Priest idol settles in Barnsley

02 November 2006

AN AMERICAN CLERIC who is now becoming a familiar sight in the parish of St Mary Magdalene, Lundwood, near Barnsley, is the subject of a Channel 4 television series, provisionally entitled Priest Idol. It is to be screened towards the end of the year ( News, 1 October).

The challenge faced by the Revd James McCaskill, from Pittsburgh, is to turn round a struggling parish within a year. The church, which could be faced with closure, is in a former mining community of 8000 people.

The Priest-in-Charge of the neighbouring parish of Cudworth, the Revd David Nicholson, sprang to Lundwood's defence earlier this year, after newspaper reports about the programme had described the church there as being in serious decline. "The people of Lundwood deserve some credit for the work that they have done to keep the church alive," he said ( Letters, 8 October).

Fr McCaskill, who is 32, did part of his training at Mirfield. He said on Tuesday that he was attracted by the challenge of "going some place where the church could have a tremendous impact on the community - somewhere that was having to re-think how they did church - rather than going somewhere where they'd had a hundred years of: 'Thank you very much, we do it this way.'"

The diocese of Wakefield has successfully applied "turnaround teams" in two instances already. In Lundwood, it is keen to respect the parish's Anglo-Catholic tradition.

"I was afraid I wasn't gong to be high enough, but I've found I might actually be higher than the congregation. I think Lundwood is probably a little lower down the candlestick than some of its neighbours," he said.

He is getting used to the frequent question from local youths: "Why did you leave America to come to Lundwood? It's shit." One asked him if he was "the new Pope".

"They're grateful for the work Fr David did from the neighbouring parish, but thankful to have a vicar living back in the community," he said. "It's interesting the number of people who have great appreciation for the parish and don't want to see the church fail here, but say: 'You'll never catch me here on a Sunday.'"

Sunday morning is unlikely to be the time for innovation: most of the 28 current worshippers appreciate "the traditional Anglican service", he said. He is working towards other ways of attracting a younger element.

Fr McCaskill praised the film crew for not being invasive. "They want to tell a positive story about this church, and they're being very helpful," he said.

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