This year we are marking the 90th anniversary of the opening of this church with a variety of celebrations. They began on HMS Calliope on the River Tyne last year and will conclude in November with a sung Requiem Mass for all the Holy Name’s parishioners who have gone to God before us.
Because we are so familiar with this building, it is very easy to take its beauty for granted. This is frequently brought home to me when I conduct baptisms, weddings and funerals. There is seldom such an occasion when visitors don’t say: ‘what a beautiful church you have here’. So it is right that we celebrate and give thanks for the founding community and subsequent generations who have left us this wonderful legacy. My hope is that our various celebrations will enhance our appreciation of what we have been given; and also heighten our sense of belonging to this community which has its source in what takes place inside this building.
Our heritage is a wonderful gift but it is also an awesome responsibility. As its custodians we have to ensure that everything about it fulfils the vision and purpose for which it was founded. And so it is in this spirit – of treasure and responsibility – that I am asking for your help with two improvements that are necessary but, fortunately, ones that will enhance our use of this special place.
The first concerns the hardstanding area outside the front (south) entrance to the church which we refer to as the piazza. This area has been identified as a risk because of the badly degraded flagstones and decorative brick paving. (A person who tripped on one of the broken flagstones last year, fortunately, was not injured.) In addition, the ramp leading up to the double doors does not meet current access standards and it also is unsafe.
The plan is to remodel this area in order to improve safety and access. In doing so we also need to make the area more welcoming as part of the streetscape. A church’s exterior and grounds must be attractive, inviting, welcoming and uplifting – what I call a ‘feast for the eye and the soul’. How a church building is presented to the public is a statement of the beliefs and values of the people who use it, as well as how they see their place in the wider community.
A plan for re-modelling the piazza has been devised by parishioner John Curtis. John is a conservation architect of considerable renown and we are most fortunate to have his services which he has generously given free-of-charge. I thank him on your behalf for such generosity. The plan, which was approved by the Finance Committee and the Parish Council, is now before the Diocesan Buildings Committee and, we are told, is minded to recommend it for approval to the Diocesan Board of Trustees. As Holy Name is in a Conservation Area, many other approvals will be required, not least from the City Council as well as the Diocese.
The second improvement is to the lighting of the church interior which has become too expensive and even dangerous to maintain. For example, to change the lamps, which are located in the ceiling, one must climb through the organ frame and crawl along the roof void. The Diocese has agreed with this assessment and so we are designing a new system which will be more efficient, safer to maintain and more in keeping with the architecture of our church.
For the past number of years the Parish Finance Committee, which also oversees our buildings, has included in the annual budget provision a rolling programme of improvements to the church fabric and to the hall. These have been funded from your weekly/monthly offertory donations and income from renting the hall. In the past four years we have had the church re-decorated; renewed the roofing of the small chapel, gallery stairs and toilet area; restored the sanctuary flooring; made improvements to the siting of the tabernacle; installed a new kitchen in the hall and upgraded the toilet facilities there.
However, to take on the major capital works of the piazza and lighting, we need extra funding. Fortunately, we received an extremely generous legacy of £120,000 from the late Robert Hughes who died in 2015. Robert was a devoted parishioner for many years and he made his bequest specifically to benefit the parishioners of Holy Name. The Finance Committee and Parish Council have agreed that we should devote this legacy to improving the more costly piazza and interior lighting projects.
We have to await Diocesan approval before these projects go out to tender but we estimate that the Piazza will cost c. £60k and the lighting up to c. £40k. Spending a total of £100k could leave us seriously short of capital for other works and day-to-day expenditure. So I am asking today for parishioners to support an appeal to raise £50k towards these costs. The good news is that I have already had a donation of £5K and a pledge of £10k from another parishioner. So I am now turning directly to you for help with the remaining £35k.
Is there one person here who can give me £35k; or two people who can give £18k each; or five who can donate £7,000; or seven who can manage £5,000; or 17 with £2,000; or 35 with £1,000 each; or 70 donating £500?
If you cannot afford any of these sums, perhaps you would consider increasing the amount you contribute to the weekly/monthly offertory collection, our main source of revenue? You might wonder: how much should a Catholic give to his/her Church? As a mentioned in 2016, one Church here in Jesmond was receiving then about £25 on average per week from each member; and the other Churches were receiving about £15 per week per member. At Holy Name, the average donation for each Mass-goer last year – in spite of our increasing congregations – was around £5 per week … that’s a third and, in one case, a fifth of what the other Jesmond Churches were receiving from their members three years ago.
So even if you don’t have a large sum to donate, I appeal to you to increase your contribution to Holy Name and to increase it significantly. If you can, please increase it by half so that, for example, if you currently give £5 per week it would become £7.50. I appreciate that some people will not be able to afford this. If this is the case with you, then don’t do anything – there are other valuable ways in which you can support your parish.
The Holy Name is a growing parish, attracting bigger and diverse congregations and hosting a wide variety of activities to suit all ages. It is an open, welcoming, tolerant and outward looking community. We also are a generous community, responding to the call of the Gospel to be in solidarity with the poor and lending support where we can to people in need.
The source of our parish and community life is the worship we offer to God in this building. Our on-going investment in it is not just for us now but for future generations also. Just as WE can appreciate the beauty forged here 90 years ago, we have a responsibility to maintain its high standards for the longer term.
We will shortly publish a leaflet and webpage outlining the proposals with suggestions for how to donate. And there will be a PowerPoint presentation, together with drawings and photographs, in the hall on Sunday 10 March after the 10am Mass.
Our aim is to have both projects undertaken over this summer and completed for the culmination of our 90th celebrations in November. In a spirit of hope and trust I commend the piazza and lighting projects to you and humbly ask that you continue to support the Holy Name as generously as you have in the past.
Holy Name, Jesmond
5 February 2017