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EIGHT YEARS ON: 4 CASE STUDIES

THE PARISH OF ALSTON MOOR

Eight years ago the Anglican Christian community of Alston Moor was fighting very hard to keep Alston parsonage, a large Victorian house in the centre of the town and directly opposite St. Augustine's Church. The Diocese of Newcastle was adamant that it should be sold and a smaller, modern building be built for any future incumbent. Mainly owing to its position in the town the local people felt the present house should be kept and updated, but the Diocesan Council did not agree as, we then learned, there would not be another vicar for the parish. The assistant vicar was to be made priest-m charge and would continue to reside in the recently purchased parsonage house on the perimeter of the town and a good mile away from the church.

A great deal of discussion followed with a vision for a Christian centre in the building, with a three-bedroomed flat on the upper floor for any future incumbent or to be let as a Christian holiday home to make more income. Again the powers that be refused to listen, and the priest-in-charge did not approve of the idea. Even though it was suggested we buy the property outright, a covenant was placed on it that we could not, under any circumstances put up any name plates that tied it in any way to the Church. Therefore we could not advertise it as a Christian centre. The vicar of the day was also most unhelpful and did his best to put every obstacle in our way. It was obvious it would be impossible to even try to run such a venture in such circumstances and the vicarage was consequently sold, altered and then re-sold and at present houses one elderly lady. The upset and bitterness caused much friction among the congregation and eventually people left the local churches and went further afield for worship. The community was broken and felt defeated.

Eight years on, the vicarage has gone from us, but as stalwarts of the Church we are very much still here and doing what God asks of us. Several of the diocesan hierarchy have retired and new people have come alongside us. We now have a new, younger vicar who is very much part of our community.

Was it worth fighting for? I think so. Because of our willingness to fight, we are a stronger community now and realise our own strengths and weaknesses. Because of the damage done by the hard line taken at the time, it has now been made a condition that no more vicarages will be sold without very thorough proposals and discussions taking place with the communities in question. In fact, the diocese is actually suggesting that people find ways of keeping their buildings rather than selling them.

We did not save the vicarage building, but we did keep the Church going here despite the difficulties. Incidentally, the 'new' building has never been built because, it has been said, a suitable site has not presented itself as it should be near to the church! We can actually laugh about that now, but of course it should never have happened.

Janet Southward
November 2006


ST MARY & ST MARGARET RECTORY, CASTLE BROMWICH

Early in the year 2000 the rector announced that he was leaving. The Parsonage Committee scented blood, pleased at the prospect of ceasing the pretence of maintaining the splendid Grade II rectory. The rectory though comparatively small had three storeys with the benefit of a self contained flat. Built in 1910 in a private lane with extensive lawned gardens it was 100 yards from the church and in the conservation area that embraces the village. It provided a focal point for many parish social activities both inside and out: strawberry teas on the lawn, firework parties, poetry evenings and parish suppers. On the strictly church side were study evenings, confirmation classes etc. Very importantly for the church was the use of the flat by the Sunday School and the Youth Group.

The proposed sale of the rectory was strongly opposed by both the church community and the wider parish with a local petition which attracted many signatures The youth leaders engaged in a heated correspondence with the Bishop. The Earl of Bradford whose family had built the rectory and given it and the grounds to the church was strongly opposed but like all other protestors was ignored by the Church Commissioners, who implied in correspondence with the churchwardens that the appointment of a new incumbent was likely to be delayed until they gave up their right to oppose. The need for a new incumbent was considered to be of prime importance after a prolonged interregnum. The Bishop, mindful of the feelings of the Youth Group, promised to donate up to £100,000 from the expected profit from the sale of the rectory towards the provision of alternative accommodation.

The sale and repurchase were in our opinion badly handled, the 100 year old rectory was sold for £350,000 and replaced by a 150 year old Victorian semi half a mile from the church for £340,000. A rather shame faced diocese gave us £20,000 and even the church commissioners gave us £20,000, but with building costs as they are our Sunday School is still without a permanent home and has halved in number. A great deal of social life has been lost.

