AS TI IE PARTY conference season ends, the faithful of all parties have been baying for change. I thought I'd finished with change a few months ago when I moved my menage (consisting of my elderly mother and a yet more elderly and totally neurotic dog) to a house so new the paint was still wet. I then assumed that this autumn would be little different from the previous sixteen. Organising and giving courses, running retreats and holding events have for long filled my life as a diocesan adult religious educator, with extra interests in editing, lecturing and administrating.
Now I find I have become a daily long-distance commuter and editor of this prestigious and influential newspaper. Hooker's observation that Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better must be a classic undertatement. However, these changes are made easier by the friendliness of all the staff on the Herald.
In my last position I had to create a job in which no precedents had been set. I am aware that my chair here has been occupied by many illustrious and gifted names who have graced religious journalism for more than 100 years.
To my immense relief, my immediate predecessor, Harry Coen, a professional to his fingertips, is staying around part-time Co help with the production side. Such patience and kindness from him I could not have dared hope to find, nor such a mentor as he from whom to learn the trade. He has left the paper in good shape.
While my employee status in the Church may have changed, those for whom ultimately I work are the same the people of God, who include the clergy, through whom access for lay people to religious education and the religious press largely depends.
The beliefs we all share are also unchanged and unchanging, even as every age struggles to express them in language which makes sense to their world. The institution charged with passing on and promoting these beliefs can, indeed has to, change from age to age in its procedures the better to discharge its task to the world.
AFTER A STINT in Rome, trying a vocation with a missionary Franciscan order, I landed back near, and then in, the small market town in mid Suffolk of Stowmarket. This remarkable parish is the first of three in which I have lived in the past 16 years, all based in towns which, like most in Suffolk, lie 12 to 15 miles apart.
Deriving from an 18thcentury Riding Mission, and run by a single priest, Stowmarket parish covers an area twice the size of the Isle of Wight.
With 82 villages and a couple of small towns to care for, "collaborative ministry" as we now call it, was developed early by a succession of enlightened priests who drew on the thinking of the Second Vatican Council and passed it on to the people.
Partnership in ministry has to be made to work here or the poor man would be burnt out in a month. The present incumbent is one of the former Anglican priests who have "come over" (I reserve the word "convert" to those receiving adult baptism). It seems a pity than none of the three other ordained men living in the parish can be of greater service. They, now married, are no longer in priestly ministry.
A married former Anglican has been working in my next parish, Bury St Edmunds, for some years. He ministers now as Catholic chaplain to the local RAF bases.
Meanwhile another former Anglican priest, a celibate, has the charge of the parish helped by an impressive team. The church in Bury boasts a fine Rubens Crucifixion and a lovely marble statue of Our Lady by no less than Canova. Recusant families had kept Catholicism alive in the ancient abbey town, establishing a Jesuit mission in the mid-1750s.
The presbytery hid a chapel which was licensed 30 years later, just two years after the Act of 1789. The chapel has become the Blessed Sacrament chapel in the present neoclassical church which adjoins it, built in 1835, with the wretched box pews which it still has today. I feel an unease at intruding into others' private "worship space" which pew doors give.
The jockey-hero of the moment, FranIcie Dettori, is a fellow-worshipper at my present parish. As it is horse mad Newmarket, that's no surprise! The neoRomanesque brick church, proudly set opposite a busy shopping mall, was actually paid for from the winnings of racegoers persuaded on the course by the priest of the time to give half of their gains to God!
Today the parish is unusually well served in having one distinguished parish priest, assisted by a gifted former Anglican (yes, another one), an Indian Jesuit (while researching, and translating into Tamil), a permanent deacon who is also a Cambridge history don, a community of teaching sisters and a few dedicated lay helpers.
The Catholic world of the "Second Spring" is represented by the chapel at nearby Kirtling Towers, home of the North family.
The last (the 13th) Lord North died in the war but Mass is still celebrated weekly in the chapel.
I've had some good luck on the racecourse this season, and share the buzz of the happy crowds roaring our hacked horses home. Despite living opposite the gallops, my knowledge of form and horse-talk is lamentable, disguised in front of my friends only by remembered gleanings from Dick Francis's novels. I can't wait to start his new one.
ISHOULD LIKE to take this opportunity to thank all those kind well-wishers who have encouraged me with cards, letters and calls over the past few weeks. There has been an enormous mail-bag, which has shown me how significant this newspaper is in the lives of so many Catholics.
I hope to continue the honourable tradition of this independent publication in giving reliable information, 'the truth in charity', and in following the aims for which Pope Pius XI blessed it, "To set forth sound Christian principles of life."