray in reply, obviously embarrassed, assured the people of his deep affection for them all and remembrance in his prayers in the future. Monsignor Ray following his retirement will continue to live in Stokesley.