It was eighty years ago next month that St. Mary Magdalen Church in Chapelfields opened its doors for the first time. And as ECHO discovered recently, the church is growing, active and as vibrant as ever.
The Reverend Stella Bailey, who arrived at ‘the church with the blue roof’ in 2011, explained how the congregation had been working hard in recent years to become more relevant and outward looking, seeking to address needs in the local community while retaining its distinctive Anglo-Catholic style of worship. One small but important sign of this has been the ‘refreshing’ of the Magdalen Centre. New carpets, toilets and double glazed windows have made the church annex, which sits on the site formerly occupied by the ‘tin tabernacle’ that pre-dated the current church building, much more welcoming – as guests at the Coventry winter night shelter (see February’s ECHO) are discovering.
The night shelter is just one of a number of impressive projects being hosted by the church – and welcomed by the local community. ‘Messy Church’, a craft based church service designed to be attractive to children and their parents, draws between 40 and 60 people on the first Sunday each month. “Most of these are people who’ve had no previous contact with the church”, Stella explained. It’s probably just as well the church has doubled its numbers under Stella’s tenure, as the range of activities it undertakes is dizzying. “We run a Work Club on a Wednesday morning”, Stella told ECHO. “It draws on the expertise of retired members who can help with everything from online job searches to CV writing and interview skills – we can even organise suits for when people get interviews!” No sooner has Job Club finished than the increasingly popular Jolly Tots, a parent and toddler group, fills the centre. On a Thursday, there’s a luncheon club for older people. The world beyond our shores is not forgotten, either – the church has made the anti people trafficking charity ‘Stop the Traffik’ its campaign cause for the year, with attractive information displays in the centre raising awareness of the issue. A brightly coloured Fair Trade banana tree, made by the growing Sunday School, suggests, too, that education in awareness about social concerns starts early! Somehow amidst all this, Stella finds time to chair the Board of Governors at Hearsall School, having forged close and supportive links with the school since her arrival.
It’s clear that the priest and her congregation see their ‘mission’ in the local community as integral to their purpose. But all the activity is built on a foundation of continuing attention to accessible worship exploring what Stella terms ‘the mystery of God’, and the spiritual growth of congregation members, including a thriving young adults’ group. With children now much more actively involved in worship services, groups meeting in members’ homes during the week, the ‘Pilgrim’ course for those exploring Christianity, and a Lent study course about to begin, it’s clear what underpins the congregation’s commitment to becoming more relevant. St. Mary Magdalen has come a long way since the ‘tin tabernacle’, an offshoot of St. Thomas’s parish church in Spon End, was built. But, as Stella put it, it’s still “on a journey” to becoming a more visibly Christ-like community in this little corner of Chapelfields.