Fr. Berry had perhaps the hardest task of any parish priest of Holy Rood – that of presiding over the changes which the Second Vatican Council brought to parish life. It is a tribute to him that he steered the parish through these difficult years so well.
The liturgical changes were the most obvious. Fr. Berry and his assistant priests had to familiarise them selves with the revised liturgy and explain the changes to the parishioners. After thirty years of saying Mass in the old Rite, Fr. Berry had to forget the old way and think only of the new. He installed a new altar, near the communion rails, so that the English Mass could be said facing the people. The many other changes in the liturgy were introduced gradually, and for the most part were accepted happily.
The Vatican Council also stressed the need for greater co-operation of the laity, particularly in those areas where their skills and experience could be most useful. To communicate more effectively with his parishioners, Fr. and Berry started a Parish Newsletter, the first issue being March 1968, and continuing until November 1974 at least. The volunteer editor had a very small band of helpers and a very temperamental office duplicator, hut they produced issues often of six to ten pages. Although very different from the this marvellous publications of Canon Jackman, it was nonetheless an interesting and informative magazine. Fr. Berry used it to explain his plans, or example, for a Parish Council, a Planned Giving and Covenant scheme, and the progress towards a Parish Hall in West Watford. It also included a children’s page.
The Parish Council set up by Fr. Berry was a bold attempt at effective consultation with parishioners. The parish was divided into six wards, based on Local Government wards, each having a representative on the Council. Parish societies and the Italian community were also represented. This type of Council continued for some years though like many parishes, it proved difficult to maintain the initial impetus and enthusiasm. Later an open parish meeting, of “Parish-in-Council” took the place of the elected Council.
The recommendations of Vatican II certainly seemed to encourage greater lay participation in the life of the parish. Some lay societies were long established; the C.W.L. since 1928, for example, and the S.V.P. since 1931. During Fr. Berry’s years, newer forms of lay initiative emerged. An Adult Education Group organised, among other things, lively House Discussion Groups and, in Holy Week 1980, an outstanding Parish Renewal Week. A Third World Support Group developed strong links with Missionary Fathers in the Philippines, Uganda and Bangladesh, helping parishioners to understand Third World problems and raising considerable funds. As a result, the priests and flocks of those communities abroad have come to regard Watford Catholics as their special friends.
A soup kitchen was started on the church premises to cater for some of the needy and disregarded people of the local community; and an active young adults group, “Outreach” featured strongly in parish life in Fr. Berry’s later years.