FEATURE: Hitchin’s passionate priest enjoys his community calling and doesn’t regret turning down rock star chance

Vicar Michael Roden

Vicar Michael Roden - Credit: Archant

The beautiful St Mary’s Church is probably the best-known building in Hitchin, and has been part of the town’s fabric for hundreds of years – but what do we know of the man who leads the congregation?

The Rev Michael Roden, team rector of Hitchin and vicar of St Mary’s Church, is not a man to stand on ceremony.

Nor is his staid title an indication of an unworldly man of god – for this is a clergyman who could perhaps have been a rock star.

And when you hear something of his background, you realise there’s nothing surprising about his close links to the town’s Rhythms of the World community music festival – which features a St Mary’s stage where the seating is made up of church pews, and where he is a familiar figure mingling with the Hitchin Priory crowds.

So how did he end up in a dog collar instead of making music?

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He admits: “Life could have turned out so differently as I was involved in a band when I was younger called Monsters Of The Deep which then turned into a group called Pigbag.

“I suppose you would describe Pigbag as a post punk band and they had a hit song called Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag which actually reached number three in the charts in 1982.”

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The distinctive instrumental track became a cult underground hit, and is still regularly used at sporting events as as a soundtrack snatch on TV – it’s one of those numbers that everyone knows, even if they don’t know what it’s called.

“We’re all still really good friends now and I was really pleased at their success – but I’m very happy with the route I’ve chosen.”

He’s keenly aware of his place in a long line of clergyman who have guided the life of the ancient parish church.

He said: “This church dates back to the 12th century and I am very lucky to join a long list of its custodians through the ages.

“Hitchin is a really lovely town with a great community spirit – and I never forget I am very privileged to serve here.”

The vicar added: “After school in Oxfordshire, I worked in a hostel for recovering alcoholics in inner city Birmingham, before going on to run a homeless hostel in west London.

“The suffering I saw in people’s lives damaged by addiction help provoke a sense of vocation.

“So after going to Ripon College to study theology I started as a curate in inner city Lambeth, followed by suburban Wandsworth.

“I have been team rector of Hitchin for the past 13 years, and I chair the team of Anglican clergy in the town.

“I love being a priest here. My aim is to make the church accessible to all by providing a mixture of services at St Mary’s – from the highly informal storyteller service to the beautiful candlelit formality of choral evensong.

“I am a firm believer when people come to church they do not want to feel like they are being ‘got at’ but want to be free to join in prayers and worship at their own level.

“Hitchin is a very special town with a very real sense of community. It is a very vibrant community which encompasses many different people with many different backgrounds which is great.

“What I want is for us to offer a feeling of inclusiveness to everyone in our community.”

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