For almost four years three other retired priests and I cooperated in keeping worship going at Holy Trinity Winchester. No sooner is that post filled than another of the four 'Richborough' parishes in the diocese falls vacant. This time it is St Francis' Bournemouth, and the departure of Fr Paul Berrett will be a great loss. He has served for twenty seven years as parish priest there, and his final Mass on Low Sunday was a bitter-sweet occasion.
The Diocese, in their wisdom, have decided that this parish merits a 0.7 post. I have yet to find 0.7 of a catholic priest; and for a parish like St Francis' the idea is preposterous. They have (and have had since the consecration of their church eighty years ago) a daily Mass. Fr Paul has been one of the hardest-working priests in the diocese of Winchester, greatly used as a confessor and spiritual director. Indeed, even the diocese had to admit there were few like him, and four years ago he was created an Honorary Canon of the Cathedral - the sole representative of the traditionalist constituency to be so honoured. Other parishes might make do with a 70% priest; indeed from what I observe many do already (though such men are often paid a full stipend). But Fr Paul has been at the Church's bidding not just for an forty hour week, but something more like eighty.
The churchwardens spoke affectionately of all he has done for them. The Scouts and Cubscouts were there in force to bid him farewell. The place was packed; so much so that Fr Paul said if he had known it would bring people to church he would have retired more often.
Fr Brian Copus (on the left of the photo below, with Fr Paul's wife June on the other side) is a retired priest who will assist during the interregnum; as I shall too, beginning with an evening Mass and Marriage Preparation meeting on Wednesday, and continuing next Sunday at the Parish Mass. At least the round trip is only thirty-odd miles, not the sixty involved in the Winchester interregnum.
I seem to recall that dioceses assess quota on a formula relating to the cost of a parish priest. St Francis have been paying their very large assessment to the Diocese without fail. Now how would it be if they were to pay 70% of this in future? The balance would enable them to make up their part-time priest's stipend to that of a full-time incumbent, pay something to ensure he has a full pension in due time, and still come away with some change. I do hope the diocese will feel able to comment on such a simple and equable solution.
[Photos courtesy of Nick Hillman, blogmaster at St Francis']