St Milburga’s Church

St Milburga’s

It is difficult to date accurately the beginning of the parish. Whereas diocesan records exist for the completion and blessing of a church building in Church Stretton on 19th May 1929, there is clear evidence of a small Catholic community in the town long before that. Therefore we take our starting point as 1907 when a retired priest from Plymouth, Canon Langdon, who had been a professor at the English College in Lisbon, bought a house, Hope Villa, in the town and began offering Mass there. Unfortunately he died at the end of 1908 but Mass continued to be celebrated at a variety of sites around the town, by priests who were visiting the area, members of religious orders in the area and chaplains to Plowden Hall, the residence of a recusant Catholic landowner about 12 miles away.

During the First World War Belgian refugees in Church Stretton had their religious needs served by a Redemptorist priest. Local Catholics, numbering about ten were invited to share in the sacrifice of the Mass. However, real progress was made in the 1920’s with the purchase by the Diocese of Shrewsbury, of Manchester House in Churchway so that a place for Catholic worship was assured. Fr. McGuire was appointed Priest-in-charge and remained until 1926. About this time a group of influential and determined ladies began negotiations for the provision of a permanent church.  Led by Mrs. Dutton of Shrewsbury who alone paid for both the land and the building, the project was completed in three years and Fr. Edmund Bryant, a Franciscan, was appointed.

The regular congregation was about thirty and grew only slowly because the parish boundaries were wide, roads were poor and public transport almost non-existent. In addition antagonism to Catholics, due to ignorance and misunderstanding, made worship difficult for some people. In recent years, particularly since the second Vatican Council, any hostility towards Catholics has disappeared. This is due in part to the efforts of successive priests to play a visible role in local as well as ecumenical affairs. The establishment of ‘Focus’, an inter-church newspaper in the early 1980’s, to which Catholics contribute substantially, has of course, also increased the level of understanding, as well as joint worship and other shared activities among the Christian communities. It is worth noting that there is a high level of church attendance in the town as a whole.

Over the years the population of the town has increased. substantially, as has the number of worshipers at Milburga’s,  rising to a peak of 120 in the 196O’s. However, the need for a Catholic school has never arisen, with the few Local children being prepared for the reception of the Sacraments by successive teams of ladies professionally trained for the task. Neither the church building nor the presbytery. both of which are brick built with whitened cladding, have required enlargement since 1929. But improvements have, of course been made periodically to furnishings, decor and the design of the surrounding gardens and car park. Public transport has improved very much since the church was built, except on Sundays when it is most needed!  Therefore it is the private car, happily owned by most families, which brings people to church, particularly those who come from villages as far as 20 miles away down rural lanes. The frail or elderly do not want for lifts. The scattered nature of the Parish means that social events are not easily organised.

However, recently local buses have been hired relatively cheaply enabling us to participate in Diocesan as well as other events of Catholic interest. In the last decade we have become aware of falling numbers of worshiping Christians across the western world. This together with the reduced recruitment of seminarians, has led to the need for elderly priests, some of whom are in poor health and not supported by domestic staff, to go on serving much longer than has been the custom. The unlikelihood of many small or rural parishes having a resident parish priest in the future has to be faced. It is essential to prepare for this in the belief that the Holy Spirit will inspire us and strengthen our resolve. We are pleased to be regularly informed of the many Diocesan plans, for example, for team responsibilities across Parish boundaries. The lay ministries, which were inaugurated a decade or so ago, have therefore been enlarged and strengthened in the Parish recently and an active Parish Council appointed.  A weekly study group on The Word has increased our understanding of the scripture readings and our enjoyment of the Liturgy.

Our patroness, St Milburga, was a Saxon princess who came to Shropshire from Kent in the 7th Century and became prioress of the religious community of both men and women at Much Wenlock, some 12 miles east of Church Strenon. She was a courageous lady and much admired locally as is evident from the current ex1stence of a well and other reminders of her about the town. We are proud to have such a local Saint, a model of Saxon piety and fidelity and are confident that from her place of influence she will assure the continuance of a strong Parish in Church Stretton.

Maureen Lee