Parish Priest’s report to the 2016 AGM



During the last year, we lost only five parishioners through death but ten were baptised, so in theory, we have increased though that is not reflected in the pews. The census in October showed a decrease of 15 in our average Sunday congregations (all Masses combined) to 125 which I believe to be roughly in line with other country parishes. This is obviously a matter of ongoing concern. There are only 7 parishes (out of 50) which are smaller than ours in the diocese.

This year (2015/16) nine children were in preparation for their First Holy Communion which they received on 29 May and I take this opportunity of expressing particular thanks to Rebecca Clarke for undertaking the instruction of this group each Sunday morning. In this parish, we normally have Confirmations every 3 years but if there is a good response to an initial letter which will go out in the early autumn, we may bring the next one forward to October 2017.  There will be two weddings this summer, one of which, Amelia Birtwistle’s, will take place in the larger church at Beccles.

Financially we continue on the usual knife-edge with income and expenditure finely balanced through the use of a carefully monitored budget – for which prudence I am as always particularly grateful to our Treasurer, Carole Hunt. This year we are still busy raising enough money from donors and trusts to meet the expected bill of some £20,000 for the replacement of the church heating boiler which is now very old. This work will commence on 15th August. A number of smaller maintenance projects have taken place at both Bungay and Harleston and next month will see the painting of the south side of the house and a redecoration of the Parish Hall and a renewal of its curtain etc. As I have already mentioned at the Mass notices, there is a substantial Diocesan Appeal, called Alive in Faith, well under way though they haven’t got round to us yet. There is a balance to be struck here between our own financial independence from the Diocese and our duty of support for its broad pastoral mission. Watch this space.

Overlapping, as usual, with other projects is the New Evangelisation which seems to be very strong in some parishes while almost overlooked in others. I am grateful to our Chairman, Helen Kirby, for attending innumerable meetings about this.

As always I think we should renew out gratitude to those who give generously of their time in carrying out the essential offices both in Bungay and Harleston. It is always dangerous to thank by name for fear of missing someone out, but you all know who they are, whether on the Parish Council, the Finance Committee, The Pastoral Support Network, the Choir, the managements of our two halls, of the chapel at Harleston, the rotas for Eucharistic ministry, reading, serving, welcoming, flower arranging, altar preparation, linen-washing, coffee-making, cash-counting, maintenance or gardening.

I am grateful to Mary Kirk for setting up the new Parish Website and I am grateful to Andy Parris for taking on her former role of communications officer. Our parish website is routinely up-dated each weekend with the Newsletter and other items of interest. This being an even year (2016) our Parish Pastoral Council is due to renew its elected members and Helen will say something about that later.

In addition to CAFOD and its overseas aid, we are now in our fifth year of actively supporting a home charity, the Waveney Foodbank, which helps those in need of emergency assistance in the area. This scheme continues to attract a great deal of interest nationally, to the embarrassment of the government (who should themselves be providing a safety net). More volunteers are needed so please give that some thought to that.

Our Chapel at St Thomas More, Harleston, continues as a fairly distinct geographical congregation but has sadly experienced recently the departure of Kath and Julia Lister who are much missed. It continues to operate a produce stall in aid of CAFOD though this now operates in the village of Fressingfield. At Bungay, we were particularly sad to see the departure to Sussex of Frank Rouson who has been so active as a volunteer for many years.

The problems concerning  our Federated Catholic Primary Schools (St Edmund’s and St Benet’s) have partly subsided with their absorption into The Catholic Multi-Academy Trust based at Notre Dame High School, Norwich, which now runs all eight Catholic schools in Norfolk and North Suffolk. One of the first benefits of this was their ability to provide us with an excellent new Head Teacher, Mrs Veronica Short. I personally support this move to Academy status as its size and strength give our small school much needed support and stability, particularly in the area of finance, although that continues to be quite a worry. There is general agreement that despite ongoing concerns, the children appear to be happy and safe.

This year we repeated the Day of Recollection in Lent which seems to have been appreciated. Last year’s Parish Outing to Wymondham Abbey was a great success. We currently plan a Parish Outing to Leiston Abbey for 22nd July.

At Downside Abbey, our sponsor and trustee, Prior Administrator Leo Maidlow Davis was re-appointed for another two years or until such time as the community feels ready to hold an abbatial election. After a spate of deaths, numbers of priests in the Community at Downside are critically low and I am no longer confident that I will be replaced when I finally retire. Deaths and retirements of ageing clergy (including myself) in both the monastery and the diocese will inevitably reach a crisis point sooner rather than later. As I have warned before, they may trigger the need for a generous response and increased input from our parishioners and the remaining clergy. I have personally taken on two new tasks at a time when, by age, I should be reducing my workload: Episcopal Vicar for Religious for the Diocese, which is not much work, and Economus (or Treasurer) of the Downside Missions Trust – responsible for the finances of all Downside’s parishes – which currently takes up a lot of my time. In some ways I enjoy both these jobs but it is not ideal for the parish that my time is increasingly squeezed and often “days off” just don’t happen and I become impatient and grumpy.   Last month I celebrated the tenth anniversary of my arrival in the parish on a ten-year assignment and I am now in my 76th year, so by Canon Law, I had to offer my retirement to the Bishop last January. This triggered some negotiation between Prior Leo and the Bishop which in theory released me from involvement in additional projects (which seem to come on stream and even overlap with regularity). It remains to be seen whether this agreement will be honoured in practice. I currently envisage being here for two or at most three more years – by which time I will be pushing 80!

So as always I would like to express my thanks for all the help and support I have received from you, which I really appreciate. Finally, I would like to encourage you all to give thanks for the many Divine gifts we have received and urge prayer for the resolution of the big issues that trouble us, both local and national – and indeed universal.

Fr Charles      10.7.16