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
"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
"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
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