Communicating the Good News of Jesus Christ in the midst of our community

Depiction of two people praying the angelus in a field

A Message from Fr Matthew for the Sunday after Ascension – World Communications Day 2024

Dear friends,

I was pleased to join one of the year 2 classes on Thursday morning, praying the daily decade of the rosary in the new Prayer Garden to mark the month of May. Most people would agree, I hope, that this is a fitting addition to the church and school site, and the prayers offered there will surely bear fruit in the lives of parishioners and members of the school for many years to come.

On St Joseph’s feast day last year I launched a Centenary Appeal with the aim of marking the centenary of our parish in a visible way which would be appreciated by future generations. I proposed two projects: the now-complete Prayer Garden; and the installation of a bell in one of the turrets at the front of the church. I decided it was better to try and complete one project at a time, and so the bell project has been on the ‘back burner’.

Every so often someone asks me “how’s the bell going?”, and I know some parishioners have been giving regularly, specifically for the bell. I am pleased to be able to share some news with you, and would like to take this opportunity to share my rationale (and enthusiasm!) for this particular project. My hope was that by waiting until the prayer garden was finished there was a greater chance of a suitable bell ‘turning up’. Not only would rehoming an existing bell save us the cost of casting a brand new one, but it also has considerable environmental benefits in terms of the energy and material resources involved. There is also a sense that a bell that has been used for religious purposes is a holy object, consecrated by use, that should not simply be discarded.

The good news is that the bell installer with whom I have been dealing has told me that, after waiting for more than a year, a suitable bell (from a well-regarded maker) is now available and is in need of a suitable home. So that this opportunity does not pass us by, I have accepted this offer and we are now looking for a date later in the year for it to be installed.

Why a bell?

It is traditional for a church to have one or more bells. The primary function of a church bell is to glorify God, adding to the praises offered inside the church. It also serves to remind the community that the church is here, and that something significant is taking place within. A single chiming bell such as this can be used in a number of ways. It is traditionally chimed three times a day to coincide with the praying of the Angelus, the announcing of the good news of the incarnation (in Eastertide we pray the Regina Coeli instead, announcing the joy of the resurrection). Already we recite this prayer at the start of our weekday Mass at 9.15am, so the bell would be chimed then (in the traditional pattern: three lots of three chimes, then nine) as well as the customary times of midday and 6pm. It would be chimed at the moment of consecration during Mass, to alert those who aren’t in church to the fact that the Lord has come in our midst right now in the sacrament of his body and blood. On the Lord’s Day it would sound for a couple of minutes before Mass as an invitation and summons to divine worship. It would also toll slowly as the body of a departed brother or sister is brought out of church to be taken to the final place of rest.

Our church does not have a bell at present but the turrets appear designed to house one, especially with the openings above the gallery-level windows. Perhaps this was always the intention? It seems appropriate, therefore, to mark the centenary by filling this gap with something that is intended both to glorify God and to announce to the community the good news of Jesus Christ in our midst.

I know that some of you may have concerns – about cost (and what it says about our priorities), and impact on neighbours. If you do have concerns along these or other lines then I do urge you to speak directly to me. To reassure you on the later point, the bell would not be chiming frequently or at unsociable hours, nor will it be so loud as to disturb people indoors.

I would like to address the question of cost. The total cost for the bell is now confirmed as £7310. That is a sum of money none of us would spend lightly. Church finances are somewhat different from household finances, in that we are a large community which shares the burden of all sorts of expenses. For context, this is less than 5% of our annual expenditure, and it works out at less than £14 per person at Mass over a typical weekend. In a couple of weeks’ time I will produce a report on our parish finances looking back over the past financial year; we are in a healthy position, more than covering our annual costs and holding a modest (though not huge) reserve, thanks to the generosity of parishioners past and present.

You may be of the view that this really isn’t a priority, and perhaps it sends out the wrong message. I would argue that Catholic churches – including our own – built and adorned through people’s generosity (in most cases, hard-working people giving sacrificially) have always been about more than the bare minimum. They include art, architecture and indeed bells intended to give glory to God and raise hearts and minds to Him. Such additions also support artists and others with niche skills. I would also argue that it is not a case of either/or: we can spend this sum on a new bell in the knowledge that as a parish community over the past year we have raised significantly higher sums in support of a number of causes, local and further afield.

As your parish priest I believe that this is a good and reasonable thing on which to spend parish money, as an outward-looking missionary parish. Nevertheless, recognising from the outset that some people might not be wholly supportive of this expenditure at this point in time, my hope was that both centenary projects could largely be financed by specific donations. That brings us back to where I began this letter: the Centenary Appeal launched last year. So far we have raised £6220 (including gift aid), to which has been added a legacy of £5000 received a couple of years ago. I am grateful to those who have supported these projects with such generosity. The prayer garden ended up costing more than anticipated due to a change in contractors, bringing the total cost of both projects to £18,760.  This means that well over half the cost of the centenary projects has already been covered by legacy or specific donations. If we are able to raise a further £7540 we would be able to say that both projects have been completed independently of our general parish funds. To that end, I am inviting you to contribute either a one-off donation or a regular sum perhaps for the next six months. You can do this at any time via our website (here) or the screen in the porch, or an envelope marked ‘bell’ in the collection plate or through the letterbox. There will also be a second collection for the Centenary Appeal next weekend (we haven’t had one yet) and I am looking at holding a fundraising concert later in the year.

Thank you for reading this, and please get in touch if you have any questions.

Fr Matthew

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