The vicar of North Swindon Mike Haslam says goodbye to his community this month as he heads off to Somerset – after four years of being a faithful friend to people living in the area.
“When I first arrived my priority was to build community,” said Mike. “The main challenge in the new estates is a very high and quick turnover of population. A lot of people don’t really live here: they work elsewhere and this is just a place where they sleep.”
Mike sees his ministry as taking faith to the people rather than expecting them to come to church services. “People come to us for baptisms and weddings but that can’t be all it’s about. A large part is going where people are – at work, at school and in the community.
Much of what I have done is schools work – they’re the real focal point across the area. At Red Oaks I am a Faithful Friend – a school chaplain – where I talk with teachers, children and parents. I’m there to listen during difficult times and celebrate when things are going well.”
Mike’s prayer that communities would be built in the area is being answered. “The churches together across North Swindon are having an impact that is far greater than the people we see on a Sunday. It’s happening and it’s wonderful how people are coming forward as community leaders saying they will start things.”
St Andrews Church, an old church building which used to serve a tiny farming community, now serves nearly 20,000 people – with up to 100 people packing Sunday morning family services. However traditional evening services have been retained, catering for all needs.
Another highlight of Mike’s tenure has been the £100,000 raised in a year to replace the Victorian roof of the church, making it watertight for future generations.
Mike, who is married to the vicar of Purton, Rev Jane, will be taking some time out as she starts her new job as vicar to a group of rural churches in Somerset. While he looks for another job he hopes to catch up on his painting and explore how he can get involved with Street Pastors in Somerset – where trained Christians are on hand to assist pub and party-goers after hours.
Mike said it was unusual to have two vicars married to each other but not unique. And although there are logistical issues, it means they can both understand each other’s work. Together with their four young children – aged from 2 years to 9 years old – they will miss Swindon but are looking forward to a new challenge.
Rev Mike takes his last service on 3 January.
Pictured: Mike Haslam with pupils at Taw Hill’s St Francis Church of England Primary School where he is a faithful friend and foundation governor