Sir John Betjeman once remarked of S. Mark’s, Swindon that “its achievement lay in catholicizing a parish, not merely a congregation”. Looking back at photographs of my predecessors in past generations, they are often pictured as part of a large staff team. I am told that there was a time when someone only had to sneeze in New Town to find at his or her door, just moments later, a nun or two (the Wantage Sisters had a Mission House here), and then a stream of eager curates.
Seeking to recover a sense of collegiality, both among the clergy and between the laity and clergy, can be hard in some of our parishes, particularly where there are no other Catholic parishes nearby; Swindon New Town is the only Catholic parish in our archdeaconry. So too can be finding the resources and time to reach into our communities in the deep, sustained way that past generations have.
That was part of what inspired our recent bid for Innovation Funding from the Vision and Strategy unit at the Church of England. Having secured that funding, we’re now planning for a new mission project. This will allow us to appoint a full-time Associate Vicar, who we’re calling a Mission Priest, and four part-time lay workers. The lay workers will focus respectively on: (1) social action projects; (2) the Goan community within the parish; (3) children and families; and (4) discipleship for those in their 20s and 30s.
We’re really grateful to the Additional Curates Society for having made a grant to supplement the Innovation Funding. Thanks to this assistance, we’ll be able to fund the Mission Priest role for five years – with the aspiration that we might grow sufficiently that we can permanently sustain two stipendiary priests here. Encouraging greater lay participation is a central element to our mission plan. Fundamental to the Mission Priest’s role, therefore, will be helping to unlock the missionary potential of the whole parish, especially its lay people: the vision is that, through God’s grace, the entire church community will be equipped to engage confidently in mission and evangelization.
The work of recruiting the Mission Priest and lay workers is beginning now, with the aim of having the priest licensed and the lay roles filled before Lent begins.
By his claim that S. Mark’s had catholicized the parish, Betjeman meant ‘not that everyone in the parish was sympathetic towards the externals of Catholic Christianity’ but that ‘the people of the parish as a whole have a more real conception of what the church is, what she is intended to do, than is often found elsewhere’. That inheritance is still visible in this parish today. We’d be grateful for prayers as we seek to explore new ways of living that out over the months and years ahead.
Fr Toby Boutle SSC
Parish Priest, the Parish of Swindon New Town, and Bishops Rep in the Diocese of Bristol