St Francis “The Children’s Church”

Celebrating 75 years at the heart of the local community

 

www.StFrancis75.co.uk

 

In 1940, the country was embroiled in a world war. However, in one small corner of Staffordshire a happy event was taking place - the consecration of a new church, St Francis, Meir Heath.

At the time, it was known as the ‘Children’s Church’ because it was part-funded by money raised from the purchase of ‘little bricks’ by children attending church schools in the diocese.

Over the last 75 years, the parish has seen huge changes. This anniversary provides the perfect opportunity to record the history of the parish for the benefit of future generations as well as celebrating the changes in industry, history, culture and, of course, worship that has taken place over the last eight decades.

We want to ensure a lasting legacy that is accessible to everyone, using events, activities, services and digital media to excite and engage all members of our community, including families and young people, with their local heritage and the church that has been at the heart of it all since 1940.

 

75th Celebration DVD

Local Film Production Company Inspired Film & Video are producing a film about the 75th Celebration of St Francis.

If you have any memories or photos from any decade, please contact us as we’d love to hear from you and record your memories.

 

1940’s

In July 1939 the country was poised on the brink of a world war. Statesmen and politicians were concerned about the rise of Nazism in Germany and the effect it would have around the globe. In one part of North Staffordshire, however, a small community was concerned about another event – a much happier one – the laying of the foundation stone for a new parish church. Just 14 months later, on 12th October 1940, the church of St Francis of Assisi in Meir Heath was consecrated to the glory of God and the benefit of His people.

Back in 1929 the Bishop of Lichfield had launched the Diocesan Church and Schools appeal whereby the offerings of children in the diocese would be used towards the building of a church in an area of new population growth. The Bishop originally chose Friar Park (between Wednesbury and West Bromwich) as the site. However, another source of funding became available for that church and so the Bishop decided that the ‘Children’s Church’ should be located in Meir Heath.

The church, designed by W. Curtis Green in the ‘Art & Craft’ style, is rich in symbolism. It was built and furnished for the princely sum of £8,800 – although the tower included in the original design was abandoned.  A number of features were added post war, but perhaps the most notable event was the installation of the Rev Herschel Bateman as priest in 1942 – a position he held for the next 35 years.

 

1950’s

Following the austerity of wartime, the country was now able to enjoy the coronation of a new queen, the birth of rock and roll, the launch of ITV, the introduction of fish fingers, the opening of the M6 and the production of the first mini.

For St Francis, the 1950’s was a period of growth and development. A separate Parish was not created until 1948 (incorporating parts of Normacot, Fulford, Oulton, Barlaston and Blurton parishes), so much work was needed to establish the parish in the hearts and minds of the local community.

More building work was undertaken including the erection of the vicarage in 1950 and the reconstruction and extension of the Church Hall in 1953 following fire damage. More internal beautification of the church was also carried out including a colourful stained glass window in the ‘Children’s Corner’ and the St Francis window and altar rail in the Lady Chapel.

 

1960’s

The swinging Sixties bought us Coronation Street, Top of the Pops and Dr Who, along with mini-skirts, BBC2, colour TV, a moon walk and, of course, a World Cup win.

A few notable firsts for St Francis included the introduction of an annual Procession of Witness (1960 to 1973), the admission of lady choristers to the choir (1966) due to problems in recruiting choirboys and, in 1965, a celebration of the Silver Jubilee of the consecration of the church.

The uniformed organisations still formed a big part of church life and in 1964, a special service was held to commemorate 50 years of the Brownie movement. Many members of the community will have fond memories of church parades and weekly meetings in the old church hall.

 

1970’s

Decimalisation, membership of the EEC, a ‘test tube’ baby, the ‘Winter of Discontent’, the first deaths in the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland (including Lord Mountbatten), the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and a woman Prime Minister… the 1970’s was a decade of highs and lows.

