Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The Additional Curates Society and All Saints, Birmingham.

The Clergy get a long deserved wash courtesy of Fr. Barry's bubble machine!

All Saints Church, looking westwards.

All Saints Church, one of the chapels.

Looking from a side chapel to Our Lady's Altar.

Fr Stephen Leach promising Mrs Sue Leach that this is really the last conferance he will have to organise.

This weekend, after a really horrible 4 and a half hour drive through the torrential rains, I have been in Birmingham for the Additional Curates annual Vocations Conference, held once again at All Saints Church, Small Heath. It is always a delight to spend time with the ACS as they are such a charming and urbane bunch who, seemingly through word of mouth, gentleness and gin, seem to foster an extraordinary number of vocations to the Priesthood. They also undertake the work of sponsoring, well, additional curates, by funding many new Deacons and Priests in their training parishes, thereby helping in their training and often helping a parish to have an assistant curate who, otherwise, would not have been able to have one. This generally overlooked and thankless work is, however, vital if we are to continue our presence in the Anglican Communion.The joint skills of Fr Stephen and Sue Leach once again reminded me of the butler 'Swordfish' in 'Jeeves in the Offing', who was the perfect butler, but was also Sir Roderick Glossop, noted 'loony Doctor' in disguise, around whom all the action and intrigue turned, unbeknownst to most of the company. So thank you, and enjoy your well earned retirements.

The church itself was built as St Aidans, but was renamed All Saints when it amalgamated with two neighbouring parishes not too long ago. As you can see from the long view of the church, there is a rood set into a glass wall at the far end. This originally hung over the choir and sanctuary, but the church was reordered and the wall behind the sanctuary was opened up with a new door, going right onto the street, rather than the old door at the back of the Church, only accessible down a dark alley! The choir has been converted into a meeting room, with offices above and a reception area has been made directly inside the new doors. The old Clergy House has been converted into community rooms and offices, which are used daily and the church has been turned round in many ways. Firstly, it has been turned round liturgically, the old baptistry at the back of church is now the sanctuary, as you can see. This has had the effect of making the church seem much lower, as the eye is drawn to the space under the arch, which is much lower than the old sanctuary, making the space (now, of course, shorter and therefore short and tall) seem much more manageable. The two side chapels have been preserved, you can see one above and there is a picture of the view from the gates of the other, looking towards the lady altar. There will be more of this another day in a post on icons, as there is a fascinating painting in the chapel altar.

As you can see, the other way the church has been turned around is in a more metaphysical sense. The new fittings are, well, new, and the liturgy is very modern Catholic. And yes, they are bubbles you can see in the photo with the clergy. For reasons beyond me, a bubble machine goes off towards the last hymn. (Because people like it, I day say Fr Barry Smart, Parish Priest, would say). The whole 'experience' is quite staggering. I toddled off to use the loo at about 10.10 am, when I came back into the foyer at 10.13, there were hordes of people excitedly gambolling into the Church. By 10.20, it was packed. This being a normal Sunday. At some point, the choir began a slow, monotonous chant, which speeded up and was picked up by the congregation, so by the time the bell went, there was a tangible sense of expectation in the church. In fact, the choir and particularly their leader (although I am sure he would not want to be called that!) were fantastic all weekend. The Mass was well rehearsed, full of life, grace and hope. OK, some of it was not to my taste, and the bubbles are a worry, but who cares, it was very busy and, I am told, draws in about 30 for daily Mass as well. All this in an area which is 85% Muslim. I shall be praying for it's continual success and witness for some time, and maybe you should, as well. So thank you, Fr Barry, for your hospitality again, and i hope to see you again. And thank you to Bishop Edwin Barnes who travelled heoically to get there through the floods on Saturday. If all our Bishops were as dedicated and brave, then we would have no problems!

Dont worry, back to despondency next post.