Holy Cross church (Much Hadham) is shared between St Andrew’s Church of England congregation and the Holy Cross Roman Catholic congregation. Although our weekly services are separate both communities try hard to keep a strong spirit of Christian unity alive in the way we work out our Sharing Agreement.
At major Christian celebrations, like Christmas and Easter, we come together for special acts of worship and social gatherings, we have joint parish retreats, pilgrimages, discussion groups and prayer meetings in Lent and before Advent and many other informal activities throughout the year.
Most important to us is our spirit of friendship and joint Christian endeavour which we try to keep up in everything we do.
The journey begins in Much Hadham in the 1930s, with a Roman Catholic lady of devotion and farsightedness: Mrs. Elsie Warner. It would be correct to describe her as the founder of the Much Hadham Roman Catholic congregation. It was to her, in March,1938, that Colonel Hewes-Hallett offered the use of a large room over the stable block at the ‘Lordship’ as a Mass centre. Her drive, and her husband’s talent as a carpenter, saw this room furnished as a Catholic chapel in a week.
And so the Catholic Mass was celebrated in Much Hadham village in March,1938, for the first time since the Elizabethan Reformation.
Seventeen years later, Elsie heard that the large field – now ‘Ash Meadow’ – on which stood a World War II Land Army girls’ hostel, was to be auctioned. Her penchant for rapid and decisive action was to realise a long-cherished dream.
That same day she persuaded a local retired barrister to bid on her behalf at the following day’s auction, and the Diocese of Westminster to pay for the field. The money to convert the hostel buildings into a church came from the village Catholic community, from whom Elsie had been collecting money since 1938.
Holy Cross Church was opened for Mass in November,1955, and served Catholics well for 27 more years.
The New Holy Cross Church
The next major stage in the journey belongs to the late Patrick Dolan. An Irish-American of astonishing energy, drive and determination, he realised in the late 1970s that the ‘hostel church’ was at the end of its structural life. He had the vision both of a splendid new building and of the means to finance it.
Under his dynamic leadership, the Catholic community developed an attractive housing project – both private and local authority – on the field at Ash Meadow, and with the money realised, began the building of their new church in the Spring of 1982, near the ford.
St Andrew’s and Holy Cross Temporary Sharing
The Anglican Rector of Much Hadham, Michael MacAdam, is our guide along the next stage. He has always felt a deep sorrow at the divisions within the Christian community, and it was at his instigation that the Anglican congregation extended their most generous offer to the Catholics (homeless now that the hostel church had been demolished and pending completion of their new building) to welcome the Catholics to say their Mass at St. Andrew’s Church during this period.
So it was that sharing began on June 6, 1982.
The year 1982 was a momentous one, and was to become even more so.
As the two congregations, Anglican and Roman Catholic, grew in respect and knowledge of each other, so many of the demons spawned on both sides by the 16th Century Reformation were laid to rest. Meanwhile, the building of the new Holy Cross Church proceeded apace, with foundations laid and damp course installed.
In the wider world, even more momentous events occurred.
In May, 1982, Pope John Paul II visited England, and in an act of immense significance, he and the Archbishop of Canterbury prayed together in Canterbury Cathedral. There can be little doubt that this inspired what came next in Much Hadham.
On November 5, 1982, Patrick Dolan received a letter from Canon MacAdam. Starting by saying that “for me, one of the sad days of 1983 will be that on which St. Andrew’s sees the Catholics in worship for the last time.” He went on to urge that a way be found to make the sharing a legally binding, equal and permanent relationship.
It is surely no accident that Canon MacAdam, devoted to reconciliation and Christian co-operation, chose November 5 (Guy Fawkes Day) with its origins rooted in 17th Century religious bigotry and warfare to make this plea. Patrick Dolan, although on the point of realising his cherished dream of a new church building, was equally a man of vision, inspired by the ecumenical promise of the Papal visit. He seized on Canon MacAdam’s offer with joy.
Construction of the Catholic church was suspended, pending the outcome of consultations and negotiations. Catholics and Anglicans each held their own parish meetings to air the issues involved.
In the subsequent secret ballots, both congregations voted for a permanent sharing through joint ownership, and the RC Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the Anglican Bishop of St. Alban’s gave their blessing. Today, the Priest’s House stands alongside what was originally intended to be the site of the Church of The Holy Cross, in an area of outstanding natural beauty which has been saved from the destruction of rush hour motoring by Much Hadham’s community spirit.
In June, 1997, Fr. Bob Styles S.J. came to Much Hadham to be the Roman Catholic Parish Priest. His ministry, always in busy places such as schools and university chaplaincy, had deepened his conviction that mankind must rediscover the strength of beauty and of reflection in silence calmed by the rhythms of nature.
So a garden of reflection was created at Ash Meadow, on the site of what would have been the Church of Holy Cross. It is available to people of all faiths and none who would seek tranquility.