The Channel 4 programme ‘Priest Idol’ offended many by its cynicism

We are grateful to David Nicholson for offering some corrections

By now it is yesterday’s news. People will have formed their opinions from what they saw on the TV screen, many of course doing so without any knowledge of what went before.

Four years ago the Diocese of Wakefield decided not to replace the priest in Lundwood; rather they thought that they would annex it to the neighbouring parish of Cudworth, for pastoral care and the providing of the Sunday and mid-week Mass. To this end, the parsonage house in Lundwood was sold off, the Bishop licensed me as Priest-in-Charge and so alongside a large and very busy parish in Cudworth I was now to care for the people of Lundwood.

Ordinary hard work

After being licensed my colleague and I began the task of caring for the people; we focussed on the debt payable to the diocese through arrears on the previous years’ Parish Share, and of galvanising the people of the parish (that is those who worshipped there – 15 in total, not 8 or any other figure quoted in the press) into a plan for the future, which included re-ordering the church, having a feasibility study done on the plant in conjunction with the local partnership team, helped by ‘Together for Regeneration’ for South Yorkshire and the Social Responsibility Officer for the diocese. This all took time and promised something rather exciting. Meanwhile the small band worked hard, paid off their quota arrears and also raised the £7000 for their Parish Share for the three years we were there; towards the end of our time we were able to secure over £2000 repayment from the utilities company in overpaid bills.

That was when Channel 4 and the Archdeacon arrived on the scene. Although it could be argued that it was a failing parish numerically, the truth was that the Faith was being taught, it was being practised, and the Christian witness was visible in the village – the other denominations having pulled out, the RCs within a week or so of their Bishop telling them their church would close! Pastorally the contacts were there with funerals, baptisms, school visits…

Fr James was appointed, and he is enthusiastic about what Lundwood offers in regard to the mission of the Church and we, for our part, continue to pray for him and the people of Lundwood in their endeavours. What the programme failed to tell us is that the diocese placed what they call a ‘Turn Around’ team of eight people into the parish to help Fr James, people who have been seconded from their own parishes for two years. What the diocese also did was to reduce the Parish Share from £7500 to £1400. I am not suggesting that this is wrong, but I just wonder whether this had been on offer to us over the three years we were there then things might, just might have been a little different.

PR and television

The TV company managed to portray me as a bit of a dinosaur – but they failed to come to Cudworth to film our Mass here where we have a vibrant and robust congregation of all ages, rather than giving the impression that I had been moved to another parish. I always had this as well – daily Mass, three schools, up to 100 funerals a year, 70+ baptisms, around 20 weddings, a parish which this year paid its Parish Share of £33,000 by August! Hardly the picture that came across.

The cameras have moved on. Fr James is now able in his own right to get on with things. The PR company with their trite and sometimes offensive slogans have also moved on. Perhaps now the truth will be proclaimed – that is the truth of the Gospel, which not just Lundwood but every parish in our land needs proclaiming afresh and anew.

I am not sure what St John the Baptist would have thought of the slogan, ‘More conversation, less conversion,’ or what was hoped to be achieved by, ‘More garlic bread, less breaking of bread.’ The Church, surely, has not completely lost its vision.