Virtual Pilgrimage around the churches of the United Reformed Church East Midlands Synod

Virtual Pilgrimage for Christian Aid 2022

Journal

May 1: We start from St Andrew’s with Castle Gate and set off around South Nottingham. Our first destination is Friary, at the corner of Millicent and Musters Road, Nottingham. This church will be closing in 2022. Its congregation moved from Friar Lane Chapel in 1897, 70 years after its foundation, and the church opened in September 1901. By the time Friary joined the URC in 1972, it had been joined by members from other Congregational Churches and had amalgamated with Queen’s Walk Congregational Church in 1970. Its Victorian organ, made by Charles Lloyd and Co, was transferred to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka in the mid-1990s. From there we walk on to Keyworth URC, on Nottingham Road in Keyworth, and part of the South Notts Group. It has an active congregation, and supports all kinds of external groups with its halls, including Guides, a weekly whist drive and a charity coffee shop. Our next stop is @Boundary Church, on Boundary Road in Beeston, now included in Beeston Community Church. This was originally Lenton Abbey Congregational Church, and its premises in Boundary Road opened in 1933, drawing its congregation from both Lenton Abbey and Beeston. The Minister was also part-time Chaplain to the University of Nottingham. The name was changed to Boundary Road United Reformed Church in 1972, when the United Reformed Church was formed from a union of the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church in England and Wales. However, the name was fluid: documents refer to it as Boundary Road Church before that date, and as Lenton Abbey United Reformed Church as late as 1979. In 1987 a Community Centre was built onto the existing church site. Declining membership led to the Church’s closure in 2010. Then on to Boulevard URC, on Gregory Boulevard, Nottingham. This was built as Hyson Green Congregational Church in 1900, designed by Harry Gill, an important Nottingham architect of the period.  And finally today on to Sherwood URC, with congregations based at both 1 Edwards Lane and 158 Broxtowe Lane in Strelley. This is another lively church with all kinds of community groups using their halls, including the Tuneless Choir.

 

May 2: From Sherwood, we head back briefly to Clifton URC, closed in 2019. Clifton was the last new church to be supported by the Nottinghamshire Congregational Union, beginning with a Sunday School from 1955. Its first minister was ordained in 1958, and the church hall opened on 21 January 1961. It was intended to be part of a suite of buildings, with distinctive modern designs for the church. The church was never built, and services continued in the church hall. (https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/manuscriptsandspecialcollections/collectionsindepth/non-conformistchurches/cliftoncongregationalchurch.aspx ) Back across the city we walk to Bulwell URC: this church has its roots in the Churches of Christ and in March 1911, Broomhill Road Church of Christ was opened. There was no paid ministry until 1957, and the church was served by Evangelists and Home Missions sisters. Lay ministry remains strong in the congregation. After a City Council compulsory purchase order in 1969, the Bulwell churches came together to form the Bulwell Church of Christ, and in 1981, it became part of the URC. (https://www.bulwellurc.org.uk/). From Bulwell to the The Dales is next. It was formed in 1986 by an amalgamation of the Albion Church, located at the bottom of Sneinton Dale and The Parkdale United Reformed Church in Bakersfield. This merger provided a home for the Albion Church, whose premises were going to cost too much to repair and members for Parkdale, which had flourishing groups for young people but not enough helpers. The church still has flourishing Boys Brigade and Brownie units (https://thedalesurc.co.uk/ ). Burton Joyce URC closed in 2015. It was founded as a Congregationalist Chapel in 1896,  using money endowed by successful local tradesman Samuel Milne. He had initially made his fortune from the wool and cotton industry. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Reformed_Church,_Burton_Joyce )

 

By Alan Murray-Rust, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13884218

 

Nearby was Netherfield URC which was founded in 1841 and closed in 2009. From there on to Arnold URC: the Nottinghamshire Archives record that there has been a congregation for 127 years, with roots in the Congregational tradition. (https://www.inspirepicturearchive.org.uk/image/26090/Arnold_United_Reformed_Church )

Thence to Marlpool URC (http://www.marlpoolurc.com/whoweare.htm), part of the ELM pastorate (Eastwood, Langley (closed 2019) and Marlpool). This church offers an uplifting story, of a congregation squaring up to a challenge of a building beyond economic repair in 2002, and entering a new church building in 2004, having been hosted in the interimby both the local Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican church. The church and its halls are open for all kinds of community activities and the congregation is still growing. Moorgreen’s URC chapel closed in 2004. The history of Non-Conformist worship there goes back to 1662, when the first meetings were held in a barn (https://southwellchurches.nottingham.ac.uk/greasley/hhistory.php ).

 

And then moving further from Nottingham, Hucknall. This is another congregation with roots in the late nineteenth century. Mission services were started by Hucknall Congregational Church in 1892 in a house at the corner of Claremont Street, until 1895 when the congregation moved to a new chapel on Hazel Grove, which cost £600. In 1972, the congregations joined the URC, and formed a joint pastorate in 1974. The first church, on Portland Street, was sold in 1993, and a new wing was opened on the church in Hazel Grove in 2002, a space for all kinds of community activity. (http://www.hucknall-urc.co.uk/ )

 

Our last stop today is Sutton-in-Ashfield URC. This is housed in a Grade II listed building, completed in 1906, although there has been a worshipping community meeting on this site since 1651. It has some unusual features, including an organ in its original unaltered condition and curved pews that form ripples from the pulpit. http://nottshistoricchurchtrust.org.uk/sutton-in-ashfield-united-reformed-church/

 

May 3: Today we have fewer churches and bigger distances between them. First stop is Worksop bigger distances today. First to Worksop, and The Crossing, an ecumenical partnership between the Methodist church and the URC. The present building was opened in 2006, and represents contemporary church architecture and vision. (https://www.thecrossing.co.uk/)  Our next stop is Gainsborough URC, which foregrounds its links to the past. The present building was opened in 1897, after the minister Hugh Griffiths found the previous building to be unsatisfactory for his congregation in 1891. Mr Griffiths wished the new church to be a memorial to John Robinson, ‘pastor of the pilgrims’.

 

According to the Gainsborough URC webpage (https://www.gainsborough-united-reformed-church.org.uk/p/history.html ), John Robinson was born in Sturton-le-Steeple around 1576. He studied at Cambridge University from 1592 until graduation in 1595, becoming a fellow of Corpus Christi College in 1598 and Dean in 1600.  He was also ordained priest in the Church of England in 1598.  Married men were not allowed to hold College fellowships and Robinson resigned his fellowship to marry Bridget White at St. Mary’s Church, Greasley, on 15 February 1604. He became pastor of St Andrew’s church in Norwich, until his Calvinist theology led him to refuse to conform to a new book of canons introduced by James I and he was suspended from preaching.