The retirement of Rev Bateman in October 1977 was a low point for St Francis, but it was also a time for confidence building as volunteers stepped forward to ensure the smooth running of the church during the interregnum. Fortunately the period was short and in July 1978, the parish welcomed Rev John Pawson as the new priest-in-charge – a role he occupied for the next 25 years.

One of Fr John’s early acts was to standardise patterns of worship – and to begin the process of catering for the growing population on Meir Park, the former site of an aerodrome that closed in the early 70’s.

Internal work to St Francis during this period included amplification equipment in 1971, glazing of open arches between chancel and Lady Chapel, and installation of the west window ‘Christ Triumphant’, also in 1971.

 

1980’s

The 1980’s was the Margaret Thatcher decade bringing us the Falklands War, the miners’ strike, IRA bombings, a host of privatisations, the ‘yuppie’, the fall of the Berlin wall – and the birth of the World Wide Web.

Big changes were also taking place in the parish with the opening of the St Clare’s centre in 1981 and at St Francis with the building of the new Church Hall, opened in 1986 and car park extension in 1987. Fund-raising also took on an interesting turn with two ‘exotic pudding’ parties being held in 86 and 87!

The congregation also got a little warmer when gas fired central heating was installed in 1983 and wooden doors replaced curtains in the entrance porch and the entrance to the Lady Chapel. The 14 Stations of the Cross were placed around the walls of the nave in 1984 and the upright chairs from the 1940’s were replaced by bench pews in 1985.

 

1990’s

For the Parish, the 1990’s opened with a year of mission to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the consecration of the church. A variety of initiatives and events took place including house groups one of which was attended by Bishop Keith, the Bishop of Lichfield. Our First Parish pilgrimage to Walsingham took place in 1991 and now is a regular event in St Francis Church calendar.

In the wide world we said our farewells to Hong Kong and Diana, Princess of Wales and bid hello to the Channel Tunnel and women priests. Following on from the success of the Mission Year, the week-long Festival of Flowers and Talents in 1986 showcased the skills of the local community. The Walchester Room was built in 1999 on the north-west corner of the church – providing a much needed meeting room for the church and is now let to craft and other groups at a modest cost.

 

2000’s

In 2003 Rev John Pawson officially retired on 15th September and the church went into a long period of Interregnum with Rev Trevor Harvey acting as Associate Priest during this time. We entered the 21st Century by creating our first website!

In June 2005 Rev Paul Blanch became vicar and started pilgrimages further afield to Rome & Assisi in 2006, Lourdes in 2007, Venice in 2008 and the Holy Land in 2009.

In 2009 a Memorial Garden was created to the rear of the church with 14 Stations of the Cross. Also, in 2009 “Fan the Flame” week lead by the Mission Committee was a successful attempt at outreach in the community with young Christians taking an active part in plays, prayer and worship.

In October 2009 Fr Paul Blanch left to take up a post in the USA and we were thrown into another period of Interregnum. During this time lay ministry together with support from the congregation kept the church together.

 

2010’s

New beginnings for a new decade with Fr David McHardy becoming priest in charge in July 2010, creating a number of firsts, namely: a much needed new sound system, the first Messy Church, a new website and our first post on Face book. Fr David led his first pilgrimage to Cyprus.

In 2012 our Scottish priest instituted our first Burns Supper held in St Francis, which was great fun and now is a favoured tradition. In March 2012 our first children’s pilgrimage to Walsingham took place and it too is an established tradition. St Francis Church ever keen to reach out to young communities launched 11th North Staffs Boys Brigade & Girls Association in May 2012. In June the Queen’s diamond jubilee was celebrated by a Parish meal, and most enjoyable it was too. In October the pilgrimage was to Northern France. In 2013 we held a most successful Festival Weekend in July that was very well attended by many people from our local area.

In the autumn we installed eco-friendly and cost saving solar panels on the south facing roofscape, which has proved to be a wise investment and paid for by a generous legacy. This legacy also enabled us to install in 2014 an electric under floor heating system throughout the church, which has proved to be cost effective and as importantly actually makes St Francis warm and comfortable for services and other activities like the Burns Supper in the middle of winter. Hitherto, with our conventional heating system with gas boiler and radiators going full bore, we barely achieved 10°C compared to 20°C + now.

