DESCRIBED by Christopher Booker as “the utterly depersonalised nightmare which haunted Aldous Huxley”, Milton Keynes, which celebrates its 50th birthday this year, has never been short of detractors.
Among the residents ready to extol the virtues of the new town, now home to 250,000 people, are its clergy, who this week described a “beautiful” and “exciting” place. Church celebrations included a 1967-themed party at St Laurence’s, Bradwell. Last week, members of different churches gathered at Christ Church, Stantonbury, for jubilee prayers.
In Stony Stratford, worshippers are also marking the 50th anniversary of the reconsecration of St Mary and St Giles, after a fire in 1964. The Rector of Walton, the Revd Matt Trendall, launched the MK50/50 challenge, asking people to perform 50 “acts of love” throughout the year.
The Revd Dr Samuel Muthuveloe, an OLM at St Mary, Bletchley, and St John’s District Church, arrived as a GP in 1985, lured by an “exciting new city” full of young people.
“It’s a beautiful place,” he said on Tuesday. He praised the grid system — inspired by the American theorist Melvin Webber, waterways, and greenery. Christians did much for the life of the town, he said, from coffee mornings for the housebound to outreach to new arrivals, which had included people from Japan, Africa, and Sri Lanka. In 1985, he helped to establish Hope Outreach UK, which sends out healthcare professionals to do volunteer medical training in Sri Lanka. Local people had also contributed to the rebuilding of two churches in Sri Lanka damaged during the civil war.
“I feel God is moving in our place here,” he said. “People who came here were pioneers trying new things; so they are not resistant to the gospel or other things. So you get a freedom.”
The Team Rector of Watling Valley, the Revd Mike Morris, who arrived in 2004, was similarly enthusiastic. “We love it here,” he said. “I remember being told it was either a place you love or hate. . . People said ‘Why do you want to go? It’s full of concrete cows and roundabouts,’ but, actually, it’s not like that at all. It’s green; there’s lots going on for families and others. It’s an exciting place to live as it’s changing and growing.”
Ecumenism is a theme of ministry in the borough. There are five ecumenical parishes or partnerships in place, including Christ the Cornerstone, which brings together five denominations, including the Roman Catholic church. This reflected the history of the area, Mr Morris said: given the huge expanse of houses built, it made sense for the churches to pool resources.
Mission could be “hard going”, he said. “In established villages there can be more of a sense of community, but in green-field areas there isn’t such a big sense of community. . . The Church can be important in that, in helping develop and grow that sense of belonging and community. . . We try to focus our efforts on engaging with people, and meeting people where they are.”
In January, the Government announced plans to provide 200,000 new homes in 14 “garden” villages and towns across the country (News, 6 January). Mr Morris advised the Church not to “rush out to building, but actually look and see what people are wanting”.
Designed to ease overcrowding in London, Milton Keynes was born in an Act of Parliament in 1967. It is now the fastest-growing city in Britain, and provides a “massive opportunity”, the Assistant Curate of St Mary’s, Bletchley, the Revd Matt Beer, said. “We need to think really creatively about how we do mission. . . Not parochially, but about city mission.” This would include thinking about the demographic: those moving to the area were typically aged 18 to 35.
The original sculpture Concrete Cows, created by the artist Liz Leyh in 1978, is now in Milton Keynes Museum. Replica cows have taken their place at their original site in Bancroft, next to the A422.
A poem to be set to music as a hymn, written by the town’s poet laureate, Mark Niel, begins: “Here is heaven made amongst us When in peace we dwell side by side.” It includes a reference to “Amazing Grace”, the lyrics of which were written by John Newton, who lived in Olney, a town in the borough.
Early sign: the new town site in February 1969, as plans for the town were being prepared for publicationCredit: PA
Early sign: the new town site in February 1969, as plans for the town were being prepared for publication