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Cambourne Catholics celebrate with hope for future

A church held in a Portacabin, bungalow and doctor's surgery and Mass celebrated on a car boot or a pantomime stage are all part of the rich story of Camborne Catholics who are now looking forward to exciting plans for the future. Melanie Ward reports.

Just 16 years ago, in 2001, the first foundations were laid for three villages, nine miles west of Cambridge on land at Monkfield Farm, once owned by the Benedictine Monastery at St Neots and Cambourne was born.

Fathers Tony Rogers, Rafael Esteban, John Minh and Dick Healey in turn took the generous and courageous decision to celebrate a weekly Mass amongst the muddy fields and newcomers on their hour-round drive each Saturday.

After a spell in a bungalow and the doctor's surgery (you brought your own chair to Mass), the Ark (a pair of rather decrepit Portacabin classrooms) literally landed and became our first "home' – shared as today, with Churches Together in Cambourne – formed with the C of E, Baptist Union, Methodist and United Reformed Churches. It also served as the first and only community building at the time, and was hosed down, plumbed in, wired up and formally opened with great joy on Palm Sunday 2002.

For the first two years, our intrepid clergy served Mass to barely a dozen faithful, but with the arrival of First Holy Communion preparation lessons in 2004 to a small group of seven children, a greater sense of stability and purpose helped the community to blossom – Mass was soon bursting at the seams. The music group was crammed into our tiny kitchen space and a move in 2008 to the Vine inter-church Primary School for our weekly Mass was greatly welcomed.

By 2008, Cambourne, with a population of 7,600, had a birth-rate higher than that of China, India, Indonesia, the US and Brazil. Not surprisingly, the Communion group grew to almost 30 children.

Today the population is over 12,000 and rising as building continues apace.

After much fundraising and hard work, the first phase of Cambourne Church was opened in July 2010. A tall barn-like building, apt for a newly-born church, it serves our community, Churches Together and, until recently, the St Thomas Indian Orthodox Church who have now bought a church in Papworth.

Shared space, services and other events, visiting each other's celebrations during the Week of Christian Unity and joint fundraising and social events all strengthen and encourage us in our friendship with and faith in Christ and each other. Our Walk of Faith on Good Friday is a surprisingly joyful, prayerful witness to salvation for one and all.

From the beginning, the community, with no local resident priest, has taken seriously the commitment to love and serve and lay participation is high with people keenly aware that, as Rose Duchesne said: "we cultivate a very small field for Christ , but we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements, but a heart that holds back nothing for self."

We are blessed with a truly international church and we know how to party well with the best food, friendship and fellowship from around the world. Our Keralan parishioners bought our treasured statue of Our Lady which travelled around different homes each week to be prayed with until we had safer storage.

We have had to live as relative "nomads' as the church is heavily booked, but this has meant that weekday Masses, discussion, prayer, rosary and youth groups and adult formation have had to take place in people's homes – very "Early Church' and a natural way to really get to know each other. We are grateful for the ethos of faithful adventure instilled in us from the beginning by imaginative, trusting clergy.

In September 2016, Bishop Alan appointed Canon John Minh as priest-in-charge of the lively, friendly churches of Sawston and Cambourne – both influenced by the sense of missionary adventure by Fr Raf.

We are now able to have Mass on Tuesday and Thursday as well as our traditional Saturday 5pm slot. Adoration and Confessions are now feasible and we have an even greater sense of unity and purpose as we step forward with a pastor who is very with us and for us.

The early days of Mass celebrated on a car boot or on a pantomime stage with Widow Twankie's Parlour as a backdrop may soon be behind us, but we face new challenges. Bids for two church schools in Cambourne and growing spiritual, pastoral, financial and administrative demands are exciting, if rather daunting.

We have had an energetic and exciting house-led caf church which has helped us develop a large, lively and enthusiastic youth group. We have Torch, dozens of servers on rota and a joyful and talented music group who are prayerfully tuned in to the charism of our welcoming community. We also have a committed children's liturgy, reading, catechetical and eucharistic ministry teams and a community council steering group never short of work and ideas.

We look forward to joining in more with the rest of the Diocese with our growing number of adult and youth confirmations over the next few years and following Bishop Michael Evans' original hope for us that we should go "Forward and Outward Together'.

We have recently celebrated the 100th birthday of one of our founder members, Beryl Webber and we are excited about Bishop Alan visiting us for the second time on June 24.

We are fortunate to have Fr John whose deep faith and simple joy in God will keep us grounded and grateful and will ensure that, as Pope Francis says: "Let the church always be a place of mercy and hope , where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven."

Pictured top are the congregation celebrating the 100th birthday of Beryl Webber and, above Bishop Michael in Cambourne and The Ark venue.