Monday, October 12, 2009

Priest Idol returning to resurrect a US church (down the street from the White House)

Sitting watching William Crawley and Losing Our Religion on BBC One, I came across an article about another holy matter.

James McCaskill

If you can remember back to November 2005, Channel 4 ran a short series of three programmes with the slightly disingenuous title of Priest Idol. It focussed on the appointment of a new priest for the Church of England parish of St Mary Magdalene Church in Lundwood, Barnsley.

Like many smaller congregations, it was a shrinking urban church, with an ageing attendance, and buildings in a bad state of repair soaking up money.

James McCaskill took up the challenge and was filmed for the first year as he sought to revive the parish. A sympathetic advertising agency created a set of ideas under the brand Church Lite ...

Over the last few weeks, many churches have been celebrating harvest. This time last year, I posted about James McCaskill who took the Lundwood harvest service to the local Asda supermarket. In an email exchange after that, he explained:

"Our Harvest Service at Asda was an excellent opportunity to encourage our congregation, many of whom were not church goers prior to three years ago, to consider our outreach to the community. We had a successful morning in terms of having many people of the congregation join us at Asda outside the safety of their usual seats in church."

"There were two goals in this exercise. The first was to offer a friendly glimpse of our congregational life for many who find stepping inside a church either a scary or boring experience. The second goal was to collect money for Self Help Africa, a charity that helps farmers in very poor regions of Africa to become self-sustainable."

"It was a learning experience for all us in terms of how we might conduct a similar event in the future and how we might increase our hospitality and our willingness to be flexible in order to communicate better with contemporary society. Bridging the gap between the pew and the community has been a major part of my ministry at Lundwood starting with television cameras and a major marketing firm, but then trying together as a congregation without the bright lights to be flexible, creative and welcoming."

Now the Yorkshire Post brings the news that James McCaskill is moving on from Barnsley to take up the challenge of rejuvenating "a failing congregation in his native America".

Mr McCaskill ... said goodbye at the weekend.

He said he had not taken the decision lightly to leave but said he was looking forward to using the skills and insights learned in Barnsley to help rebuild the congregation at a church in Washington DC – just down the road from the White House. "The past five years in Lundwood have offered some of the most challenging and I think some of the most rewarding experiences I have ever faced.

"Again and again, people ask me 'if it has worked' and my response is that I leave behind a church that is completely transformed compared to the one I first visited in September 2004. The building, the grounds, the congregation, and importantly, the community perception of the church have risen from depths of bleakness to new heights of possibilities and hope for the future."

Good luck James.


Anonymous said...

Strange post ... you start talking about Loosing (Sic!) are religion then go off somewhere else ... was that a veiled attack on the BBCNI documentary?

Alan in Belfast said...

Thanks for spotting the typo!

No, I was genuinely watching the programme and while sorting through emails and blog feeds when I came across the mention of Lundwood.

I enjoyed Losing Our Religion. Did you?