WHEN Fr Willie Strain, parish priest at St Augustine's, High Wycombe, wanted to build a much-needed community centre for the parish, he found the shortage of land a formidable obstacle, So he looked upwards, not to the heavens, but to the clerestory of his church, where he saw a large, unused rectangle of space, well-lit. and only requiring a floor.
The result has been quite dramatic. Heating bills for the church are lower, and the acoustic is better. Furthermore, the newly-designed church interior is better suited to the post-Vatican Li liturgy.
I arrived at St Augustine's in time for the parish's weekly "poverty lunch", a simple meal of
bread, cheese and soup. This took place in the newly-finished "Upper room", which has its own kitchen.
My first impression, from the parisioners I met, was a feeling of welcome. and they generally agreed that the new meeting place had done a great deal to consolidate and enliven parish activities.
But that was only the beginning of a whistle-stop tour round a many-faceted parish.
High Wycombe is a raciallymixed community. At Castlefield Middle School, the headmaster. Laurie Taylor, is proud to have successfully integrated pupils of Christian, and Muslim background. Though it is a state school, Mr Taylor is a Catholic, and he believes in God-centred education.
"Muslim parents are very worried that their children may be tainted with what they see as the declining moral standards of the West." said Mr Taylor. "Consequently they welcome any school that araepts the Bible. The only thing they won't accent is any mention of Jesus Christ as the Son of God."
Catholic children are given instruction by Sister Ruth, of the Daughters of Jesus. With her background of remedial teaching in Derby, she is a valuable asset to the school. The children were rehearsing a passion play. "Where's Jesus got tor said the
teacher, when the Messiah failed to take his cue. "He's off playing football," was the reply.
The Castlefield estate is in the pastoral care of Fr Frank McDermott. He says Sunday Mass in the local Community Centre where Catholics often turn up with non-Catholic friends. The movable altar, and lectern were built free of charge by a local, admiring atheist. At nearby Booker, Fr Frank showed me the half-built Catholic church of Our I iady of Grace. due to be completed this year.
Back at St Augustine's. l spoke to Fr Michael Luckie who is responsible for the Catholic half of St James. Downley, church shared with the
"It's very much an 'in case of unitv, break glass' situation." said Fr Michael. He explained that there was no "us and them" feeling.
'We're not 'Catholics' and 'Anglicans'. We're one parish, 'with Fred and Joan. Bob and Mary, irrespective of creed. We experience the real pain of not being totally unified because we cannot share the same bread and cup at Communion."
There was so much to absorb in such a short visit I left with the fervent desire to return at my leisure. Here was a parish where community-building" was the key word. When we finally achieve Christian unity, will they notice the difference, I wondered?