 

Robinson returned with his wife to North Nottinghamshire where they became involved with prominent local separatists including William Brewster of Scrooby Manor, William Bradford at Austerfield, Richard Clyfton, rector of Babworth, Richard Bernard at Worksop, John Smyth and Thomas Helwys. Robinson became assistant pastor to Brewster’s Scrooby congregation with Clyfton whilst Smyth led the Gainsborough congregation. Some of these separatists left Gainsborough and Scrooby for Holland to escape persecution and harassment for their dissenting views in 1607/08.  They settled initially in Amsterdam, worshipping with an English congregation popularly known as the Ancient Brethren.  Disturbed by discord among the Ancient Brethren,  John Robinson and company moved on to Leiden in April 1609.

 

Late in 1617 a number of the congregation decided to emigrate to America.  They were concerned that their children were becoming overly influenced by the more liberal Dutch culture, and fearful of the impact of renewed hostilities between Spain and the Low Countries.  Sir Edwin Sandys, a member of the Virginia Company, helped them secure royal permission to sail to America.  A minority of the congregation sailed from Leiden on 21 July 1620. John Robinson intended to join the Mayflower Pilgrims, but died in Leiden in 1625.  Today the Pieterskerk is known as the church of the Pilgrim Fathers, and Robinson was buried there.

 

From Gainsborough, we move on to Old Brumby United Church in Scunthorpe. This is another congregation drawn from both the URC and the Methodist church. This congregation are participating in Christian Aid’s sponsored walk across the Humber Bridge, nearly as exciting as this virtual pilgrimage! (https://oldbrumby.com/ )

 

May 5: Today is largely spent in Lincoln. Three URC churches in Lincoln share a minister, as a joint pastorate, Trinity, St Columba’s and Ermine. St Columba’s is an ecumenical partnership with the Methodist Church (http://lincolnmethodist.org.uk/st-columbas/). Ermine URC is in the north of Lincoln, on the Ermine estate. Its Easter service included the opportunity for participants to place a white flower in the Easter cross to commemorate those they had lost. In addition to these established congregations, there is also Heath Christian Partnership, an ecumenical Pioneer Ministry to the south of Lincoln to serve a new estate. The dominance of Lincoln’s medieval church buildings rather overshadows the different needs of new estates and settlements, so it is exciting to hear about projects beyond buildings. (With apologies to the architect in the room). From Lincoln to Sleaford, and RIverside Church. This church has its origins in 1776, when a group of Sleaford dissidents met together in Hen Lane. The current building was finished in 1867: the congregation has changed its name from Sleaford Independent Church to Sleaford Congregational Church to Sleaford United Reformed Church and since 2008, Riverside Church. It also has an exceptional organ: see here for more details https://www.riversidesleaford.org.uk/about-riverside/about-us/holdich-pipe-organ

Riverside also run the Source, a multipurpose set of halls, for use by community groups, and run a community cafe and also Street Source, a ministry for those having a night out in the town at the weekend, drawing on the Street Pastors movement.

 

May 6: From Sleaford on first to Boston URC, a small but dedicated congregation meeting in a converted house in Wyberton: https://boston-urc.wixsite.com/burc. From there to Long Sutton, a congregation founded in 1817 and part of the Congregational Church in 1931. This building closed as a church in 2008 and in 2010 it was being used for a Montessori nursery. The congregation joined with the church in Wisbech, our next stop.  Wisbech URC celebrated 200 years of worship in its building in 2018, known for the first hundred years as Wisbech Independent Church, from 1918, Wisbech Congregational Church, and since 1972 Wisbech URC. The local paper the Wisbech Standard noted the anniversary, and promised its readers the opportunity to learn about its famous ‘bizarre bazaars’ at its anniversary service (https://www.wisbechstandard.co.uk/news/castle-square-united-reformed-church-wisbech-5593378) Any further information very welcome!!

 

May 7: Today we complete our first week of pilgrimage. Our first stop is Spalding URC (https://spalding-urc.wixsite.com/surc) . Their website indicates an energetic congregation supporting a weekly Saturday cafe, and groups during the week. They are also keen participants in Churches Together in Spalding (www.ctspad.org.uk).

 

From Spalding to Christchurch in Grantham, a Local Ecumenical Partnership with the Methodists since 2008 (www.christchurchgrantham.com). Previously, the building was a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, the Finkin Street Methodist Church, where Margaret Thatcher’s father, Alfred Roberts, preached. The current congregation has as part of its vision a call to minister to the city centre. It has a fortnightly Bible study group, Messy Church and Rambling, and has a very active engagement with the community through activities in the halls. It also has a video recounting the history of the congregation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eqg5bYNLdQk, and its foundations as a Methodist community.

 

We finished our walk today at Bourne Eastgate URC, a small church, whose congregation share their premises with Bourne Evangelical Church, and host the Bourne Food Bank in its rooms. It has Sunday worship, fortnightly coffee mornings on Saturdays, and a weekly Zoom prayer meeting. The front part of the building dates from 1846, with some additions in 1899. The stained glass windows of Faith, Hope and Love commemorate three members of a family who attended the church, and the lectern commemorates the 93rd birthday of another member.

 

May 8: Today down towards Peterborough, and St Andrews URC, Ledbury Road. This congregation dates from 1861, as a Congregational church, and had already developed links with the Presbyterian church by the 1940s, becoming Trinity Presbyterian and Congregational Church in 1948. In 1970, the congregation decided that its mission would be served by building a new church in the suburban location of Netherton in Peterborough, and so St Andrews was one of the first new churches to be dedicated as a United Reformed Church in 1972. The church has a regular Bible Study group, a Knit and Natter Group and a monthly church lunch. It also supports a number of community groups with premises, including Peterborough Choral Society, U3A, Music for Little People and The Wildlife Trust. (https://www.standrewsurcpeterborough.org.uk/welcome.htm) From there to Westgate New Church, an LEP with the Methodist Church, right in the heart of Peterborough, opposite the bus station. The congregation was formed by the union of the congregations of Wentworth Street Methodist Church and Westgate United Reformed Church, and has an alternating ministry of United Reformed and Methodist clergy. In 2016, the congregation sold its old Victorian building to a growing congregation, the Universal Church of the Children of God, and moved to smaller, newer premises, to encourage a focus on the church’s mission to central Peterborough. (https://www.westgatechurch.org.uk/). The minister also serves Whittlesey Queen Street Church (our next stop), an Anglican congregation in Yaxley that welcomes a Methodist service, Crowland Methodist Church, Oundle Methodist Church, and Livestream, an online church community. The congregation is also a member church of Churches Together in Central Peterborough. The church also hosts a Foodbank.

 

From central Peterborough, we head to Whittlesey Queen Street Church, to the south-east of Peterborough. This is also an LEP with the Methodist Church, served by the minister at Westgate New. Whittlesey was originally a Methodist foundation, where the deeds to purchase the land on which the church is built exchanged hands in 1866. Over the next century, this congregation joined with the other Methodist chapels in the town, and in 1993, the URC in Whittlesey also joined the congregation. The church sustains a music group, house groups, a young persons’ Bible study group, Parents and Tots, Girls’ Brigade, a Friendship Club and a Coffee Club.(https://www.whittleseyqueenstreetchurch.org/calendar/)

 

From here to our last stop, Christchurch in Orton Goldhay, another LEP in association with the Church of England and the Methodist church. This is a striking new build, with an early Sunday service (10 am!), Messy Church and regular coffee meetings. (https://www.ccog.co.uk/) The church was constructed in 2000. It consists of a circular sanctuary linked to a hall with a sliding folding partition.

