Hitchin vicar Michael Roden to take up Bristol Cathedral role

PUBLISHED: 13:03 23 July 2018 | UPDATED: 13:10 23 July 2018

Canon Michael Roden with his bicycle outside St Mary's Church, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOO

Canon Michael Roden with his bicycle outside St Mary's Church, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOO

©2018 Danny Loo Photography - all rights reserved

It’s the end of an era for Hitchin’s historic parish church and the wider community, as stalwart vicar Canon Michael Roden prepares to leave after 16 years.

Canon Michael Roden outside St Mary's Church, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOOCanon Michael Roden outside St Mary's Church, Hitchin. Picture: DANNY LOO

It was confirmed yesterday that Canon Michael, vicar at St Mary’s Church since 2002, will leave in November to become canon chancellor of Bristol Cathedral.

His 16-year stint as St Mary’s rector is the longest since that of Canon Lewis Hensley, who had been vicar of Hitchin for 49 years when he died in 1905.

And speaking to the Comet across his vicarage front room, Michael said he felt “extremely wistful” to be going.

“I’ve absolutely loved it here,” he said. “It’s a wonderful town, an utterly beautiful church and a lovely church community that is determined St Mary’s will keep going for another 1,200 years at least.

Michael at a united service in Hitchin town centre in 2013. Picture: Sam HallasMichael at a united service in Hitchin town centre in 2013. Picture: Sam Hallas

“It’s been a privilege to be with people in moments of great joy and of grief. The whole thing has been unforgettable. I shall miss it more than words can say.”

Michael’s new role will see him work to help Bristol Cathedral engage with the whole diversity of the city, as well as looking after visitors, Christian education and issues surrounding social justice.

Bristol is wrestling with its identity as it comes to terms with the legacy of slave trader Edward Colston – who has been celebrated for centuries as a great benefactor of the city, but whose ships carried about 80,000 Africans to the Americas in the 17th century.

In an historic moment last month, Bristol’s new lord mayor had a 316-year-old portrait of Colston removed from her office, saying she could not bear to have him look over her as she worked.

Canon Michael Roden last year, in front of the temporary Indian partition monument that symbolically blocked off one of the chapels at St Mary's. Picture: Danny LooCanon Michael Roden last year, in front of the temporary Indian partition monument that symbolically blocked off one of the chapels at St Mary's. Picture: Danny Loo

Michael told the Comet: “One of the major issues to get right in Bristol is its race relations.

“I’m extremely interested in how communities celebrate their history, but also face up to things that are difficult in their past.”

Michael’s work to heal cross-community divides has seen him take a leading role in the national Partition Project – an initiative to improve understanding of the partition of India in 1947, with work in schools and more. He has discussed this topic on national television and at Westminster.

Asked to pick out highlights of his time as Hitchin vicar, Michael cited events like the restoration of the church bells, and the growth of Christmas congregations from 1,300 to 3,000 people in a few years.

Michael with David Kemp, Malcolm Todd, Trevor Groom and Elizabeth Cranfield in 2012, during the project to restore the church bells. Picture: Harry HubbardMichael with David Kemp, Malcolm Todd, Trevor Groom and Elizabeth Cranfield in 2012, during the project to restore the church bells. Picture: Harry Hubbard

He said: “This indicates that people feel St Mary’s belongs to them. And that’s what we’re trying to do – to make sure people feel at home in their church, from wherever they come.”

He also stressed the church’s involvement with music festival Rhythms of the World, which he said had “given us the opportunity to be hospitable to people of different faiths, and help get all those community relations into the best possible place.”

“It’s been wonderfully emotional to be at the end of a long and extremely interesting chapter of my life,” he said.

“I’d like to thank the wonderful people of Hitchin, who have also helped me raise my family here.

Michael last year, lighting a candle in St Andrew's Chapel at St Mary's Church. Picture: Danny LooMichael last year, lighting a candle in St Andrew's Chapel at St Mary's Church. Picture: Danny Loo

“The meeting ground between the church and people of Hitchin is that people are deeply interested in life having meaning. They’re interested in community, in a time when community is more important than ever. And they’re interested in peace.

“I think the church can help in those things because it’s a place of beauty. It was built by the people of Hitchin all those years ago, for the people of Hitchin – it’s a communal building. And it does help with peace, because people can feel at home with God there.”

Michael’s last service in Hitchin will be evensong at 6.30pm on November 25 – the last Sunday of the church year. He will be made canon chancellor in Bristol at a 3.30pm service on January 12.

Michael joked that awaiting his successor “will be bit like waiting for the new Doctor Who”.

“The rector of Hitchin will regenerate into a different form, male or female,” he said.

“Whoever comes here will have fresh ideas and fresh insights.

“The practical difference for me is that Bristol has got a lot of hills, and I’ve got a single-gear bike.”

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