A new parish, a new situation, a new set of contrasting experiences! Kingswood is a vast parish to the east of Bristol. In 1974 25,000 people lived there and it was growing rapidly. Once a separate scattered mining community with an independent tradition, it had been developing as a city suburb for more than two centuries. The religious independence of the past is still to be seen in its 14 places of Christian worship and in local traditions like the Whitsun Parade and the Easter Morning service. Wesley and Whitfield both preached here, their visits immortalised in “The Beacon of the West” – a site looking out over Bristol.
Anglicans are responsible for two of those places of worship, consisting of a parish church of 1830 surrounded by 5 acres of burial ground, two sizeable halls and a vicarage – a Victorian house with seven bedrooms set in its own acre of garden. A secondary, twentieth century church – a mile away – had its own loyal congregation, a hall and clergy house.
We needed help in maintaining this plant and appointed David, a young man from my previous parish, as verger. While he turned his hand to anything, he was a trained chef so the heart of his work was a weekly “Thursday Lunch” which brought together members of the congregation, local traders and shoppers. He also supervised workers on job creation schemes to restore the overgrown graveyard and was on hand for weddings and funerals.
My predecessor had to retire on health grounds – a bitter disappointment to him and to the congregation. Changes were called for however and the congregation rose to the challenges. Liturgical revision was moving towards the Alternative Services Book which was introduced. The churchmanship, more evangelical than I had become used to, was open to the Charismatic movement.
I was keen to build ecumenical bridges with the other churches. The various ministers met for prayer each week, we developed ecumenical services for special occasions and eventually mounted a Mission to Kingswood with a team from Lee Abbey.
Pastoral opportunities centred on the large numbers of weddings, baptisms and funerals. There were two or three of each most weeks. Wedding preparation was by means of groups of couples gathering at the Vicarage for coffee and discussion. For funerals I tried to visit families at home. Baptisms were conducted at the main service on one Sunday in the month and again the preparation for such large numbers had to be in groups.
Kingswood had a strong tradition of Scouting and Guiding and one of the halls was given over for this. The uniformed organisations came for church parades and we were fortunate in having a band of committed leaders. Other work with young people centred on Confirmation preparation and the follow-on Sunday evening group known as “the Charisma Group”. Peter and Lorna lead this initiative with young people.
Office work to support all this was considerable so we set up an office in the church with regular opening hours and a staff team.
The church owned a house, managed by Norman the lay reader as a hostel for men on probation. Applications far outstripped the accommodation available – so we embarked on a project to develop this work. However our plans raised local opposition and the project had to be abandoned. By then I was serving on the local Social Services committee and my wife and I were supporting a succession of youngsters in the Vicarage, referred by the authorities.
The diocese put me forward for the Mid-Service Clergy Course involving a year’s directed study and the writing of a thesis – all leading to a six week residential conference in Windsor Castle. My theme was based on William Temple’s “Christianity and Social Order,” part of the bed-rock for the Welfare State. The whole experience was a breath of fresh air. I had been working as a parish priest for 18 years: here was a chance to give academic shape to that experience and to take stock for the future. Subsequently I found myself applying – and being accepted – for an ecumenical post in the comparatively new field of Christian Social Responsibility.
Read on to:
A DECADE IN SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: 1979-1989
CHARISMA CONSULTANCY: 1989-2005
Or back to:
A 20TH CENTURY PRIESTHOOD IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND
HOLY TRINITY, BROMPTON: 1961-1964
STURMINSTER NEWTON: 1968-74