 

 

 

May 9: From Orton Goldhay onto Stamford URC (https://www.stamfordurc.org.uk/welcome.htm). . This building dates from 1819, but there had been a non-conformist congregation in Stamford from at least 1714 when their then-chapel had been destroyed by a Jacobite mob. There are lots of activities in the hall, including self-help groups, yoga, and U3A. They support JAM (Jesus And Me) for the over-10s, and contribute to the witness of Churches Together, including the support of a food bank, Second Helpings (to reduce food waste) and Christians Against Poverty Debt Help. From there we leave Lincolnshire and head into Northamptonshire. We will pass Danesholme Community Centre, intended as an ecumenical experiment, to build the church into a community centre, to serve all the needs of the community. Next is Corby URC, built in1956.

 

 

Our last stop tonight is Brigstock URC, part of the Rockingham Forest Group of churches. Based in a village, the church is old, having been a Congregational Church before the formation of the URC, and its schoolrooms are much used by village organisations including the village beer festival. They have a thriving junior church and a family service on the third Sunday of the month. Working in partnership with the RC church, they run an Open Door cafe on a Wednesday morning for people to drop in.

 

May 10: From Brigstock and its beer festival to Geddington, where the URC is also part of the Rockingham Forest Group of churches. It has a small building and a small congregation who work to encourage other villagers to participate; it also has good ecumenical relations with the parish church of St Mary Magdalene (http://www.rockinghamforesturc.org.uk/geddington-united-reformed-church.html).

 

From Geddington to Desborough:

 

 

This church was built in 1912 to designs by a local company. It has a large sanctuary, some decorative glass, and as you can see from the photo above a horseshoe balcony. Its mission includes commitments to “To encourage children and young people to participate in organisations with a church connection; To rethink how to connect with people under 50, seeking new ways of providing service and mission; and To continue to be a resource on which the local community can draw, by optimising the use of the sanctuary for the benefit of the wider community.” (https://www.desboroughurc.org.uk/Home)

 

From Desborough to Rothwell, which is a Grade II listed building, where the earliest part of the chapel was built in 1676 and the vestry was added in 1762. There have been two subsequent enlargements, and restorations in 1893 and 1991.

Photo © Geoffrey Clarke

 

May 11: From Rothwell to Toller URC in Kettering. The National Archives records papers belonging to the congregation as far back as 1662 in Northamptonshire Archives, and Kettering was a centre of the Levellers’ Rebellion (a different kind of ‘levelling up’), so there was evidently a deal of non-conformity around. The current congregation supports all kinds of local groups, from the Sea Cadets to a theatre group.

 

From Toller on to London Road also in Kettering. This church was built in 1898/9 to designs by Cooper and Williams. I am very taken with the turrets, although that might be a personal preference. It is Grade II listed, and has an interesting plan. Thanks to Mark and Phil for the photos. The church runs a variety of small devotional groups, including a Bible study group, a men’s breakfast group and a women’s group (no food mentioned!) and a monthly prayer meeting. It is also home to Rainbows, Brownies and Guides (http://www.rockinghamforesturc.org.uk/kettering-united-reformed-church.html)

 

 

From London Road, then, to Dean URC, in Upper Dean.. The church was constructed in 1863, perhaps  overshadowed by the Grade I listed parish church in the same village! Upper Dean was also the birthplace of Francis Dillingham (d. 1625), one of the team of translators for the Authorised Version, although the DNB entry is unclear as to his confessional allegiances.

From Dean to Wellingborough URC. According to this church’s website, it is either known as the Pork Pie (for its distinctive shape) or the Congo (short for Congregationalists); amongst its activities, it has a Craft Group, a Book Group,  Women’s Guild and Bible Study, as well as a toddlers’ group, Girls’ and Boys’ Brigade and a youth theatre. Like Kettering, the history of non-conformism here goes back to the 17th C. An early congregation was linked with Rothwell Church, but became autonomous in 1691. The introduction of an organ in 1812 caused a group to break away and form another congregation, but the growth in attendance brought them back together to build a single building a the end of the nineteenth century.(https://wellingboroughurc.org.uk/)

May 12: From Wellingborough to Great Doddington. The church was constructed in 1899 and had some significant extensions in 1924 to form a school room and an enlarged meeting space. The congregation describes itself as a small and friendly chapel with a growing Sunday School.

 

 

 

 

From Great Doddington (which looks a lovely village) to Cowper Memorial URC in Olney. This town turns out to be full of Wikipedia interest, with a women only pancake race on Shrove Tuesday and numbering Susannah Martin, one of the unfortunates executed during the Salem Witch Panic, as a former inhabitant. More germane perhaps, is the information that the church’s name derives from William Cowper the poet and hymn writer, and also that John Newton was curate here. Cowper Memorial is commemorating 250 years since the composition of ‘Amazing Grace’ by participating in making a community quilt. (https://cowperurc.org/community-quilt-to-celebrate-amazing-grace-250th-anniversary/) Now there’s a challenge for Craft Club!!

 

 

From Olney on to Harrold and Carlton Ecumenical Partnership, part of Chellington Team Ministry, Here is Harrold Chapel. According to Bedfordshire archives (https://bedsarchives.bedford.gov.uk/CommunityHistories/Harrold/HarroldUnitedReformedChurch.aspx) , the congregational or ‘independent’ congregation here probably dates from late 17th C or early 18th C: there was certainly a licensed congregation by 1720. The more recent history has involved various renovations to the chapel building to make the space more multi-purpose. (http://harroldvillage.co.uk/churches-united-reformed-church/)

 

 

From Harrold to Paulerspury. The church meeting voted to close in 2021. The chapel was constructed in 1826 and the school rooms added in 1850. More details about the history of the congregation can be found on the Paulerspury Village webpages (https://paulerspuryparish.org.uk/parish-directory/united-reform-church/), including an explanation of why so many Victorian non-conformist churches had school rooms (because parish schools were limited to Anglicans – of course.)

 

May 13: From Paulespury to Well Street United Church in Buckingham. This is a Local Ecumenical Partnership with the Baptist and Methodist churches. This congregation has a huge amount going on, including Life Groups (for fellowship, support, prayer and education), several youth groups for secondary school children (even branded hoodies!!), Explorers and Holiday Club, as well as a street life pastorate and a wellbeing cafe. And there’s a welcome video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDvCI8xrErc. See here for further information: https://www.wellstreetchurch.org.uk/

 

From a thriving congregation at Well Street, to a congregation that took the decision to close in 2021: The Headlands. This church was built in 1955, although the scout hut pre-dated the chapel. Evidently built to serve an estate, its ministry was not sustainable.

