Spalding churches seeing change

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They are bricks and stone, lead and marble, but our local churches are mostly about people.

The majority of the churches are old, and so need to be repaired or sometimes transformed to create spaces more relevant to 21st century worshippers.

However, in the case of St Paul’s Church in Spalding, the vision for the future is of helping some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Large parts of the church roof are currently being re-leaded to make the building water-tight.

That work, which includes repairs to stonework, eaves and rafters, is being covered by Heritage Lottery funding.

Now, the Rev Mike Chesher is waiting to hear if an application for funds to re-build the church hall has been successful – so that he can feed the homeless.

He said: “You have to try because I know the homeless get a raw deal and people don’t like them and are suspicious of them, but they are not criminals, just people who have lost their way in life and cannot live as we do, just damaged a lot of the time and lost.”

He has applied for a loan to a charity that helps the poorest parts of the country – St Paul’s is designated a deprived area, as is Sutton Bridge.

Church members would also need to raise money themselves if their “ramshackle, dilapidated prefab, which is well past its sell by date” is to be replaced, so that the many activities that go on there can continue.

If the hall can be re-built, it will allow them to upgrade the kitchen and toilets, both necessary for providing meals for the homeless.

Mike said: “There is a problem with the homeless. The Lighthouse Church is the only place in town that helps them with a meal and they get anywhere between 12 and 20 every week. It’s not just homeless as they do feed those who are very poor and can’t eat properly.

“But in the winter time especially I don’t know how they survive really. They just sleep in tents or under trees.

“We would give them a hot meal and provide warm clothing as well as tents and sleeping bags.”

Leaky roofs are not limited to the poorer parts of town though, as that was a problem also experienced at St John’s Church in Spalding, some years ago.

A lot of money was spent on fixing the problem, with very little to show for it at the end.

So the Rev Peter Garland is especially delighted that the end of a major renovation and refurbishment project has coincided with events that bring hundreds of people into church – Mothering Sunday, a Cantemus concert, a baptism, a special service for St John’s School and, this weekend, Easter.

The church has new flooring, new seating, lighting and heating, as well as a new sound system.

He said: “One or two people haven’t liked it, but the vast majority have. The vast majority of people are positive and several people have gone ‘wow’.

“It’s been quite a challenging time because you have to store everything away and move things about.

“The main difference it has made is the church is lighter and potentially there is this big open space we can use.”

Church members did some fundraising, but most of the money for the work came from the bequest of Peter Langford, who died a few years ago.

Peter said: “I hope if he looked down he would be pleased the church is much more equipped for the years to come.”

Being equipped for the future is something that Broad Street Methodist Church in the town is also working towards.

The church is having a total refurbishment and re-fit as part of its Vision21 project.

So far, Vision21 steering group member Lu Chappell says the roof has been done and builders are currently working on the interior. The next phase is to repair the exterior.

Lu says the church is having a re-opening ceremony on October 31 this year.

When the church is re-opened it will contain something directly linking a building fit for the 21st century with the original structure’s stone laying ceremony in 1886.

Just as with St John’s, members of Broad Street Methodist Church had to clear out their church for the work to proceed.

In doing that they decided to empty a large cupboard which goes right under the pulpit.

Inside, they found a large brass plaque, filthy and difficult to read, but inscribed with the names of the men involved in the original stone laying ceremony.

Now cleaned up by fellow Methodist David Andrews, from Boston, the plaque will go up in the coffee lounge/foyer of the newly refurbished building.

Lu said: “We were really thrilled and quite excited we had found something worthwhile.

“It was for the original stone laying ceremony on the 8th of July in 1886. It was black and in a mess and the paint had oxidised, but it hadn’t been seen for goodness know how many years.”

Church members know that at the same time as the stone laying ceremony, a time capsule was also hidden – a bottle containing copies of the Spalding Free Press, the Methodist Recorder and Methodist Times, a list of subscriptions, and a description of the chapel.

Lu says the steering group is hoping that the builders may have some way of establishing where the time capsule is hidden, without disturbing the floor in any way.

A report in the Spalding Free Press of March 1887 describes the newly built church and makes reference to the plaque.

It reads: “Entering the sacred edifice through the main entrance, and passing into the vestibule, the eye is attracted by a tablet of polished brass, bearing the names of the gentlemen at whose hands the memorial stones were laid six months before.”

The inscription mentions Alderman W Jackson, R Dowson, Mr E Tawn, H Wyatt, Mr J Sewell, Mr R Donington, architect F Boreham and J Holmes, who was a builder.

Lu’s research into the history of the chapel shows that from the first meeting to discuss the proposal, in January 1886, the building was opened less than a year later, in March 1887.

Six months later an adjoining school room was opened.

It was Robert Donington, one of the men mentioned on the plaque, who proposed a chapel on a site adjacent to the old Methodist chapel, and to convert the old building into a schoolroom.

Robert was treasurer to the scheme while James Donington the Younger was joint secretary with George Longbottom.

James assisted his father, also called James, is running the family ironmonger’s business in Bridge Street, Spalding.

When his father died in 1895, the young James Donington took over the business and ran it until his retirement in 1914.

Lu, who has conducted research into the history of the chapel and the people involved in it in the early days, is also trying to find out more about the people mentioned on the plaque.