This parish is blessed with four parish contacts. Together, Frank and Sheila are parish contacts for St Thomas of Canterbury (Brandon), while Gill and Tom Capel are parish contacts for St John’s (Mildenhall). Frank and Sheila host a regular CAFOD lunch group, and here they tell us how they got involved and why they are passionate supporters of CAFOD.
“One of CAFOD’s workers in Bangladesh explained the work they had done with £27,000, it was amazing that they could do so much good. They lent money to women to purchase the raw materials they needed to make woven mats, sell them and make their own living.”
“We’ve been the parish coordinators for many years. We’ve always been involved and been a contact here, since the start of the collections. We volunteered to be the contact for the Church. Before that we were interested in Concern (an Irish aid agency) when they got involved in the emergency in Biafra in 1968. With Ireland’s history, whenever there has been a famine in the world there is a good response.”
“For us it began as a child by putting a penny in the box for the ‘black babies’. It’s not politically correct to say that now, and this shows how far we’ve come, how much we now know about the world.”
Frank says “Sheila is really a social conscience. She hears something on the television, its just devastating to her that such a thing could happen, could be allowed to happen.” Sheila asks Frank to pour the tea. Frank says “I’m a doer”.
They’ve lived in Brandon 1997, when a new church was built replacing a little wooden church. “It was just a Mass centre then. But we saw that it was more than a Mass centre, it was a community”. Frank continues, “We said it would be nice to have our own priest. The good Lord must have heard, and sent Fr Sullivan. When he came he said ‘you don’t sing here'”. Sheila interjects, “it was half-hearted singing”. “They sing with gusto here now” says Frank.
They say that there isn’t a penny of debt owed on the new church building, it was all paid for by the community. “That’s a wonderful thing when it comes to fundraising, having a supportive community” Sheila says.
For instance when it comes to Lenten Lunches. About a dozen attend, going to the Stations of the Cross on a Friday during Lent, and then we have a shared meal of bread and cheese. Who ever is putting it on pays for it, and we all donate money to CAFOD for our lunch.
There are two churches in our parish. We’ve a congregation in each church – St Thomas and St John the Evangelist – of about 70 people. We have a number of families come to us from the US Air Force Base. We involve them in reading, and Eucharistic ministry, and they’re very happy to do that.
Frank says “We have to welcome people with open arms. In Brandon a few years ago you wouldn’t have been able to go down into town and have a nice coffee or cup of tea. But now, with the influx of migrants, especially the Portuguese, it has been absolutely wonderful. No one had bothered to open a coffee shop before. But the Portuguese came and they instantly saw the need for a shop and they did it.”
“Whomever comes through our front door, when you’re here you’re at home.”
We used to have a lot of things for CAFOD in our garden. Just three years ago we had a St Patrick’s day dinner. We raised over £500. The diner had a set price, a set menu and a raffle. Then we cleared the rooms out and people danced in here.
St Thomas and St John’s have a combined parish council. They decided that to have an elected council you need the agreement of everyone, and that didn’t happen. So the Chairman is elected and the other members of the council are selected.
Tom and Gill at St John’s, and Sheila and Frank here at St Thomas look after CAFOD. They also form the nucleus of the local Justice and Peace Group, which meets monthly as a Justice and Peace Group. They also do the prisoners of conscience envelopes. “People here will always take them without needing to ask about them.”
Sheila and Frank have a strong interest in both prayer and action and our conversation often turns to how we live out our faith and worship. Sheila said “I liked the prayer that came as part of the Syria Appeal, to remind people that prayer is important too.”
They find the most rewarding part of being a parish contact is bringing people together. When someone came and spoke to us about the people in Bangladesh, it was an excuse to bring people together and that’s really special. We baked cakes and actually raised quite a lot of money for the project. We are a generous parish. As we spoke, Sheila suggested it would be an idea if they continued with their lunches, once a month. People could come together for the rosary and then have a shared meal. It means so much to some people that they are not eating alone.
I asked what CAFOD could do better, they said: “We need to emphasis how effective our giving is, because I’m not sure that many people know it is so efficient”.
Generous with their advice, they asked that CAFOD keeps in touch. Sometimes they want to make posters and perhaps we could help with that. And returning once again to the involvement of prayer in our work Sheila and Frank asked that CAFOD, when sending out its resources, “includes prayers that we can hand out to people.”
Frank and Sheila were speaking to diocesan manager Stephen Matthews.