 

From the Headlands to Abington Avenue URC also in Northampton. The original schoolroom was constructed in 1901, and the church followed in 1910: the latest refurbishment has provided raked theatre seating (I can only speculate whether the seats should be like the Showcase and whether that would bring in a congregation!) The church holds a Bronze Ecochurch award, and runs two community allotments, the produce from which goes either to the church kitchen for lunches for elderly people, or to Northampton Hope. It also supports a Child Contact Centre, and Jolly Tots and a Toy Library. There are also fortnightly Home Groups, Junior Church provision, and a Friday Lunch Club and a social programme as well (https://www.aaurc.co.uk/)

 

From AAUC to Castle Hill URC, also in Northampton. No webpage for this one, but an active Facebook page, detailing activities from Boys’ Brigade, through a Food Bank, to a Q group and a youth group on Friday nights. The church was erected in 1695, with extensions in 1852 and 1890. The chapel contains a memorial to Philip Doddridge, the 18th C hymn writer (‘Hark the Glad Sound, the Saviour comes!’)  dated 1751 by John Hunt.

 

From one church with a memorial to Philip Doddridge to a whole church named in his honour, Doddridge  Memorial. The complex was constructed in 1913 following a partial reconstruction of a chapel dated 1862.  Due to problems with deteriorating masonry following flooding, the chapel was demolished.  Some of the memorial stones have been built into the new front boundary wall.

 

 

May 14: From Doddridge Memorial we are setting off for Duston URC. The congregation has Home Groups and Bible Study, Girls’ and Boys’ Brigade, a Junior Church whose groups are all called after stones. It supports a food bank, and lets its premises to Tai Chi, to a sewing group and to ‘Singing for Breathing’. Its building was constructed in early 1927, and its sanctuary has a very open feel (https://dustonurc.org.uk/?page_id=2).

 

 

Next to Creaton URC, a small but busy village church embedded in its community (http://www.creaton.org.uk/index.asp?pageid=319550), running a coffee shop two mornings a week to serve its community. From Creaton to Crick, constructed in 1820 with later extensions. However, the congregation has its origins in the 17th Century, when there is the first record of non-conformists meeting housed. They had their first land in the 1700s, and gained a licence for a building for religious worship in 1790.

 

Onwards from Crick to Kilsby, another church in the North West North Hants Group. The chapel was built in 1784 and records of the congregation exist from 1752 (according to the National Archives).

And finally. Long Buckby, initially constructed in 1771 and enlarged in 1818. The congregation has its origins around 1707, although archival proof seems not to be forthcoming (https://longbuckbyurc.org.uk/church%20history.php). Like the ones above, this congregation also belongs to the North West North Hants pastorate.

 

 

May 15: Catching up with myself, here is where we should have visited yesterday. From Long Buckby to Daventry URC. The congregation will be celebrating its 350 year anniversary at the beginning of July; its first chapel was built 50 years later in 1722.

Daventry is an energetic congregation linked with Hinckley. It belongs to the New Wine network (https://www.new-wine.org/about/). It has small cell groups as a key part of ministry, and runs weekly English classes, a parents and toddlers group, andthe Cornerstone coffee shop on Fridays and Saturdays to serve its community (http://daventryunitedreformedchurch.org.uk/services-events/).

 

Our next stop is Badby Chapel, which held its last service in July 2021, having decided to close through lack of members. The church was built in 1873 as a non-conformist chapel.

 

One of its members, Roy Barnett, was the founder of the Mite Scheme for Unicef, and is commemorated on a plaque formerly on the church building but now on the school in the village. https://www.unicef.org.uk/fundraise/fundraise-in-your-community/faith-groups/the-mite-scheme/. Badby is the kind of village where even the swifts are noticed: https://badby-pc.gov.uk/the-first-swift-arrives-early/

 

Moving on to Weedon, the first of the churches we will visit in the South West Northants Group. Wikipedia notes that the chapel was built in 1792 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weedon_Bec). Flore URC, in the same group, notes on its website (https://www.floreurc.org.uk/) the close relationship between the congregations at Flore and Weedon, going back to their earliest foundations as non-conforming congregations after the Restoration, and through the building first of the chapel at Weedon and then in 1810 a hall in Flore, to which the church was added later.  Flore is part of Flore Christian Partnership, participating in worship with the parish church, and organising events to support the local community, such as a Meal a Month.

 

Our last church today is Potterspury: this congregation is linked with Yardley Gobion. Potterspury village is allegedly the location of the first meeting between Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV, but there is nothing immediately online about the church!

 

May 16: We start the day at Newport Pagnell URC. This congregation can trace its foundation to 1660, when John Gibbs, the vicar of the parish church, was expelled for refusing Holy Communion to certain undesirables. Alas, the website does not identify these undesirables, but they were evidently powerful enough to get him expelled. He started a regular meeting in a barn, with those who agreed with him, and continued his ministry, despite periods of imprisonment and work in the wider non-conforming movements, until his death in 1699. The church today is still dynamic, and has opened the Mead Centre (https://www.themeadcentre.co.uk/) to provide a safe space to all kinds of community groups. Meanwhile it continues a more familiar round of Toddler Praise, craft drop-ins and church picnics: https://www.urcnewportpagnell.org/home

 

From NPURC to Milton Keynes, one great big ecumenical partnership, a conscious decision for the New Town. First in the Stantonbury LEP is St Mary Magdalene in Willen (https://stantonbury.net/wp/st-mary-magdalene-church-willen.The church was erected in 1680, designed by Robert Hooke, an associate of Christopher Wren. Weekly worship is at 9.30, with monthly holy communion at 8.30.  From here to Bradwell, and the church of St Lawrence (https://bradwellchurch.com/). The minister here comes from the Methodist tradition, but has been confirmed ecumenically. St Lawrence is an active congregation, still busy on Zoom as well as in person, including house groups, supporting MK soup run and food bank. They’ve even had a partnership pilgrimage, an actual walk together in the Before Times! (https://bradwellchurch.com/latestnews/partnership-pilgrimage/)

 

Next is Cross & Stable, Downs Barn (https://crossandstable.weebly.com/). This church is welcoming a new minister to the partnership in June, so changes are afoot. From here to St Andrew’s Church, Great Linford: a very old church in origin, with the traces of the first building suggesting something late Saxon or early Norman. It is a member of the Quiet Garden scheme, promoting outdoor spaces for contemplation and refuge (https://standrewschurchgreatlinford.co.uk/history/). It has a healthy toddlers’ and primary age attendance, and is hoping to create a group for older children if the numbers become viable. On to St James, New Bradwell, and a church with a development project (and a prayer for that development project (https://www.stjamesnewbradwell.org.uk/?page_id=24830). The last church in the Stantonbury Partnership is Christ Church Stantonbury: their website explains the foundations of Milton Keynes’ ecumenical practice (https://www.christchurchmk.org.uk/Groups/364823/Our_Story.aspx) The congregation runs house groups, an under-5s group, and drop-in coffee and cake mornings, now reinstituted after the pandemic. Overall, Stantonbury looks to be a successful model of ecumenism, where difference is embraced in pursuit of a common purpose and resources are shared to enable greater participation.

