A new impetus was given to the ecumenical movement in Britain when Pope and Archbishop prayed together at Canterbury in 1982. Terence Sheehy describes one practical result of this: a model sharing agreement between two religious communities in a Hertfordshire village.
THE SHARING agreement signed last week between the Church of England Parish Church of St Andrews, Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, and the Catholic Church of the Holy Church, had its origins in the praying together of the Pope and the English Primate at Canterbury on the occasion of the Papal Visit to England.
This example profoundly moved both the pastors and parishioners of the two churches in Much Hadham, so much so, that today the Anglican Service on Sundays is at 9 a.m. in the twelfth century church of St Andrews, and Mass is celebrated at 11 a.m.
Discreet and modest Stations of the Cross are presently in place on the ancient walls of the Church, as is a lovely Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Mass attendance has more than doubled in this picturesque Hertfordshire village church.
As befits two sets of sensitive and civilised congregations, the ecumenical spirit has been manifested in their joint support for the St Elizabeth School and Home for Epileptics which was opened in nearby Ferry Green in 1903 by the Daughters of the Cross, and was the original Mass Centre.
The Catholic Community of Much Hadham graduated from a large room over a garage provided by Colonel and Mrs Hughes-Hellett at "The Lordship" in 1938.
This was followed by the use of a former world war two hostel for landgirls, later for prisoners of war, which, with the help of St Edmund College Divines and the Daughters of the Cross from St. Elizabeth's and parishioners, as parishioner historian Elsie Warner reports, was transformed into The Holy Cross Church under the pastoral care of the Redemptorist Fathers in Bishop's Stortford.
This temporary church was demolished several years ago, and work had started on the foundations of a new church. At this point the Rev Michael McAdam, and his parishioners of the Church of England St Andrews Church, offered their 12th century parish church for the celebration of Mass on Sundays to Fr Michael McGreevy and his parishioners.
From this offer of temporary accommodation came the decision to save the small Catholic community the enormous cost of a brand new church by entering into a fiveyear sharing agreement now operating.
It was a slow, carefully thoughtout democratic process at which in public meetings the ballot of both parishes was in favour of a formal sharing agreement by a two thirds majority.
The Much Hadham St Andrew's Church is 12th century in origin and typical of the mediaeval churches of Hertfordshire with its "spike" tower and its construction of local flint rubble and chalk and Barnack stone.
As Much Hadham was the country residence of the Bishop of London it has been kept in good condition, and its nave, north and south aisles in five bays, and chancel and vestry make for a model parish church.
It is famous for its 14th century rood-screen, chancel, bookdesks, pulpit and pews, and for its presses, including the commemoration of the rector of 1320, Simon Flambard, and of a 15th century member of the Mercers' Company and his wife and eight sons and seven daughters.
A copy of the Sharing Agreement between "The Rev M A McAdam and Others on behalf of The Church of England and the Rev M A McGreevy and Others on behalf of The Roman Catholic Church" relating to "The Parish Church of the Ecclesiastical parish of Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, (St Andrews Church) under the Sharing of Church Buildings Act 1969" has been on display for public perusal in the church, and makes fascinating reading. and a possible blueprint for rural parishes who might find themselves in similar circumstances.
The terms are very specific, and the Rev Michael Anthony McAdam, described as "Rector of the Ecclesiastical Parish of Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, in the Diocese of St. Albans" gets on extremely well with his opposite number the Reverend Michael Anthony McGreevy, described as "the RC Parish Priest, Clerk in Holy Orders and being the Parish Priest of St Joseph's Roman Catholic Parish in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, and accordingly having the responsibility for the congregation of Holy-Cross, Much Hadham, Hertfordshire".
The Holy Cross Advisory Committee of the Westminster Archdiocese, includes Sr Patricia Ann Ainsworth of the Daughters of the Cross of St Elizabeth's Catholic School and Home for children and women suffering from epilepsy which is pre-eminent in this work in Britain.
The Daughters of the Cross and their work for the handicapped have, over the years, brought Anglicans and Catholics in Much Hadham and area in a very special close relationship, and recent joint local efforts have raised more than £200,000 for their very necessary development fund for the continuance of the work in this specialist field of educating children and young people with epilepsy.
Against this background of Christian co-operation the Sharing Agreement of Much Hadham Churches got off to a good start.
The joint pastors and their committees are careful to point out that "two sets of civilised and sensitive peoples in search of a shared spiritual life have much more in common to be supportive of each other than they have in that which might divide them."
The newly-shared church of St. Andrew's and Holy Cross is shared between the Church of England Diocese of St. Albans and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster.
The signatures of the Rev Michael McAdam and Fr Michael McGreevy on the Sharing Agreement have the support of their elected committee members.
The signing of such an agreement has been made possible by the considerable skill and expertise of the Committee of the Holy Cross Church in their developing of the housing site at Ash Meadow, and the subsequent healthy state of their financial affairs, inspired by the Chairman of the Parish Committee. Mr Patrick Dolan.