I recently visited Fr. Marcus Holden, rector of the shrine of St Augustine of Canterbury in Ramsgate, England to learn how he restored the church and reclaimed its prominence as both a historical and religious shrine.
When Fr Marcus arrived in 2010, he found the church in poor condition. Many Catholics in Ramsgate, including local members of the Pugin Society, had kept an eye on it, yet the years of not being actively maintained brought the church to the verge of closure.
Fast forward to today, Fr. Marcus and John Coverdale, the shrine’s Centre Manager, have transformed the site. Augustus Pugin’s church of St Augustine in Ramsgate, a shrine since 2012 (Pugin’s 200th birthday), is now the official landmark for celebrating the arrival of St Augustine of Canterbury from Rome to bring the Gospel to the Anglo-Saxons.
Note: Yes, this is Augustus Pugin. The famous English architect who designed the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben, and many churches across England.
Inspired by all that Fr Marcus had done, I asked, ‘how did you accomplish all of this?’ I’m a fundraiser who helps Catholic organizations fundraise, and I wanted to learn the steps he took to restore not only the shrine’s infrastructure, but also how he renewed its historical, cultural, and artistic appeal.
Fr Marcus identified five steps in particular.
Step 1: Define the vision
Fr. Marcus highlighted the importance of having a clear mission before starting a major project.
His vision was not simply to restore the church and build a shrine. Rather, the focus was much more than rebuilding bricks and mortar. He wanted to bring Saint Augustine, Augustus Pugin, and Catholicism prominently back into the limelight of the Ramsgate community and, more widely, England.
Fr Marcus thinks that if he had started with the physical restoration, he would not have achieved all that he did in such a short amount of time.
And by focusing on the bigger picture, he inspired others around him to help make the project reality, thereby fast-tracking the restoration of the infrastructure.
I provide a simple workbook to help you outline your vision here: https://catholicfundraiser.net/fundraising-target/
Step 2: Gather a community
Fr. Marcus knew that big projects are not accomplished alone. To bring his vision into reality, he sought the involvement of the local Catholic community. Their involvement would inspire them to see their church restored as a place of religious, architectural and historic importance.
He did this by hosting two major events at the shrine which celebrated its two main characters: Saint Augustine and Augustus Pugin.
Augustine Week would celebrate the saint’s life, the traditions of the Church and the historical importance of Catholicism in England. The second major event was Pugin Week which would celebrate Augustus Pugin’s life, his influence on English architecture, art, and design.
Each year, attendance at these two events increased, allowing Fr Marcus to gradually gain more and more of people’s attention and financial support to restore the shrine. With the people now participating again in the life of the shrine, Fr. Marcus could then move forward with his next phase.
You can get help gathering your community with this workbook: https://catholicfundraiser.net/increase-donors/
Step 3: Restoring the bricks and mortar
Understanding that the work was too ambitious to complete all at once, Fr. Marcus devised a three-step plan for restoring the shrine’s original luster. This would allow the shrine to remain open throughout the work.
His plan at hand, Fr Marcus applied for a grant from the English Heritage. Instead of highlighting the need to restore a shrine of tremendous value to the Catholic heritage of English, he focused his request on the English Heritage’s funding priorities; restoring the shrine both structurally and architecturally to preserve it for future generations. Because his application matched their grant-making ethos, he was awarded £700,000.
This grant was another tremendous win for Fr. Marcus. He now had a vision, a growing community of supporters, a plan for restoring the shrine and money to undergo the restoration.
You can use this 10-step guide for writing a grant: https://catholicfundraiser.net/grant-applications/
Step 4: Opening the doors to the country
With the restoration of the shrine nearly complete, Fr Marcus and John set out to attract an even bigger audience. This would make Fr Marcus’s dream of sharing the story of the shrine across England a reality.
To accomplish this, an Education, Research and Visitor Centre would be erected. It would be a place where visitors from all across the country, both Catholic and non-Catholic, can experience the heritage, architecture, traditions and art of the shrine.
They applied for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Knowing that the trustees liked projects which focused on community as much as heritage, Fr Marcus and John structured their grant into three parts; the heritage of both St. Augustine and Augustus Pugin, the local community and volunteers, and the wider, national community. The Heritage Lottery Fund liked their approach and approved their proposal with a grant of £800,000. Additionally, they received another grant from the English Heritage for £1m.
Fr. Marcus reiterated the importance of considering the grantmaker’s objectives when writing a grant. While his focus was to share the Catholic heritage of the shrine with more people, he understood this perspective likely wouldn’t make for a successful grant. He, therefore, shared his vision and plan in words they would understand.
To take your fundraising to the next level, check out this guide on how to fine tune your plan: https://catholicfundraiser.net/fundraising-plan/
Step 5 – Sustainability
Fr. Marcus is currently in the final phase of his restoration project, looking to sustain the shrine for the long-term so future generations may enjoy it. To do so, he stays focused on the same steps: clarity of vision, form a community of followers, plan a feasible restoration timeline and then execute each day.
He is already off to a great start as he increases the number of Catholic pilgrims to the shrine each year.
At present, he welcomes more than 10,000 visitors, and this number also increases each year. Fr Marcus aims to welcome more than 20,000 visitors annually by 2020.
He also wants to increase the number of non-Catholic visitors by partnering with prominent museums across England and organizing exhibits at the shrine. By collaborating with museums, he can use leverage their large audiences to attract even more people to the shrine. As more people visit, he hopes to continue sharing with people how the shrine and Catholicism have inspired English culture.
You can read this article to learn how to leverage the internet and social media to 10x your visitors (online and offline).
Conclusion – How can you apply this to your fundraising goals
Fr Marcus has been successful in fundraising because he focused on his vision and attracted people to all the different elements of St Augustine’s Shrine. By not focusing on the money or the physical restoration, he could bring people along in helping him to achieve his goals.
More so, he has demonstrated how beauty and holiness are important evangelists. His passion and perseverance to share the story of the shrine and proclaim Britain’s Roman Catholic roots are bearing fruit, as Christ explains to us the meaning of the parable of the sower.
I hope that Fr. Marcus’s success will inspire and guide you, whether you are a Catholic parish, religious order, or lay organization, as you seek to accomplish your mission of proclaiming the Gospel.
You can learn more about the shrine by visiting the official website: http://www.ramsgateandminster.com/
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