 

May 17: A new day and a new ecumenical partnership, this time the Woughton Partnership, still in Milton Keynes. We are starting at Christ the Vine Community Church, Coffee Hall. According to this week’s newsletter, this congregation is still having Zoom services, as well as in person. Although a small congregation,  it runs a Blessings Course (https://roygodwin.org/the-blessings-course/) with light lunch on Mondays, and Cafe Vine on Fridays, with the hope of setting up further activity groups. It also hosts a toddler group on Thursdays, and the Partnership is looking to pilot Messy Church. Next is St Mary’s in Woughton on the Green. This is a thirteenth-century church, situated in a medieval village, where 50 years ago the parish numbered about 100, and now it numbers 28000. While its service book starts with Anglican communion, it also includes orders of worship from the other denominations that are part of the partnership, and has been produced locally to meet the needs of the churches. They are having a Jubilee Breakfast, so as to allow the bellringers full throttle for a quarter peel in the afternoon. Next is  St Thomas’s, Simpson. This church is also 13th C: although there are two manors mentioned here in the Domesday Book, there is no reference to a priest or a church until 1231! The church has also been participating in a project since 2020 to enhance the biodiversity and natural habitats of the village, and in 2021, kept a survey of all the species that were present over the year. When this is complete, it will develop a management plan to ensure that the bee orchids and the stars of Bethlehem still have a place. There is also space for socialising, and the next event is a quiz with a fish and chip supper. Next is Trinity in Fishermead. This is a small congregation, but one that sustains a Sunday school and a house group. There are Zoom night prayers on Wednesday and a Zoom Bible study. The final church in this group is Holy Trinity Woolstones Church, another 13th century building, although the font is even older. There is also an early wood carving of the Magi, although seeing this and other early features involves a 21st C ladder, so not immediately accessible. The congregation describes itself as small, but clearly works hard to support its community, hosting a children’s concert and a carol concert to raise money for local charities. Just like the Stantonbury Partnership, the range of churches held together here is impressive, with a sense of belonging to a wider body. All the information on all the churches can be accessed through this website: http://www.woughton.org/site_map/index.htm

 

May 18: Today’s church partnership is Walton Churches Partnership (https://www.wcpmk.co.uk/), which describes itself thus: ‘which means Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed all together, with a Quaker and Salvationist or two thrown in for good measure’. We’re starting at St Mary’s Wavendon, another 13th C church building, although its tower and a little of its glass are 15th C (https://www.stmaryswavendon.co.uk/ ). Its pulpit has the maker’s mark of Grinling Gibbons, and some of its Victorian glass was particularly praised by John Betjamin. The congregation is running both online (pre-recorded) worship and in-person worship, which starts at 9.30! The church has also taken the opportunity to use online resources for an art exhibition for Easter, with work made by the congregation. See here: https://artspaces.kunstmatrix.com/en/exhibition/9786224/easter-and-new-life.

The next church in the partnership is All Saints (https://www.allsaintschurchmkvillage.co.uk/ ). Alongside Children’s Church, two different and alternating youth groups and coffee mornings, a Dorcas craft group, Life Groups and regular weekly prayers, the congregation has also started a Go4th group (https://www.go4th.org.uk/) where on the 4th Sunday in the month, volunteers go out from the congregation and work in the community, including litter picking, and tasks for the less able.  The third church building in this partnership is Christ the King, Kent’s Hill (http://christthekingmk.co.uk/ ), which supports both a community congregation and a Roman Catholic congregation. There’s a regular prayer half-hour after morning worship – easier than a separate prayer meeting – and a commitment to increase provision for children, whether through junior church or a parents and babies group. It also runs a Renew Cafe, where as well as tea, coffee and cake, there are opportunities to try creative activities.  There is one more congregation associated with the Walton Churches Partnership and that is Church without Walls (https://www.mkchurchwithoutwalls.org.uk/) . This project currently has 6 places where worship happens: Sacred Space (online, no cameras, half an hour), Cafe church, Dinner church, Forest Church, Quiet Church and Worship @St Lawrence, a Conservation Trust Church closed in 1986 for regular worship, but available 6 Sundays in the year and the occasional weekday service. There is also daily morning prayer on Zoom and a monthly church service on Zoom, to enable people who wouldn’t come into a building to build faith and community. This is a really interesting project and it will be good to see where it goes.

 

One more church today, Christ the Cornerstone (https://cornerstonemk.co.uk/): this was the first city centre ecumenical church in the UK, and its covenants bring together the church of England, the Baptist Union, the Methodist church, the Roman Catholic Church and the United Reformed Church. Most of the activities on the website are related to acts of worship – perhaps the result of being such a diverse congregation and a city centre church: it is hard to identify a community to work with, and hard to pull people in. However, they are committed to do what they can, particularly around homelessness.

 

May 19: Today we are starting with the Watling Valley Partnership (https://watlingvalleypartnership.churchdesk.com/), a partnership between the Baptists, the Methodists, the Church of England and the URC. Its constituent churches are: All Saints, St Mary’s ,Servant King, St Giles, Holy Cross (and here is a helpful map: https://watlingvalleypartnership.churchdesk.com/page/4/who-we-are. There is quite a mix of churches and buildings in this partnership – something for every taste. All Saints is a 13th C building in Loughton, one of two churches in the partnership with active bell ringing. I am amused that the self-description is keen to point out that the church’s stone floor has underfloor heating! My sense is that this is a more Anglican – and possibly quite high Anglican – congregation: the calendar contains a Book of Common Prayer Communion and this congregation is now hosting a Julian Group – a short contemplative meeting, helpd alternately on Zoom or in All Saints. (https://watlingvalleypartnership.churchdesk.com/blog/96745 ).!

 

From All Saints, we move to St Mary’s Church, Shenley End. Again another Anglican church, where the congregation must date from at least 1223, which is when the first rector was appointed. The building has some 12th C features, and has both Norman and Early English stone work (https://watlingvalleypartnership.churchdesk.com/page/16/st-mary%E2%80%99s-church-shenley-church-end). Alongside its bellringers, it also hosts a Mothers’ Union group, and a Kneelers group (which I am assuming refers to making and repairing kneelers, not simply a physical activity).

 

From St Mary’s to The Church of the Servant King in Furzton. This building was opened in 1992, one of two modern churches in the partnership. It is also a community centre, and hosts many community groups, from toddlers, Beavers, Brownies, Cubs, Scouts, and its own monthly youth group, Hot Potatoes, so-called because every meeting ends with chips. It hosts fitness groups, including square dance, and a very successful over-50s club. It also hosts the partnership office. After 30 years of heavy use, the buildings need some refurbishment, so the congregation are in the midst of fundraising and making improvements, including replacing the boiler, repairing the roof and rewiring – and that’s only the start.

 

Moving on then to St Giles’ Church in Tattenhoe: an Anglican peculiar, because the village it originally served disappeared many centuries ago, and it is only in the last century or so that houses have surrounded it. The building dates from 1540, although there was probably a church on the same site before that. It has been derelict several times, and brought back to life by dedicated church wardens. Currently, its services are at 9.30 on Sunday mornings, and between May and November it offers Book of Common Prayer Evensong on selected Sundays – quite rare to have a building and form of worship match up so closely in date!

