January blog: Six years on from re-ordering at St Peter’s Church, Peterstow

In 2004 an idea was born. Perhaps the seeds were sown unwittingly even earlier. In the 1920s St Peter’s acquired the redundant Methodist Chapel in the village and on the A49 for a very small sum. The Chapel served as a parish room and a village meeting place until the late 1990s. Then, because there was no running water, no toilets and no possibility of installing them, and had no parking and was increasingly dilapidated, it became disused. By 2004 it had become a public liability which could no longer be insured. In 2004 the then incumbent, Rev Sarah Geach, seeded the idea that St Peter’s should sell the Chapel and use the money to start a fund to make changes to St Peter’s. The village had no other village hall and the idea was if we removed the pews and installed a toilet the church could serve as a community space alongside it’s traditional use for worship.

(Organisation) Bedfordshire, LEIGHTON BUZZARD, All Saints (Colin Carron 2008) #001 _84450822_eagle-23277-1962-001

The chapel went to auction – at the last minute the auctioneer asked “Is there a reserve on the property?” The Churchwarden replied “So long as it covers your fees, sell it!”. We did not expect a great amount but a battle between two potential buyers raised us approximately £30,000 – a windfall! We expanded our plans for St Peter’s – a kitchen too! There followed more than 4 years of planning round a kitchen table for a group consisting of the PCC and representatives of all the other village groups. Architects were invited to submit schemes, we sought grants and were fortunate enough to receive a large grant from the Lottery. After Christmas services in 2008 the church closed down, the pews departed to new owners (all personally connected with St Peter’s, I’m pleased to report) and the builders moved in. In time for our Patronal service at the end of July 2009 Bishop Anthony came to re-open and bless our re-ordered church.

So 6 years on – how has it all gone? Have we changed? Is it a success?

The photographs here show the church prior to 2009 and at the Autumn Show in 2015. As you can see, there have been significant changes; but some things have not changed. St Peter’s is still a place of worship and prayer. A promise was given that the familiar Chancel and Sanctuary would not change. We have services each Sunday and all the other major dates in the Church calendar, unless the service is a benefice service. For a great part of the week St Peter’s can still be a place for private prayer.

But alongside this community events occupy the church. Every other Monday up to 60 people attend a community lunch enjoying good food and good company. We have whist drives, concerts, drama productions, a gardening club, coffee and craft group, a computer club (we have a wi-fi connection) and many annual and one-off events. A great deal of fun happens at St Peter’s. Many of the annual events initially stemmed from the need to fund raise from 2005-2009 but are now regarded as “traditional” Peterstow events – the spring plant sale, the autumn show, the drama productions.

What are the benefits of re-ordering? We are warm in winter with our underfloor heating (although we would like to double glaze); our kitchen means most events include refreshments of some sort; we joke that “we do mission by means of food”! Refreshments following Sunday services provide time for socialising between the members of the congregation – this leads to a caring church and decreases the isolation of those living alone. The use of the church space for community events has reduced the division between “church” and “non-church” people. Community use may not have greatly increased the size of the regular congregation but my belief is that it has increased the understanding of what the church is about. The role of the church in hosting many of the village events has put the church back at the centre of village life. There are financial benefits. The building work involved in re-ordering
allowed us to include such repairs and re-decorating as should stand us in good stead for several years. Our heating and other costs are supported in part by community use. More people who are not church attenders support the church financially. The multiple uses of the church generate a sense of pride in the building and ownership and a willingness to work together.

Are there still things to achieve? To our regret we still do not have families and young people joining
our congregation. At present our benefice has no incumbent and a first round of advertising has not produced results. We hope and pray that the Stowcaple Benefice will soon have a new priest to lead us in worship and service to the community.

Is our re-ordering a success? We think so but we know the work is not done – we need to keep working, worshipping and welcoming others. Our visitor’s book contains many positive comments on a “sympathetic modernisation” and one amazed couple arrived one Tuesday afternoon clutching their copy of Pevsner to be offered a free afternoon tea along with their tour of the church as the Benefice Choir was hosting an open rehearsal session with tea and cakes! Call in and see what we have done at St Peter’s.

Herefordshire Historic Churches Trust