Local Public Consultation on the future of St James Church,

Wigmore in the Parish of Wigmore Abbey Held on Monday 29th April 2024 in St James Church, Wigmore Present: Rev Dr Adrian Thompson (Priest-in-Charge of Wigmore Abbey Parish), Venerable Derek Chedzey (Archdeacon of Hereford), Sarah Girling (Pastoral Secretary, Diocese of Hereford), 9 members of Wigmore Abbey PCC,15 residents of Wigmore, 10 Friends of St James (mainly also residents of Wigmore) and 7 others. Rev Thompson: explained purpose of meeting was not about cessation of worship in Wigmore but about the church building, and emphasised the people of Wigmore are all members of the Parish of Wigmore Abbey, part of the Deanery of Leominster and at the heart of the Diocese of Hereford. He opened with prayer and a reflection on the day’s lectionary reading – Luke 4, 38 – end, emphasising the relevance to the current Wigmore position of the response of Simon’s mother-in-law to her encounter with Jesus and the words of Jesus – ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God’. He offered thanks to Carole Gloag for her continuing dedication to the church, to Fran Rhodes for being at the heart of the building, to Serena Askew for practical support, to Clive Gurney as PCC link. He explained that in 2021 the PCC voted to start the process of closure of St James as a place of worship. This was deferred due to the retirement of the previous Rector and the following vacancy and has now been restarted following his appointment. The aims of the meeting were: a) To fulfil the statutory requirement of consultation with local people b) To identify possible alternatives/ options c) To establish levels of interest d) To refer to local mission action plans He emphasised any proposals need to be evidence based. The key issue is the possibility of future pastoral care. Until / if the church formally closes as a place of worship the building remains an open church and a PCC responsibility. The process of a pastoral closure scheme follows assessment and a recommendation to the Diocese. Stage 2 then looks at the future use of the building. Buildings of special significance may have special protection. There may be other consideration around parish boundaries. Key issues facing St James:- a) Human resources b) Financial issues Each church in the Parish has a church committee from which churchwardens and PCC reps are elected onto the PCC. Wigmore has had no committee since 2018, so no representation on the PCC. The legal responsibilities of Wigmore have been undertaken by PCC members from other churches. The key issues are local resourcing and a lack of faith support. Since 2018 the average congregation for the 3 rd Sunday said service has been only 1.8 which includes the service leader. Responding to an enquiry if a closure decision had already been made Sarah Girling said it had not. She explained that her role in the meeting was not to make decisions but to answer queries. The process of consultation must be up to date so this was intended as the informal gathering of views prior to the possible start of a new consultation rather than continue the old 2021 process. She explained that should the church close for public worship this does not necessarily mean physical closure of the building. Asked if 20 people came weekly to services would this answer concerns, she said the question in any closure is whether the church is needed for public worship. The question of whether a church should close for public worship is therefore primarily one for the churchgoing community. It was agreed the term ‘closure’ can be confusing as it needs to be understood to mean ‘stopping holding services’ of public worship rather than automatically meaning physical closure and locking the door. The question of deciding the future of the church building would therefore be the subject of a separate consultation. The Archdeacon, responding to a query about the possibility of services being offered, underlined the key question is if people want church open for worship, which could be in various forms. Rev Thompson explained in answer to a question that the concept of a monthly service in Village Hall was led by Leominster Deanery to provide worship and fellowship in a warmer, more accessible environment. Carole Gloag, Reader, who conducts services on 3 rd Sunday of each month, and has led Open the Book and Messy Church, explained the experience of decline since 2014 in a cold church with no facilities nor congregation , and the youth facilities now all closed. She explained it takes a team to bring people together and considers Wigmore needs someone local to forward mission in Wigmore. Igor Kennaway, who has played the organ since 2003, identified a community with various social assets but people who do not wish to attend a cold church building. Two requisites are needed - to keep the building open as a place of worship - and a congregation. Rev Thompson underlined that since his arrival this consultation is a new process, an effect of which may be to act as a catalyst to action. If so this requires a new congregation, committee, church wardens, secretary and Treasurer, which could result in stopping the closure process. Finances: the position is: *The current balance of the legacy monies is £12,179 after outstanding payments. (Note: this is restricted to fabric only so cannot be used for any other purpose.) The estimated insurance for 2025 will reduce this to circa. £9,400. *Estimated annual electricity