A History of St. Michael's Catholic Church

From Early Times until 1997

Compiled and Written by Monica McAllister

Chapter 14: Growth of the Parish Community

Father Maxwell had loved his parishioners dearly and indeed had done much to bind them into a community. During his ministry the Legion of Mary was started and also a Ladies Guild and a Mothers' Union. In 1972 Father McGrath was to amalgamate the last two into one Society. On October 15th 1961 a fund raising committee was formed and met under the chairmanship of Father Maxwell. This could be said to be a forerunner of the Parish Pastoral Council.

When Father McGrath arrived in the parish the resolutions of the Second Vatican council were being put into practice throughout the Catholic Church. There was positive encouragement to the laity to take a more active role in the life of the Church, both at parish level and in the wider role of supporting the church in the poorer Third World countries. Christian Aid week had been mentioned as early as 1966 and people encouraged to support it. There had also been a CAFOD box at the back of the church since the time of the hut chapel. In 1974 the idea of self denial baskets at the back of the church each month was the start of the monthly CAFOD collection and we began to collect for specific CAFOD projects. A number of parishioners had A.P.F. boxes in their houses and a small group of co-workers of Mother Teresa began to meet, supporting her with prayer and by sewing and knitting garments for children in her orphanages. Later a Justice and Peace group, under the guidance of Peter Bucknill Q.C. was started in the parish.

Records indicate that priority was given to fund raising, particularly before the debt was eliminated. Father McGrath encouraged the idea of 'planned giving' suggesting in May 1974 that each family should contribute a sum of 50p a week in the collection. More people had also been encouraged to take out covenants. The first covenants were made in 1952 when three people covenanted for annual sums which they guaranteed to give to St. Michael's Church. By May 1956 there were another ten and by 1957 a further eleven people. In March 1959 Father Maxwell had appointed Joseph Bylam Barnes as the first local official covenant organiser. At that time there were 36 people covenanting. After six years of foot slogging around the parish by Joseph Byllam Barnes there were 99 covenants. From 1966-1971 Mrs Louisa Price organised the covenants and the number increased to 102. In 1971 Joseph Bylam Barnes again took over the responsibility and only relinquished it during the 1980s.

Help for the less mobile members of the parish existed from the early days of the hut chapel but during Father McGrath's days became more organised. In April 1968 he inaugurated a parish 'Taxi' service and since then volunteers have regularly collected people and brought them to Mass and taken them home again afterwards.

In November 1970 Father McGrath appealed for more people to help at Mass. Principally he meant sidesmen for until the new rite of Mass was initiated there was little else for individuals to do. Father McGrath encouraged ladies to volunteer but, when laypeople first became readers, certain conservative members of the congregation opposed the idea of women reading the Scriptures in church and it was to be some while before ladies undertook that ministry.

Although Mass had been celebrated in the vernacular for some time, the old Tridentine rite was still followed but on February 15th 1970 the new rite, with which we are now totally familiar was introduced. Not all the changes were brought in at the same time. It was some years before the Sign of Peace became part of the Mass and its introduction was deferred in St. Michael's because of mixed opinion in the parish. In February 1975 parish notices record that a questionnaire had been issued and 49 parishioners had answered! Of these 23 were for the giving of the Sign of Peace and 26 were against it!

Part of the new Rite of the Mass was the inclusion of an Offertory Procession and Father McGrath encouraged and involved families to undertake this. A rota was established and the family or group of people, who would bring up the gifts of bread and wine and the collection baskets, knelt in a bench, specially reserved for them, at the back of the church. After the reorganisation of the interior of the church these places were no longer reserved and sidespeople organised the offertory processions themselves.

The introduction of the new rite led to problems, as several parishioners had requested a weekly Latin Mass. Eventuallya monthly Latin Mass was celebrated on a Saturday morning bu.t its introduction was delayed until a Latin version of the new rite was produced as the old Tridentine Mass was not then allowed. This Latin Mass continued into Father Veal's ministry but eventually was discontinued

In 1967 the Parish Committee was flourishing and at the AGM on February 15th, that year 80 people attended. Parish Societies included U.C.M., Legion of Mary, Brownies, Sanctuary Guild, Choir, Youth Club (50 members!), Parochial Church Committee, Readers at Mass (30), Sidesmen (10), Church Cleaners, Repository, book centre and paper stall and Sacristan. We also had representatives on the World Council of Churches Refugee Committee and the Anglican Harvest Supper Committee. There was plenty of activity going on in the parish.

In April 1968 a new parish committee was formed and it was decided to have four sub-committees.  These were Liturgy, Finance, Youth and Social Activities.  In September of that year the annual Harvest Supper became a truly interdenominational occasion.

