St Bernadette’s Church in Whitchurch is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018 and has launched a special Golden Jubilee project which aims to secure the unique building for future generations.
The church is a well-known landmark on the Wells Road and received Grade II listing last year. It needs major repairs and will soon be applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant towards the £1.5m refurbishment. The church already has around £450,000 which has been raised in recent years and through donations and legacies.
Last Friday, two engagement events were held in the church hall for as many people as possible from the parish to gather to discuss in more detail the hopes and vision for the church.
There was a soup lunch and later a cheese and wine evening with presentations about the history of the parish and the construction of the church, along with a display of photos from over the years. People were also encouraged to share their memories of St Bernadette’s, and asked for ideas on how more people can be encouraged to visit the church.
Only one other church in the whole country – the Anglican Church of St John the Baptist in Lincoln – has a roof of similar design. St John’s has a hyperbolic paraboloid roof while St Bernadette’s is a double hyperbolic paraboloid roof and is said to look like a tent camped on the edge of the pilgrim route to Glastonbury. In 1958 a school was built to serve this side of the city, and was dedicated to St Bernadette, it being the centenary of the apparition at Lourdes. The school hall was used for Mass until the church was built for the Rev Joseph Sutton in 1967-68 to serve a new parish comprising Whitchurch, Hengrove and Stockwood.
The church and presbytery were built from designs by James Leask, of Kenneth Nealon, Tanner & Partners. The church was designed to seat 300 with room for another plus an organ in the gallery. It is arranged diagonally with the altar in one corner, and the narthex with the gallery above in the opposite corner. The foundation stone was laid on 7th June 1967 and the church was opened and blessed by Bishop Rudderham on 5th June 1968. The main contractors were Wilkins & Coventry Ltd of Bristol and the price for the church and presbytery was £55,895. The parish hall was added in 1975.
Father Matt Anscombe, who has been parish priest at St Bernadette’s for the last two-and-a-half years, says the church has a weekly congregation of around 300 but 500 people come to services regularly and around 2,000 have links to the church.
All donations from social events will go towards the building project.
Credit: Becky Feather, The Week In East Bristol and North East Somerset magazine.
Phil Gibbons spoke with several parishioners and Parish Priest, Fr Matt Anscombe at the launch of the fundraising initiative. You can hear that podcast on the right of this page.
St Bernadette’s plays a significant role in the wider community outside of the congregation, holding regular events in the church and parish hall, and there is a packed calendar of events throughout 2018 to mark the Golden Jubilee. Last Saturday there was an Indian meal and auction of promises and on Saturday 17th March there will be a spring fayre and grand draw with a St Patrick’s theme.
Other highlights include a Golden Jubilee Mass with Bishop Declan followed by a social evening on Friday 8th June, a family fun day on Saturday 7th July, and a jubilee choral and music concert on Friday 21st September.