History not Religion
The Church of England states that its churches belong to everyone. The parish system in the UK means that just by living within a church’s parish you are entitled to use the church. Whether you go once a year, once a decade or once a week, the church belongs to you. If you want to follow family tradition and have your children baptised, like a sing-song at Christmas or just think it would make a pretty backdrop for your wedding photos, you can use the church. Believer or not, the church exists for you.
Three quarters of England’s 16,000 parish churches are listed as buildings of architectural and historic interest Grades I, II* and II. Churches listed Grade I comprise 45% of all England’s listed buildings . With the numbers of people who attend church regularly around 1.5% of the population, this means that, in the words of an official from English Heritage, “less than 2% of the population is responsible for almost half of England’s finest architecture.”
Our beautiful church of St. Peter & St. Paul is such a building. Grade I listed, with a church having been on the site since the 7th century and founded by the same St. Cedd who built the church at Bradwell, the church is the focal point of the village. The current church was rebuilt around 1046. In 2011, it was in a very poor state of repair and the Friends of West Mersea Parish Church (FWMPC) was founded to raise money to fund essential repairs to keep the building useable. Since then the Friends have organised numerous community events each year to raise money for the church and keep it in a condition that means it can be continued to be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.
So far fundraising has paid for essential works like the repair of the South Aisle window which was literally bowing out of the building. As they were built from medieval and Tudor brick and ironwork they needed to be repaired using traditional methods. In both 2013 and 2017 significant works were needed to the roof and in 2014 the building’s electrical systems were brought into the 21st century and now meet modern standards. In addition, more historic features of the church have been returned to their former glory. In 2013, the Friends paid for the restoration of the Chancel East stained glass window which dates from 1905/06 and is called Resurrection. In 2014, the centenary year, the memorial rail which commemorates the sacrifice of local people in the first world war was restored after it’s lettering became cracked or was missing. Although the events are great fundraisers, the absolutely essential backbone of the Friends is the ongoing support of its members. Members pay £2 per month or £24 annually and it is this steady stream of income that allows the Friends to support the church. As members they receive a discount on the many spectacular events that are held throughout the year and their steady contribution allows the Friends to keep funding all the little repairs that over a thousand years of wear and tear can have on a building and the big things that keep this building open to the modern parishioner.
More help is needed and we can never have enough members so please do consider joining. The annual membership fee is the same as buying a coffee every day for a week. Membership forms can be found in the foyer of the church or by contacting the membership secretary firstname.lastname@example.org or via our website https://www.fwmpc.org/join-us
The Friends of West Mersea Parish Church (FWMPC) is a non-religious charity interested in the preserving the beautiful and historic building of St. Peter and St. Paul Church. It is registered with and regulated by the Charities Commission for England and Wales. This article was written for the Courier in 2019.