 

Before we come to the final church, we should stop to acknowledge Christ the Sower Ecumenical Primary School (https://www.cts.milton-keynes.sch.uk/page/?title=Churches&pid=113). Although this joined an Oxford Diocese Multi-Academy Trust in 2019, it still proudly describes itself as an ecumenical Christian school.

 

And the final church in this group is Holy Cross, Two Mile Ash. This is the other modern church in the partnership, at the heart of its community. There is less detail here about groups it supports, but it does offer a weekly food pantry for those in need. The Partnership celebration of Ascension will take place here, and there is a lively mix of services. Before we leave this partnership, there are two other features. Firstly, there is evidently still an offering of online events, including Bible studies (“Women of Holy Week”, Theological Reading Group) and the Julian groups, night prayer and compline. Secondly, there are a range of Partnership groups, including the social groups, Women with Wine and Blokes with Beer (although no mention of designated drivers, or what happens if a woman would rather drink beer). Anyway, here are the links for further investigation: https://watlingvalleypartnership.churchdesk.com/page/6/groups

https://watlingvalleypartnership.churchdesk.com/page/73/watling-valley-worship-online

 

May 20

From Holy Cross, we set off for West End United Church, Wolverton, a partnership only formed between the Methodists and the URC in 2005, in a building raised in 1907. There is a fortnightly house group, a coffee bar every Friday morning, and the church hosts Rainbows, Brownies and Guides, as well as other community groups. From here to Potterspury and Yardley Gobion. I know we’ve already been to Potterspury, so apologies for my poor map- reading and sending us back there again to look more closely at its partner church at Yardley Gobion. Very little about this congregation is readily accessible, although there is a history of Dissenting in this area, with its origins in illegal conventicles (with Anabaptists!) from 1669, and a registered congregation from 1690. From Potterspury, to Hinckley URC: https://www.hinckleyurc.org.uk/index.html Another lively congregation, with several weekly house and prayer groups, Junior Church group called Sprouts, a holiday club, a preschool group, and the International Friendship Centre. It also hosts a Christian book shop, a dance school and Guiding groups, and the Hinckley Archaeological Association. Sermons are available on line, and they’ve just started a ‘Wednesday Word’ arising from the Sunday sermon (https://www.hinckleyurc.org.uk/ico19-prayers.html). Hinckley celebrated 350 years in 2012, and there is a fascinating set of annals written up by the church archivist, filling in the gap since the previous history covering the first 300 years. (https://www.hinckleyurc.org.uk/ch_history.html)

 

Hinckley is linked to Daventry URC, which we visited on Sunday – some seriously bad mapping on the part of the navigator. If we want to detour over, here is the webpage:   (http://daventryunitedreformedchurch.org.uk/).

 

May 21: Today our first visit is to Earl Shilton URC. This congregation don’t seem to have a web presence, but the town’s Wikipedia page says that there have been dissenters there since 1651, and for much of the 18th C met in cottages licensed for worship. The Sunday school was opened in 1801, and appears to have been dissenting until it was taken over by the Church of England in 1858. The town had quite a lively 18th C, with a witch-trial in 1776 and a haunted house in 1778, no relevance whatsoever to the history of the dissenting chapel, just a rather unexpected interlude in the wikipedia entry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Shilton#The_Baptists).

 

On to Enderby URC, where Enderby Heritage tells us this:  that the original Congregationalist Chapel was built in 1822, enlarged in 1860, and then became the church hall when a new church was built next door in 1910.

http://www.enderbyheritage.org.uk/Church.htm

 

From there to  Whetstone. This is the first in the South Leicestershire Group of Churches. (https://southleicsgroupurc.org.uk/) This church was built in 1935/6, together with the Sunday School halls. Thanks to Mark and Phil for the photos. Whetstone feels it has a particular pastoral call to support older members of the community, and it does this with a variety of social activities, including All-Morning Breakfasts, the occasional murder mystery evening with the local drama group, and other events that involve food; they also work hard to maintain links with local residential homes. They are also becoming a green church, putting in double glazing and a fuel efficient heating system.

 

Our next stops are in South Wigston and Wigston Magna. South Wigston have had a particularly interesting journey over the last decade, when in 2007, they were called to make a decision about their chapel in Canal Street, a thriving location when it was built in 1886, but pretty much derelict 120 years later. South Leicestershire College were keen to buy the site, and the congregation took the bold step of accepting the college’s offer of a home in the multi-faith centre when it was opened, in return for selling the chapel and its land. They were a pilgrim congregation for three years, meeting where they could, before being able to use the new College facilities. They have a regular Sunday service there at 10.30, and once a month offer cafe church, an informal worship time over coffee and cake. They’ve also offered a monthly drop in. It’s not entirely clear how the congregation have fared over lock down and subsequently, but after 3 years of wandering, they may have had the resilience for 2 years of lockdown! Wigston Magna has been serving its community for 350 years. The current building dates from 1841, built on the site of an earlier chapter of 1731. It supports a Junior Church, and both Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades, weekly coffee mornings, and a monthly prayer meeting as well as an occasional community cinema.

 

The next church in the South Leics group is Oadby. This congregation has regular worship on Thursdays and Sundays, and quarterly Sunday afternoon services. Some of their groups are monthly – such as Supper Forum (which usually has a speaker as well as a shared meal), a Lunch group, a women’s group and a craft club. There are a weekly coffee morning and Vestry prayers (before the 11 O’Clock group, which meets before worship at 12.15, and then stays on for lunch), but their fortnightly family fun club seems not to have resumed after lockdown. Finally, Saffron Lane, situated, as the webpage cheerfully describes it, on Pork Pie Island. In addition to Sunday worship, it offers Thursday Toast, and participates in activities organised by other local churches. From here to Abbots Road (https://www.abbotsroadurc.com/about_us), the resource church for the South Leics group. This is a very lively and engaged congregation with all kinds of weekly activities, especially with young people’s groups (https://www.abbotsroadurc.com/weekly-plan). The May newsletter provides a detailed account of recent activities across the group: see here for some fabulous pictures of breakfast, amongst other things:https://southleicsgroupurc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/May-2022-Mag.pdf

 

May 22: From South Leicestershire on to Wycliffe URC in Evington (https://www.wycliffeurc.uk/about-us). The church was constructed in 1952.

This small congregation are in partnership with GraceWorks (https://www.graceworks.online/) which supports the church’s community garden, and Community of Grace (https://www.communityofgrace.co.uk/) which aims to support homeless men into a home life through living in community. The church itself offers informal services and coffee before the service on Sundays rather than after.

From Evington to Melton Mowbray URC, together with Freeby (https://meltonmowbrayurcwithfreeby.com/about/)  on the other side of the county. Freeby Chapel dates from 1665, and later Isaac Watts was preacher there for a short time. Freeby is now closed, however, and a decision needs to be taken about the building, The congregation from which Melton URC grew was established in 1821, and they celebrated 200 years of their building this month. They are trying to establish some regular prayer and study groups, once a month; they already have a twice-monthly knitting group, where knitting is not compulsory!

