People in Bishop’s Cleeve, Gloucestershire, celebrated the virtue of friendship on Friday night, January 28, with a special service lead by local Catholic and Anglican bishops. The packed congregation marked the inauguration of an agreement to share the medieval church of St Michael.
The service was led by Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton and the Rt Rev John Went, Anglican Bishop of Tewkesbury. Members of the new joint churches council on behalf of the Anglican and Catholic communities read a declaration of commitment to work together as the sharing agreement was presented and placed on the altar.
The congregation lit candles and the Rev Malc Allen, Rector of St Michael’s, together with local Catholic parish priest Fr Peter Slocombe, carried water to the font. The bishops led the congregation in the renewal of their baptismal promises.
The medieval church of St Michael, in the centre of Bishop’s Cleeve, has become a legally shared building thanks to a sharing agreement between the dioceses of Gloucester and Clifton.
Fr Slocombe said: “We’ve come a long way to have reached this joyful point. It’s the friendship between us as communities that has made the difference.
“The rector and I come from very different church backgrounds but there is a good rapport between us and we pray together twice each week. With this commitment of our sharing agreement we can reach out more effectively to local people.” The Catholic community has worshipped in Bishop’s Cleeve since the 1940s, first in the tithe barn and then in St John Fisher Hall.
Since 2000 St Michael’s has been the home of worship for the Catholic community following an invitation from then rector Canon John Mead.
Canon Mead said: “The sometimes difficult search for Christian unity is not a fringe movement, nor a pastime. The sharing of this ancient building shows an earnest desire for Christian friendship and a longing to find that unity for his people for which Christ prayed. May this continue and St Michael’s be the spiritual home of a growing and vibrant community.”
Anne Doyle, the chairwoman of the Clifton diocese ecumenical commission, said: “I am delighted that the Anglican and Catholic congregations feel they are ready to move into a formal sharing agreement after sharing the church for so long informally.”