By Elke Springett
‘I started when I was nine, and I just carried on,’ says Jim Cullen, Parish Master of Ceremonies at Our Lady of Grace and St Edward the Confessor, Chiswick, when asked what has kept him serving for 64 years. Jim was awarded the highest honour of the Archconfraternity of St Stephen, their Gold Medal, presented to him by Bishop John Wilson on 27th January as part of an Episcopal Visitation to the parish.
Having served since his enrolment in the Guild of St Stephen for Altar Servers in the same parish in 1955 and, for the last 26 years having been the Parish Master of Ceremonies responsible for the Guild and the training of generations of servers under five Parish Priests, Fr Michael Dunne thought it was high-time for Jim to be awarded that honour and happily the Central Council agreed. ‘From such a young age faith motivated Jim to serve at Mass, and the richness he has found in this service not only sustained him in the faith but led him to help others, currently some forty or so boys and girls as well as young adults and older, in their growing in the faith as well,’ observes Fr Michael. Jim enjoys watching the servers grow as they join him in serving at Mass: ‘You see an eight-year-old, who hasn’t a clue what they’re doing, and then see the difference when they’re 18’, he laughs. His greatest challenge? ‘Finding enough servers during the holidays.’
Maureen Kehoe’s and Liz Fenwick’s outstanding commitment to the parish over several decades was recognised at the following mass. Bishop John presented them with the Diocesan Medal on behalf of Cardinal Vincent. The Diocesan Medal was introduced by the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor to honour those who make an outstanding contribution to either their parish or the diocese and requires a minimum of 10 years of volunteering.
Fr Michael recommended Liz and Maureen for this special honour ‘because the amount of hours they dedicate is outstanding by anybody’s standards! The medals are intended to be just a little tiny recognition of an astronomical generosity’.
These two dedicated ladies spend more than 60 hours per week at the parish office between them, carrying out all kinds of office duties. While Maureen takes care of of various money related tasks, the administration of Mass cards and CTS booklets, and Liz works in the sacristy. Both started ‘serious’ volunteering when they retired, Maureen in 1998 and Liz in 2003. Thanks to the comprehensive knowledge of the parish acquired over the years, they have been a tremendous help to several Parish Priests, especially while these were still new or to those covering over the summer. Maureen reminisces: ‘We’ve seen a lot of them come and go. You look upon them really like family and try to help in any way you can.’
That readiness to help is clearly second nature to them, an inevitable part of living out their faith. ‘I’ve always been in a helping role,’ remarks Liz matter-of-factly and Maureen agrees: ‘it’s just part of your day. You don’t think of it as anything exceptional, I certainly don’t!’
There are challenges, too. ‘People can be quite difficult, for instance when they cannot book a Mass on the day they want, and it can be upsetting when there’s a funeral. But we have also made many friends. I think I would miss it if I stopped.’
To anyone thinking about getting involved in their parish Liz recommends: ‘Just start with something in a small way and see if it suits you. If you don’t try, you don’t know. And don’t give up! Different roles suit different people.’