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St Basil All Saints has pushed the boundaries of ecumenism to the limits, seeking and finding every patch of common ground, undertaking and devising new shared initiatives wherever possible and living out our shared mission statement by continuing to pray and worship together, hearing the good news of Jesus Christ and pledging to share it.

This page outlines the history of our shared community from its conception through its birth and growth to the church it is today indicating the major steps along the shared path it has taken in the past 25 years.

In the mid 1960s Hough Green, the area of Widnes , consisted of five farms and a handful of homes. The late 1960s saw rapid change. The land was purchased for the provision of new housing. Many people moved in from the terraced streets of the Dingle and the prefabs in Speke, both areas that had known strong divisions between Catholics and Protestants. Others came from West Bank at the heart of Widnes’ chemical industry. Hough Green in the early 1970’s was one massive building site as 4,000 homes were built and a whole new community was born. 

The Archdiocese of Liverpool purchased a site in 1968 when the new estate was being built. The Catholic priest, Fr Patrick Conefrey, founded the mission of St Basil’s, and lived in a caravan on the site until the presbytery was completed in 1970. The Catholic school and parish centre opened in 1969 and it was on these premises that Mass was celebrated before any church was planned. By 1969 Rev Bill Broad had become Vicar of Ditton, which put the new estate in his care. In 1982 he became the Team Rector with a Team Vicar to found a mission in Hough Green. This new Anglican mission and school were named All Saints. Rev Roger Gibbard became the Team Vicar to Hough Green by the time the shared Church came to fruition.

After a wide consultation and several public meetings in 1980/81 it was decided to build a shared church for the two communities of St Basil’s and All Saints. The people at the public meetings voted unanimously for the project and out of 432 written replies only 32 were against the joint church. The use, management and maintenance of the church are governed by the Shared Church Agreement which is based on The Sharing of Church Buildings Act of Parliament 1969.

The first actual service was a joint act of worship dedicating the building as a house of God, attended by congregations and clergy from both parishes, on the 9th February 1983; the service was fitting as it was the presentation of Christ in the temple. Archbishop Derek Worlock, and Bishop David Sheppard opened the first church built in the north to be shared by Anglicans and Roman Catholics on Tuesday 22nd March, 1983.

The Foundation stone, which was dedicated at the end of the service, had been blessed by Pope John Paul II at Archbishop’s House during his overnight stay on 30th May, 1982. The service also included the Act of Faith that had been used by the Pope and Archbishop Robert Runcie at Canterbury Cathedral in 1982.  At the opening, the Archbishop preached. He said: “This is a brave venture, but one which is undertaken after much thought and planning.

The building itself has a prophetic character, showing the way forward in charity and unity and the feature, which bears perhaps the greatest symbolism, is the baptismal font which combines the former fonts of earlier Catholic and Anglican buildings. This is a joint venture, not a temporary alliance of convenience: a venture in which not two sides are involved but a united group of Christians are reconciled and joined in a common commitment to the Lord of their baptism.” The Archbishop and Bishop Sheppard made a joint gift of the crucifix, seen behind the altar, to commemorate the church’s opening. 

The joint church council was first set up with the priest and three lay members from each community to consider how it was to do its work of running the shared church and co-ordinating the two communities. This group has grown to include all members of each separate parish council, covering all the joint groups that work within the community. 

In 1991, St Basil’s & All Saints took the brave step of sharing a tabernacle even before the first decade of their history was out. It was a process that took three years to come to fruition. Sanction was sought and granted by Archbishop Derek Worlock and Bishop David Sheppard. It was strongly felt that two separate tabernacles, or a single tabernacle with separate lockable compartments, would not represent the trust or respect which existed between the two communities. Hence they opted for a shared tabernacle with two separate shelves, one door, one lock and one key.

The communities’ journey towards joint worship began with both rites being celebrated one after the other. This quickly moved through interwoven celebrations avoiding duplication to a final stage in which a Eucharistic Rite acceptable to both communities was celebrated simultaneously at the same altar table (simultaneous Eucharist). The two communities moved as close together as legally permissible, without breaking discipline on intercommunion.  Is the community developed, the ‘Journey in Faith’ course brought people together in 1992, to allow them to explore God in their own lives.

In 1998 both communities were welcoming new leaders. At an ecumenical induction conducted by Auxiliary Bishop Vincent Malone and the Anglican Bishop of Warrington, John Packer, Fr Kevin Kelly and Rev Guy Elsmore were both welcomed into the community. This was the first joint induction and it was seen as another acknowledgement of the further progression towards Christian unity. 

To celebrate the Millennium, a shared Church project was started to create the Gift of Life for Zambia. Through this we support St Francis Home-based Care in Livingstone, Zambia. The project aims to help those living and facing the challenge of HIV/AIDS. Since 2000 we have sent them £75,000. Joint parish groups have visited the project and continue to raise money through numerous events.

The shared Garden of Hope project allowed the congregation to share with the Hough Green community a place of beauty and tranquillity and showed, how by working together, the two communities can be united in a common goal.

At the tenth anniversary service in 1993, Bishop Sheppard and Archbishop Worlock led the congregation in giving thanks for the many areas in which the two communities were working together as one. On the occasion of his 2007 Visitation, Archbishop Patrick Kelly underlined the “specific contribution which the story and present life of St. Basil and All Saints makes to the area and also to the wider church” and stated that “every endeavour must be made to make sure this continues”; Archbishop Worlock at the official opening of the shared church told his ecumenical congregation that he had “no need to ask them to trust one another, you have already overcome enough to know how to tread safely the path ahead.”

So as we take the next step on our journey of faith, we remember the history of our church and the people who have made it happen and look forward as a shared community to the challenge ahead. 

We thank you for taking time to read our shared ecumenical history and we pray that what you have found is the work of the Holy Spirit alive and active within our community, pursuing unity and remembering we are drawn together by: 

                    One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

 
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