Our last church today is Belgrave Union. The building if not the congregation date from 1875, since that is the point when the records held by Leicester archive begin. As to its location, it appears to be close to the National Space Centre, Leicester’s Golden Mile and an 18th C house known for paranormal experiences  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgrave,_Leicester#Notable_people)

 

May 23: We start today’s visit with the Community of Grace, a community with its roots in A Congregational Church that later became Charnwood URC (https://www.communityofgrace.co.uk/ ). We encountered the Community of Grace yesterday, as they are partners of Wycliffe URC. What the Community aims to do is best described in their own words:

 

Community of Grace attempts to create and sustain something like home and family (or household and community) with and for men who have long since lost their own home, or even never really had one, and to keep up that attempt with each individual man for as long as he needs.

Each Fellow who chooses to stay at Community of Grace’s accommodation works with the Companions to make his own life better and pledges to help others do the same. By ‘better’ we mean better physically, emotionally, mentally, socially and spiritually.

 

From the Community to St Stephens URC, part of the West Leicester and Leicestershire Group. This building is distinctive as “the church that moved”. Apparently, it was originally built where Leicester Railway Station now stands, but when that railway station was built in 1891, the church was moved stone by stone to its present position. The church also serves as a university chaplaincy.

From St Stephen’s to Christ Church URC in Leicester (http://www.christchurch-urc.co.uk/ ). This was built in 1931 to serve a housing estate, and combines a 1930s exterior with a much older style of sanctuary. Thursday looks to be the quiet day in this church life, or at least the only day the buildings seem not to be in use – or at least in the Before Times. Their groups included a Stroke Club, Rainbows, Brownies and Guides, a Wednesday night social club and the Chantry Choir on Fridays.

From Christ Church to Westcotes URC closed and the building now sold. If anyone wants to see how a church is marketed, see here: https://www.andrewgranger.co.uk/properties/14682528/sales

 

May 24: From Westcotes to Braunston URC. There is no information I can find about this church at all! From there to Anstey URC. The Anstey village guide lists all kinds of activities associated with this church in 2019, including an Arts class, sequence dancing, toddlers and youth group – https://www.ansteypc.org.uk/uploads/village-directory-2019.pdf . And this: the congregation started in 1851 as a Congregational Church, meeting in a cottage, and then ten years later bought a factory on the site of the present church for conversion. The church had been built by 1879, and continued to thrive in the 20th C, with the support of the Oxford Congregational Church in Leicester. It became part of the URC in 1975.

 

From Anstey to Groby URC (https://grobyurc.com/ ). Groby is a very modern church building, with its first part built in 1976 and then the chapel added in 1982. The congregation describes itself as evangelical on its website, and that it’s more of a Free Church than a URC, and many of its members don’t have a URC background. They share in the youth work programme of Groby’s Churches Together group, which includes two groups for teenagers, and the church runs its own junior church on a Sunday for 5-14s. Its newsletters suggest a lively and engaged congregation – https://grobyurc.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/June-2022.pdf

 

From Groby to Bardon Park Chapel near Coalville. This chapel supports both a URC congregation and Bardon Park Chapel Christian Fellowship. There appear to have been a congregation of non-conformists from 1662 held in the moated Bardon Hall and supported by the Hood family who owned it. John Hood built a meeting house at the gates of his estate after the Toleration Act of 1689 and registered it and his house as sites of worship. The chapel thrived throughout the 18th C, and increased to include a school building in the 19th C, and had major alterations in 1877.

 

May 25: Our first visit today is Loughborough URC (https://loughboroughurc.co.uk/). The congregation was founded in 1828 and they moved to their present site in 1908. Their theological views sound very like ours (‘Our worship style is traditional but relaxed, reverent and relevant to our mission as disciples of Christ. Our theological outlook is broad and inclusive, and our membership reflects different shades of the theological spectrum.’) and their worship similar: regular Sunday services, communion once a month (Zoomed out)  and a Zoom afternoon praise once a month for those who can’t come to church. It’s a joint pastorate with Melton Mowbray. They have two fortnightly Bible study groups, with extras in Advent and Lent (Friday Night notes are online), and a monthly book group which involved a bring-and-share supper in the Before Times. These activities have continued on Zoom (well, not the supper) and are slowly returning to 3D (and presumably the supper). There is an impressive list of outside groups that use the church halls (everything from Jo Jingles to after-80s exercise), and they also provide accommodation for the University Students’ Soup Kitchen.

 

Leaving Leicestershire, we are heading off to Melbourne URC.. The church was constructed in 1871 and the hall built at a similar time or shortly afterwards.  In the late C20, a series of smaller spaces including a meeting room and kitchen.

 

 

From Melbourne to Repton URC. Clearly a small village church, it is well reviewed on Nicelocal – one of the best places of worship in the East Midlands, from 2 reviews (https://nicelocal.co.uk/east-midlands/public_services/repton_urc_church/). The more expansive of these from 2018 notes that the congregation is small but very friendly. The chapel was building in 1836 at a cost of £460, and enlarged in 1839 at a cost of £177; the congregation was probably founded in 1788, on the evidence of a certificate for meetings in a private house dated to that year.

And finally for today, Sinfin Moor Church, a Local Ecumenical Partnership between the Church of England, the Methodists and the URC (https://www.sinfinmoorchurch.org.uk/). It’s been established for over 40 years, and was one of the first in the UK. It began life as a house church in the minister’s house, progressed to a semi-detached house with the party walls removed, and they’ve been in the current building from about 1975. As well as Sunday morning services, they run a Monday Morning drop-in, they provide a home for the 1st Sinfin Guides, and they started an Alpha course last year.

May 26:  From Sinfin Moor, on to first the Haven Christian Centre in Littleover (https://www.havencc.co.uk/). This is the church for the Heatherton and Local Ecumenical Partnership with Church of England, Baptist, Methodist and URC. It began worship in 1993, and its current building was completed in 1999. Like us, it’s recording Sunday worship and putting the links out on Facebook; in Lent, in preparation for Easter it ran Holy Habits on a Sunday morning before worship including breakfast (perhaps that’s the key?).

From the Haven to Carlton Road URC. This is registered as an Eco-church. From Carlton Road on to Alvaston URC, formerly Baker Street Congregationalists. This church building was opened in 1935. Alvaston itself appears in the Domesday Book, as a village, and the two Anglican churches, one in Alvaston and one in Boulton (the next door village) are still in use; the one on Boulton Moor is thought to be Norman.

Derby Central URC, mercifully, has a website (https://www.derbycentralurc.net/). It has a brand new building (and website from the look of it) and great ambitions for the New Normal. In addition to Sunday worship and Friday coffee morning, it currently hosts Rainbows, Brownies and Guides, Boys Brigade, a toddler group  and 3Fs (fitness, fellowship and fun). Their magazine (available as a PDF online) suggests a lively congregation with links into the local community.