costs £300 net *Estimated share of Parish expenses this year £300 *Other possible costs (incurred in 2023) gutter cleaning, electrical work, flooring, organ total £2434 which may/ may not be required. *Income from church this year to date is £210 The previous PCC Treasurer confirmed that donations made are identified in the church as specifically for St James. He reminded the meeting that in the event of insufficient income to meet St James’ expenses the PCC will be liable, and have to find funds from monies raised in their own churches. Sarah Girling accepted there is clearly anxiety about the building and finances. She stressed that she was explaining the closure process so that people understood what the alternatives were, and not because any decision had already been made. The legal process is that when an order for closure is made after consultation, the legal and financial responsibility for the building moves from the PCC to the Diocese. The Diocese and Church Commissioners then seek an alternative use for the building. In circumstances of an important Grade 1 building of local and national importance the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) would be the first approach. The CCT is a statutory body set up to look after closed church buildings of national importance and is funded partly by government and partly by the Church Commissioners. The Trust keeps such buildings physically open and in good repair and generally make the buildings available for occasionally service and other community activities. There is no guarantee they would accept the building as they have to work within a budget, but the diocese would push hard for this and St James would be attractive to them because of all the hard work done by people to keep the building in good condition. In response to a question about whether the church would remain physically open and accessible during such a process she explained that prior to closure everything would remain as now and the church open for visitors. During the period between closure and finding alternative use (such as transfer to CCT) the main issue regarding opening is to satisfy insurers that the building an be opened safely, and that has to be negotiated on a case by case basis. If the building were transferred to CCT it would wherever possible keep it open and appoint local guardians/ keyholders. Examples of CCT church in the area can be found on The nearest is St Bartholemews, Richards Castle. She explained that prior to closure, and then in a period whilst the Diocese was looking for alternative use, the church would be open for visitors. Thereafter it would be a matter for the Trust, if applicable, and any insurance requirements. The Trust tries to ensure churches are open when possible. The Archdeacon welcomed the Friends Group and emphasised the need for all to come together. He underlined the benefit of a card machine. (Note:this is already being arranged). He acknowledged a groundswell of goodwill and hoped for a meeting of minds. Sarah Girling outlined that as this an informal gathering of views no precise timetable for consultation/ closure has been set at this stage. Vital to this is the community who want to get involved. Following a suggestion by Igor Kennaway it was agreed to collect email addresses of those present and interested. Rev Thompson stated the basic requirements for the office of churchwarden:- a) Have been baptised and on the church electoral roll b) Actual communicants c) 18 years or over (Note: Churchwardens are automatically members of the PCC) Replying to the suggestion that the church might have a multi-faith use it was explained that this is a Christian, Church of England, place of worship, with the mission being to deliver the faith of Christ and is currently struggling to support this. In reply to a concern that Rev Thompson has been in post for 7 months and some felt they did not yet know him he explained that he has the challenge of a parish of 7 other churches, plus other responsibilities, and is the only priest, but with plans in place for May, he hopes to meet more Wigmore people. He commented that this meeting may have brought people together. The challenges of a multi-church parish are great and require working in teams to establish a way forward. A committee in Wigmore is needed to do so. Whether or not the building remains as a place of worship the importance of the worshipping community of Wigmore is fundamental. The Archdeacon stated that three things are now needed:- 1) a need to get to know Adrian and have a fresh start 2) at this informal stage to consider Wigmore becoming a Festival Church and maybe different styles of worship 3) To revive conversation Clive Gurney spoke of the Adforton experience and the community spirit fostered there and that Wigmore needs faith, hope and particularly love to further this. Rev Thompson advised that the first service led by the Deanery would in fact be on Sunday May 12th at *4.00pm in the church as the Village Hall is booked. Thereafter this is due in the Hall on the second Sunday of the month. In view of the interest demonstrated and points made both Archdeacon Derek and Sarah Girling both stated that it would not be appropriate to take any further steps towards closure at this stage and that this would not be continued whilst Wigmore explores the way forward. Archdeacon Derek closed the meeting in prayer.  Note- this has been changed to 4.30 pm in response to a suggestion from the meeting