6: THE FOURTH DECADE, 1988-1997

It was 1988, and for most people the year 2000 seemed far off. Bishop Thomas McMahon, however, realising how quickly time passes, set up the Diocesan Pastoral Council — later known as Vision 2000 — to examine the diocesan goals, priorities and resources of the third Christian millennium. Loughton responded with enthusiasm, appointed two parish representatives, and involved the whole parish in consultations and meetings.

The times were lively. The Cabaret for Cafod entertained parishioners annually between 1990 and 1993 with a lively amateur talent night; and in 1991 Fr Josh Hughes, celebrated his double jubilee of fifty years as a Jesuit and forty years a priest. His record as our longest-staying priest (12 years) reached its limit in 1992, however, when the Jesuits handed the parish back to the diocese. For the first time since its foundation in 1926, St Edmund’s came under the pastoral charge of the diocese, with a single priest to care for both Loughton and Debden. In October 1992, Fr Brian O’Shea became our new — diocesan — parish priest.

The parish was growing, and visibly. Conversions and baptisms were increasing. The Scouts group was one of the largest in the district, especially after the Beavers were formed in 1995. St John Fisher School, under Eugene Keddy’s headship since 1984, received grant maintained status, and was totally rebuilt in 1996. Change was also sadly reflected by the closure of St Andrew’s Convent, which had supplied teachers for over forty years. The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary remain near-neighbours at Chigwell.

The parish was changing in other ways. Collaborative ministry made headway, especially in Eucharistic services and communion for the house-bound. The churches continued to grow together; in 1994, Bishop Thomas joined St John’s to celebrate fifty years of ecumenism in Loughton, and in July 1996 an open-air service was attended by over a thousand Christians.

In 1996 fresh alterations were made to the church. The leaky roof was tackled, the communion rails removed, and a new stone chair, font, ambo and pedestal for the holy sacrament introduced. A fifteenth Station of the Cross was added, and the pulpit to the left of the sanctuary was replaced by a statue of Our Lady. In the Blessed Sacrament chapel, a new sanctuary lamp incorporated a design of three suns, used by St Edmund himself to explain the Holy Trinity, and part of the diocesan coat of arms. The whole was completed in time for the ordination in September of a friend of St Edmund’s, Fr Martin Boland. Two months later, on the eve of the Feast of St Edmund of Canterbury, the Vicar General, Mgr Arthur Barrow, concelebrated seventy years of our church here in Loughton.

At Easter 1997, the “Communion of the Apostles” was unveiled at the Blessed Sacrament altar. Copied by artist Gary Bevans from a Byzantine painting at the Benedictine Abbey of Chevetogne in Belgium, the original Orthodox artists had “sought to cover the walls of the church, not with mere paintings, but with a holy presence”. It was an attractive, and devotional, asset to our church.