The Ebbsfleet parishes in Birmingham range across this large and diverse conurbation.
In the north of the diocese, nearer to Sutton Coldfield than to Birmingham itself, is my own parish of Saint Mark, Kingstanding and Fr Barry Smart’s parish of St Luke, Kingstanding. The area which our two parishes serve is basically one huge council estate divided by two roads which quarter the area. Kingstanding has a strong and diverse Christian presence with two large Roman Catholic churches and several free churches of various denominations. It is a very deprived area with all the social problems which that brings, but after almost 16 years here I never tire of the challenge which ministering here brings. St Mark’s recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of our modern church building (consecrated in 1971) and this year is also the 75th anniversary of the original church on this site which is now our parish centre.
Over in the north east of the diocese by the M6 is St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, Caste Vale with St George’s, Minworth where Fr James Cope ministers. S.Cuthbert’s was built on the site of on an ex-military airfield and is home to 605 Squadron’s Colours, Memorial & Roll of Honour. Over 10,000 people live in the community of Castle Vale. The parish serves a community of some 10,000 souls. Birmingham City Council gave the go ahead for construction from 1964 onwards and it originally accommodated people from the Aston and Nechells districts of the city. St Cuthbert’s Church started life in a temporary wooden hut; the present church was not built until 1973. The church building has a modern interior which gives a light, airy space. It is used not only as a place of prayer and worship but also as a base for other activities and organisations that bring Castle Vale residents together. The historian William Dargue writes that “a monastic chapel was built in the vicinity in the 12th century, for brothers of Leicester Abbey. It was to be another 800 years however before the present parish church was built.”
Minworth is mentioned in the Domesday Book and is one of the oldest settlements in the region. S. George has served the village of Minworth since it was dedicated by the bishop of Birmingham in 1909.
St Mark’s, Washwood Heath and St Saviour’s Saltley are served by Fr Alan Thompson. Both churches serve areas of largely non-Christian, racial minority populations. St Mark’s on Washwood Heath Road was licensed for public worship as a chapel of ease of St. Saviour’s, Saltley, in 1890 and became a parish in it’s own right in 1907. St Saviour’s was consecrated in 1850.
St Saviour’s, a prominent and distinctive brick church with stone dressing was designed by R C Hussey and is a surprisingly large building with seating for eight hundred people. It is now a Grade II Listed building. The churchyard railings are a rare survival of the wartime drive to collect iron to make into armaments.
All Saints, Small Heath, known as the ‘Cathedral of the backstreets’, was consecrated in 1896 and stands as an important Christian witness in a racially and culturally diverse area on the fringe of the city centre. Fr Julian Sampson, the parish priest is also the diocesan anglo-catholic inter-faith lead.
On the Stratford Road near to the Birmingham City football ground, St Andrews, stands St Agatha’s, Sparkbrook. The Church of St Agatha, designed by W H Bidlake, was begun in October 1899, in the same year that the church it replaced – Christ Church, New Street -was demolished. It was consecrated by the Bishop of Worcester (in whose diocese this area of Birmingham stood in 1901). It is now a Grade l listed building. The building suffered bomb damage in 1940 and a fire in 1959 and was re-consecrated in 1961. The local area includes Birmingham’s famous ‘Balti-belt’. Nearby is the sister-parish of St Barnabas, Balsall Heath on Ladypool road. The church was built in 1904 and St Barnabas became a parish in it’s own right the following year. It is supported by a small but faithful congregation and serves one of the liveliest and most diverse areas of the city. The parish is currently in interregnum with the post advertised as house-for-duty.
All the Ebbsfleet parishes in Birmingham serve poor communities and face the challenge of maintaining the Christian presence amid both rising financial difficulties and large populations of other faiths. As we emerge from 2 years of covid pandemic and all the difficulties and deprivations which that brought for our congregations and clergy and the changes and challenges which the diocese’ People & Places programme will bring, the Ebbsfleet parishes of Birmingham diocese need your prayers!
Fr Philip Calvert SSC,
Birmingham Ebbsfleet Rep.