Local vicar awarded the British Empire Medal in recognition of COVID-19 community work
9 October 2020
The Revd Matthew Price, Vicar of St Mary Magdalene Church in Gorleston has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the Queen’s Birthday 2020 Honours List.
In June, The Queen agreed to defer publication of the list to provide an opportunity to recognise some of those involved in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Matthew has been nominated for his “contribution to the Coronavirus response, and as an exemplar of the wide range and exceptional community and front-line service he has given across the country in recent months.”
Matthew said: “I feel very honoured and completely blown away. As the pandemic unfolded, we simply tried to live out Jesus’ command to love our neighbour which is at the heart of both the Christian faith and my calling as a parish Vicar. I never expected any sort of recognition, but it is lovely that our efforts have been recognised. I’m also really aware that our community response was a massive team effort, both from members of St Mary Magdalene, other local churches, and the wider community, so I see the award as recognising everyone who contributed to that effort.”
Working in partnership with other local organisations, Matthew and his small team co-ordinated a group of over 100 local volunteers delivering, driving, collecting, phoning, praying, donating, door-knocking, cooking, cleaning, organising, packing and doing desk work such as databases and references.
Matthew continues: “From mid-March to the end of July, we delivered 1,793 food parcels, serving 1,150 different people (including 370 children). We also delivered cards offering support (via a freephone helpline) to every household in the Parish. This was followed up by a programme of door-to-door welfare checks as the lockdown restrictions began to ease (with the support of the local Police and Borough Council).”
The award will be presented locally by the Lord-Lieutenant and the Revd Price has been told that he will also receive an invitation to a Royal Garden Party in due course.
The Bishop of Norwich, The Rt Revd Graham Usher, said, “I am truly delighted that The Revd Matthew Price’s contribution to the life of the community of Gorleston has been recognised by HM The Queen with the award of the British Empire Medal. Whilst his modesty as a parish priest will not want any appreciation, Matthew has been a bearer of the light of Jesus Christ during the pandemic and gone the extra mile to care for vulnerable people. Together with the people of Gorleston, I send him my warmest congratulations.”
Arriving at St Mary Mags (as it’s affectionately dubbed) as Curate-in-Charge in January 2018, then Instituted and Inducted as Vicar in October 2019, Matthew could not have foreseen what would be looming in his local community. He explains what he loves most about his parish:
“The Magdalen estate which makes us the vast majority of the parish often feels like the forgotten part of Gorleston; we are the sixth most deprived parish in the diocese. But the people who live here are genuine and full of life. I love the fact that there is very little pretence; folk wear their hearts on their sleeves and there remains a real sense of community. As a church community, we are seeking to foster and build that. I love the fact that as I walk to the local parade of the shops, I bump into people I know and that the church building sits at the very heart of the estate.”
Matthew thinks it’s important for the work they have all been doing in the area to get this kind of recognition. “During the pandemic, we saw communities really come together and look out for one another. What we were doing was an expression of that. But it can be hard work. Serving the most vulnerable in society is challenging, draining and can often be overlooked. Recognition such as this is therefore appreciated and motivates us to continue offering the fullness of life that Jesus promised he would bring when he was on earth.”
He insists it was a massive team effort. “I would particularly like to thank my wife Anna, who is a massive support and also played a significant role in coordinating St Mary Magdalene’s community response. Also, Anna Heydon who is a development worker for Imagine Norfolk Together (a joint venture between the Church Urban Fund and the Diocese of Norwich) and who was an invaluable support. The three of us managed the team of over 100 volunteers.”
The news of the award came as a complete surprise. “I came home from a meeting to an answerphone message from someone at the Cabinet Office – I listened to the message three times because I couldn’t believe that someone from the Cabinet Office would be calling me! When I returned the call, they explained they were following up an email they had sent me the previous week to which they hadn’t received a reply. I had never received the email, so they resent it and it was a letter telling me that Prime Minister had asked them to inform me that he was recommending me for the honour.”