In 1969 a Deanery Council was formed and we sent Mr. Lou Debono as our first parish representative. We also in that year became involved with the local Association for the Prevention of Drug Addiction. We were becoming involved with the wider Church and with the wider local community. It was in that year that the name Parish Committee was abandoned and instead the term Parish Council was adopted. It was also decided to reduce the number of sub-committees to three. These were Finance, Liturgy and Youth.

Some time after becoming parish priest Father Veal issued a statement about his vision of a Parish Council and the first meeting of the Parish Pastoral Council during his ministry was on March 1st 1979. He had written:-

I see a Parish Pastoral Council as concerned with the whole life and mission of the Church, in the local area (Ashtead), in the wider area of the Church (Deanery), in the whole of this part of the Church (Diocese) and even the whole country and indeed the whole world.

I see the priest as being part of the Mission of the Church, performing his Sacred Functions, rather like the father of a family. I see the Church as the 'Family of God' like a continual 'extended family'. My vision of a Parish Council sees the whole parish as concerning itself with all the ob.ligations, functions and needs of the Parish, Deanery, Diocese, Country and World. I see the Church as giving a 'service'. For instance I think that the whole of the Parish, young and old, old fashioned as well as ultra modern should consider if we need a Latin Mass or a Latin Tridentine Mass or a Folk Mass, Disco Mass, Children's Mass or Family Mass.

Having decided what we need, then the whole of the Parish being involved in whatever is needed.

I would wish the ultra modern and the young to be as enthusiastic over the celebration of a Latin or Tridentine Mass as the ultra conservatives over the Folk, Disco or Children's Mass. We should not become slaves to 'pressure groups' not "I am for Apollo or I am for Paul" but we should all say "I am for Christ".

Minutes of the early meetings of this reformed version of the Parish Pastoral Council indicate that there were three sub-committees active.  These were a Worship Committee, which dealt with Masses and music and Liturgy in general, A Servant Committee, which dealt with charities and services to the local community (one of their first actions was to install a wheelchair ramp), and a General Purposes Committee which dealt with finance, various forms of money raising and social events.

Later the nature of the Parish Pastoral Council was to change when Father Healy became parish priest. He altered its constitution so that it was no longer elected by parishioners, as had been the tradition, but different working groups were asked to send representatives. However, as I complete this account of the history of our parish, Father Michael Walsh who is our present parish priest is guiding us in the rethinking and revising of our parish organisation as we prepare to enter the next millenium.

During 1980 Father Veal encouraged parishioners to consider the possibility of producing a parish magazine. It seemed appropriate to give it the title of 'The Trumpet'. The first issue appeared on October 31st 1980 and cost 10p. Early issues contained mostly parish reports and news but it has grown now to also include articles of a wide range of interests, poems, childrens pages and gives another dimension to the building of a parish community. It was first edited by Mrs Myers and then by Mrs Veronica Exworthy. By the sixth edition Joe and Margaret Rogers had undertaken the editorship. By the 15th edition Mrs Joan Bond was editing it and was editor until the 65th edition was published. Under her guidance the magazine went from strength to strength and now costs 30p a copy. There are four editions a year, the magazine appearing at Christmas, Easter. Summer and Michaelmas.

On May 28th 1982 Pope John Paul II came to England for a week's visit. Among those who were able to be at Gatwick airport to witness his arrival and welcome him that morning

were a few parishioners from Ashtead and their account of his arrival is recorded in issue no.8 of our parish magazine. Also recorded is an account of his visit to Wembley. With nine dioceses to be represented the number of seats allocated to each parish was limited. Father Veal decided that everyone wanting to go would put their names down and lots would be drawn. The lucky 'winners' set out on the Saturday morning in a coach organised by Father Veal and so St. Michael's was well represented at this historic event.

In 1984 when Father Veal went to Littlehampton Father John Healy came to Ashtead as Parish Priest. He came to find a lively and welcoming parish and one in which the laity were fully involved in many different ways. Preparations for Holy Communion and for Confirmation were being undertaken by lay members of the parish and groups supporting young parents and offering opportunities to children of pre-youth club age were being formed.

Such a lively parish meant that pressure in the parish office and demands on the time of the parish priest had both greatly increased. To cope with this a parish secretary (ostensibly part time) was employed. Our first parish secretary was Mrs. Breda Dallimore. When the Dallimore family moved to Woking, Breda had to resign. Her place was taken by Mrs. Mary Merrett who has continued to work tirelessly for the parish since then.

While the parish would continue to grow under Father Healy's pastoral care, his time in Ashtead was destined to see the launching of a project very dear to Bishop Cormac's heart. This was the Diocesan programme known as RENEW.

Fr Maxwell's Memorial