2015 has started with a blistering pace again with our Burns Supper in January, Confirmation and Pontifical Mass by the Bishop of Ebbsfleet and Messy Church. February has started our series of free film nights featuring films through the decades and the start of Lent with a Lent course led by Fr David looking at liturgy through the decades and conducting Mass in the tradition of the time.

In March there is the children’s pilgrimage to Walsingham and another Messy Church and during the coming weeks Inspired Video has been commissioned with Heritage Lottery Funding to produce a new website dedicated to St Francis 75 and an important documentary video recording memories of people from the congregation and others like a past priest Fr John Pawson to capture these vitally important stories about social and economic changes as seen through the eyes of local residents. This record will be shared with local libraries and available as source material to schools and hopefully, will be cherished by those who partake and their families in its creation, as a lasting legacy for future generations.

St Francis Church has been at the heart of the local community for 75 years in 2015 and we wish to invite everyone from whatever faith or denomination to join us at the many and varied events throughout this year especially our Community Festival Weekend 3rd to 5th July to celebrate our heritage and we look forward to engaging more closely with the local community in the exciting and challenging years ahead.

 

Events 2015

The whole community can get involved in a series of exciting events, activities and services to celebrate our local heritage. We have received a generous grant of £9,900 from the Heritage Lottery Fund which will enable us to trace social changes and share local history; mining, ceramics, WWII aerodrome, shopping, fashion, games, transport, and more.

 

JANUARY

11th Benefice mass (St Francis)
17th Messy Church
24th Burns Supper

 

FEBRUARY

10th TALK – History of the area
20th Movie – 1940’s
21st Movie – for children 1940’s
24th Lent course begins (changes in liturgy through the decades)

 

MARCH​

7th-8th Children’s pilgrimage to Walsingham
28th Messy Church

 

APRIL

17th Movie – 1950’s
18th Movie – for children 1950’s
28th TALK – Local mining industry

 

MAY

9th TRIP – National Mining Museum
12th Movie – 1960’s
15th-17th Walsingham Pilgrimage
16th Movie – for children 1960’s

 

JUNE​

6th Messy Church
9th TALK – Meir Park Aerodrome
13th TRIP – Imperial War Museum Salford Quays
19th Stoke, Smoke and Sandbags – original drama by Shelley Brooker
19th Ration book supper
26th Movie – 1970’s
27th Movie – for children 1970’s

 

JULY

3rd-5th COMMUNITY FESTIVAL
19th Benefice mass (Holy Evangelists)

 

AUGUST​

8th TRIP – Ceramics heritage
14th Movie – 1980’s
15th Movie – for children 1980’s
18th Mothers Union Afternoon Tea 2pm at St Francis Church

 

SEPTEMBER

8th TALK – History of St Francis church
12th 70’s supper
18th Movie – 1990’s
19th Movie – for children 1990’s
22nd-29th Parish Pilgrimage to Assisi

 

OCTOBER

3rd Concert by Elinor Moran Soprano 7.30pm in St Francis Church
4th St Francis Day 9.45am followed by Bring & Share lunch
3rd-8th Turin Shroud Exhibition at St Francis Church 10am-4pm every day (1pm-4pm on Sunday 4th) with accompanying lectures and documentaries
16th Movie – 2010’s
17th Movie – for children 2000’s
25th Grand Festival Mass – Celebrating the 75th anniversary of the consecration - including renewal of marriage vows. 9.45am followed by bubbly and wedding cake and exhibition of wedding memorabilia

 

NOVEMBER​

8th Remembrance Sunday (focussing on WWII)
14th Autumn Fayre
20th Fashion Show through the decades

 

DECEMBER

1st Advent course begins
31st Parish Party and look back over the year’s celebrations