W.L. Jones, Churchwarden
December 2006


ALL SAINTS' CHURCH, NEWTOWN LINFORD

Until 1987 there was a full-time vicar (Revd W.H.G. Fletcher) living in the Vicarage, but he died in September of that year at the age of 70, having served in the parish for 15 years. He was an outstanding pastor, assiduous in parish visiting, well known and popular in the village, successful in drawing people into the church and making it the centre of village life, demonstrating that the trend of shrinking congregations could be reversed.

Newtown Linford is a well-known local beauty spot, and after his death the Vicarage was renamed Bishopsmead and occupied by the Assistant Bishop of Leicester. Services were taken mainly by a retired minister who lived about 10 miles away. In September 1992, the Assistant Bishop was licensed as priest-in-charge, but as he still had diocesan responsibilities little time was devoted to pastoral visits. There was also a curate, a full-time policeman who lived about 20 miles away.

In 1995, we obtained the services of a non-stipendiary minister, (NSM) for five years, who moved into the vicarage after the Assistant Bishop retired. The NSM was licensed as Assistant Curate in November 1995, and later became Hon. Team Vicar. However, as a condition of his occupying the vicarage, the building was transferred to the Diocesan Board of Finance. In addition we were charged rent for the building and were responsible for its maintenance. We also paid the minister's expenses, plus the Parish Share - then about £19,000 for a parish of about 400 residences with a population of 1000. At the same time we were forced to accept the union of the three parishes of Ratby, Groby and Newtown Linford as the Bradgate Team Parish (ratified on 1st June 1998) with only 2 full-time clergy. Owing to his wife developing cancer, the Hon. Vicar left the vicarage in about 1999, but continued to take some services until 2000.

I wrote to the Bishop of Leicester at the time, and warned him of the consequences of losing a resident pastor, based on our previous experience during the period from 1987 to 1995, and the deleterious effect this had on church attendance, but this was ignored. It seemed the diocese was intent on realising the cash value of the vicarage regardless of the future consequences for the community. Although Newtown Linford would have gladly continued to finance an NSM, and to maintain the church and vicarage, the diocese would not agree, and the vicarage was put on the market and eventually sold.

In March 2000, the present Team Rector arrived to live in Ratby Vicarage. He was inducted in July 2001, and has responsibility for Ratby and Newtown Linford. In August 2001, a vicar was obtained for Groby. Our Parish share now amounts to about £23,000 annually.

EFFECTS OF THE LOSS OF CLERGY
As there are three churches, served by only two full-time clergy, the number of services has been reduced. In 1987, every Sunday had services at 8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 6.30 p.m., plus a mid-week Communion once a month. Evensong ceased in October 1993, owing to small numbers, but the other services continued, and a weekly Communion was held on Thursdays.

From July 2000, linked with the loss of clergy, both the 8 a.m. Sunday Communion and the mid-week Communion became fortnightly. Also, some services are occasionally combined for the whole Bradgate Team, to allow for clergy holidays. At Newtown Linford, the Team Rector takes about two-thirds of the services, with the rest taken by the Groby Vicar, lay readers or other (e.g. retired) clergy.

EFFECTS OF THE LOSS OF THE VICARAGE
Our Team Rector devotes as much time as he can to Newtown Linford Church, and is as good a clergyman as you could wish to get. However, the main result of losing a resident minister is that pastoral visiting suffers. He has to look after both Ratby and Newtown Linford, and has insufficient time for visits apart from those associated with illness or bereavement. Possibly over-much of his time is taken up with bureaucracy and ecclesiastical meetings. Although he has charisma he has failed to make as much impact on numbers as the NSM who resided in the vicarage. The existence of teams can be a distraction, and add more to bureaucracy than it does to efficacy.

The Sunday School for children, which was successful, ceased in 2003 when the long-standing teacher retired and no replacement was forthcoming. As a partial substitute the rector holds about 5 "Saturday Specials" per year, which are less well attended.

We have analysed the figures for church attendance from December 1986 to the present, to show average attendances. The church holds about 150 in the pews, but with extra chairs up to 180 can be accommodated.

8 a.m. COMMUNION SERVICE - average attendances for sample years

1986-87* 1991 1994** 1998* 2005
16 11 15 15 16

* Minister resident in the Vicarage ** Asst. Bishop in the Vicarage (i.e. little visiting)

The numbers attending this service have been maintained. But these represent people already committed to the Church, who are getting older. A good number were attracted to the Church during the time of the resident vicar (1972 to 1987).


MID-WEEK COMMUNION

1986-87* 1991 1994** 1998* 2005
18 13 7 14 8



11 a.m. SUNDAY SERVICE (omitting special services)

1986-87* 1991 1994** 1998* 2005
45 36 27 30 18

The Sunday service has been most affected, falling to less than half the figure of 20 years ago. Note the increase from 1994 to 1998, when the NSM was living in the Vicarage.

The fall in church attendance is perhaps more evident in practice than the figures show. For instance, the number attending the Annual District Church Meeting fell from 40 in 1998 to 7 in 2006, and is now almost confined to members of the Church Council. In his last week's News Sheet the Rector wrote: "Rather close to home! Use it or lose it - that's the message being put out by two vicars who are threatening to close their churches if more people don't attend.. .. etc." as though this was the fault of the congregations rather than of the Church (with a big "C") and of clergymen themselves. From recent sermons I gather the latest wheeze is to go out and deal with large crowds wherever they can be found - presumably whilst, through misdirected efforts, they lose the communities in which they operate! This is a rural, not an urban community.

CONCLUSION
The removal of a resident pastor has been the most significant blow, and the loss of the vicarage makes it impossible for this to be put right in the future. At the time we pointed out that the house could be let out until an incumbent could be found, and in this locality could be rented for over £1000 monthly. In the past clergy have been more than willing (while they were physically fit) to retire to a rent-free house in this village in exchange for some of their time. The vicarage formerly provided an office for the vicar, was used for meetings, and the garden for fetes. We now have to rely on the kindness of individuals with large enough houses or gardens to hold such events. The Sunday School is sometimes used for Church Council meetings, but is not very suitable, and some events are held at the Ratby Rectory. But this is 3-4 miles distant along winding roads and only the Church committee and a few other committed church members seem ready to make the journey -- whereas events held in Newtown Linford attract other residents of the village. The loss of the vicarage has made all this much more difficult.

R.G. Lowe
August 2006
 

STORY OF A SAVED RECTORY: TRENT RECTORY, QUEEN THORNE PARSONAGE

Nine years after we saved it, the rectory at Trent is still the powerhouse of a strong Christian community. Our young priest has moved on and today we have Henry Pearson, a man who can only be described as God's gift for a community like ours. We all enjoy his masterly management of our unruly rurals, and the way in which he is building an even stronger community than hitherto.

What has been such a help to us has been the change of heart by the Diocese. Where once we dreaded what they might be planning or plotting, today we have a body that has teamed with us to develop the Christian message and ethos.

Trent Rectory can easily park more than a dozen cars. Accordingly the parish room is made good use of. The rectory provides not just facilities, but a warm welcome to all. Judith Pearson is the lady of the house, and the community feel at ease when we visit. We have riches and know it.

Thinking back, it is hard to believe that our future looked so bleak The middlemen were starting to gather to oversee and manage the demise of our parochial leader's house and workshop. It was something of a fight, and we are very aware that Save Our Parsonages gave us that edge that tipped the wheel of fortune in our favour. One feels that there is a better understanding now than in days gone by of what makes a Christian community. Even the dreaded press are finding it harder to print bad news. Asset management has not been our Church's greatest strength, but we do seem now to have a significantly better attitude here as to how to use these in a proper way. We hope that it prevails across England's green and pleasant land.

Michael J. Pearce
November 2006