May 27: Today we’re starting at Ashbourne Road Church, a Local Ecumenical Partnership with the Methodist Church, started in 1995 (https://www.derbymethodists.org.uk/churches/ashbourne-rd/) According to the website, this church is in the process of finding a new minister, and its activities have been halted owing to the pandemic. In the Beforetimes, it had a regular luncheon club, and social activities during the day and in the evening, and a weekly prayer and study group. Their Facebook page suggests that activities have started up again, including the sunrise service on Easter morning (there are photos!).

 

From Ashbourne Road to Mackworth United Reformed Church, on the Mackworth Estate in Derby. The church halls host Zumba, and in the Beforetimes, they held Messy Church as well. Onwards to The Church on Oakwood (http://www.thechurchonoakwood.org/), an ecumenical church where the Roman Catholic church, the Church of England, the Methodists and the URC share a building and witness. Although the Roman Catholics continue to celebrate mass on Saturday evenings, the congregations make a concerted effort to share prayer, study and fellowship throughout the year, and take the opportunities to experience together different spiritual practices such as the Quaker Way and the Ignatian Way. The church supports a number of groups, from Walkers and Talkers (a toddler group), to Flame Seekers (a youth group that arose after a youth Alpha course) to Mostly Mums (a Bible study group), to other groups for study and prayer.

 

And finally, to LIttle Eaton URC (https://lelhs.org.uk/places-urc-full). Like so many URCs, this started life as a Congregational Chapel, this time in 1843. The weblink is to a short history of the chapel drawn from church records: it seems to me that church life is pretty much constant over generations, but see what you think. The congregation has worked hard over the years to offer witness and support, including (with Melbourne URC), sharing a Christmas meal in Sudbury Prison.

 

May 28:  We start the day at Long Eaton United Reformed Church, at the heart of the town. There is an active Long Eaton Churches Fellowship (http://www.longeatonchurches.org.uk/index.html) which work together to support all kinds of Christian witness, including supporting a food bank, a child contact centre,  Canaan Trust and Christian Aid Groups, Open the Book (teaching Bible stories in secular schools) and Long Eaton Town Chaplaincy. Activities occurring at the URC include Guides, Brownies and Rainbows, Hobby and Chat, Ladies’ Monday Club, and the usual cake-based meetings.

 

From Long Eaton to Ilkeston URC. Ilkeston URC is the Green Spire Church (https://www.ilkurc.com/) Regular activities include supporting  a Toddlers’ Group, Beavers, Cubs and Scouts, various kinds of exercise including Tai Chi,a theatre company, a chiropody clinic, and a Questions of Life discussion group, on the third Thursday in the month. The congregation aim to have a social once a month (the last one advertised was a ramble) and take a stall at the town market about once every two months to raise money for charity.

 

 

We were originally scheduled to visit Eastwood URC at this point, but that is now joined with Marlpool, so we can wave on our way to West Derbyshire URC in Wirksworth (https://www.westderbyshireurc.co.uk/). In addition to Sunday services, they hold morning prayers on Monday, fellowship gatherings on Wednesdays and Sunday Explorers (for children and young people) on Sunday mornings after the main service at 10 am. The fellowship gatherings are currently held fortnightly on Zoom, but Toast and Tea on Fridays and table tennis (Mondays) are in person.They also hold a Bronze EcoChurch award, and their most recent newsletter has tips on reducing fuel use.

 

May 29: First stop today is Matlock Methodist and URC  (https://www.mmurc.org.uk/), a very active congregation with quite a whizzy website (I’m easily led!) As well as regular Sunday worship, their activities include: Messy Church, Toddler Group, Prayer Meetings

Bible Study Groups, Social Groups, Charity Fundraising, Prayer Chain Training & Learning and Community activities. There are opportunities to participate on Zoom as well as in person, and the congregation has a mission to those seeking faith (tabs on the webpage specifically labelled for Sceptics and for Those in Crisis).

 

From Matlock to Buxton URC (https://www.buxtonurc.org.uk/). I understand that this is a slightly contentious inclusion, since in the Methodist Circuit, it’s deemed to come under Manchester’s aegis. In any case, its most recent magazine suggests a close-knit and friendly congregation: (https://www.buxtonurc.org.uk/_files/ugd/4c92a8_fee8deddddcb49d19856d5c5f0a5c87d.pdf) They are also hosting an outdoor event for the Jubilee, so let’s hope we both have fine weather!

 

And finally today, Fountain Square Local Ecumenical Partnership in Tideswell (https://www.fountainsquarechurch.org) . Non-conformity has a long tradition in Tideswell, it would seem, starting with Ralph Heathcote’s ministry in the mid-seventeenth century(http://www.fountainsquarechurch.org/history.html). The LEP was signed in 2010, after an investigation into the feasibility of maintaining both a Methodist and a URC congregation, and the choice of the Methodist church as having the best site in the centre of the village. Apart from times of the regular Sunday services, the website has little information about the current activities  – this is because the congregation has just opened new buildings and is developing a new website. They clearly had a very busy lockdown!!

 

May 30: We walk from Tideswell to Holymoorside URC, just outside Chesterfield. The congregation will participate in the Well Blessing in August this year (where the Holymoorside Band will be playing.) The church also hosts a yoga class and has held a flower festival – there’s not a lot of information online. However, the Wikipedia entry has a good deal about the supernatural aspects of Holymoorside: hooded figures, monks (possibly the same thing), a lost traveller whose cries can be heard at the first full moon in March. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holymoorside)

 

From Holymoorside to Rose Hill URC, in the centre of Chesterfield. This congregation has an active Facebook page, sharing services on Zoom when the church was closed or when people were unable to attend. It also has some very positive reviews on Google – ‘lovely family feel in a serene atmosphere’ (https://www.google.com/search?gs_ssp=eJzj4tZP1zcsSSsoKS5LNmC0UjGoMLEwt7QwNU40MDC3SLNMM7QyqLBITTU0Sk5KSjJKMzEyNfaSKsovTlXIyMzJUSgtSlZIzkgtLkktSstMzUkBAKHRGMc&q=rose+hill+urc+chesterfield&oq=rose+hill+urc&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j46i175i199i512j0i22i30l2j0i22i30i457.7505j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#lrd=0x4879853a0078f9f1:0x8ee12cbbb2f4253,1,,,).  From Rose HIll to St Andrews URC, Chesterfield (https://www.standrewsurcchesterfield.org.uk/ ), who are an Eco-Church Silver Award congregation, and a Commitment for Life and Fair Trade church. They provide Junior Church, two Bible Study groups, a prayer group, a Guild, and support for the Chesterfield Foodbank. IN addition, they host Scouts, Jelly Beans toddlers, a community youth theatre group, badminton and Slimming World (although on different days). This church together with Holymoorside and Rose Hill is part of the North Derbyshire Resource Group.

 

May 31: Beginning at  St Andrew Community Church, Dronfield (https://www.staccd.org.uk/) This is a Local Ecumenical Partnership, between URC, Anglican and Methodist tradition, and works as part of the Dronfield team of 5 churches of different traditions (including another Anglican/Methodist LEP in Unstone). The newsletter and service sheet online indicates that the congregation is active in collecting for Christian Aid, is exploring a clothes swapping group to reduce waste, two children’s groups, Sparks (Y4 and above) and Scamps (pre-schoolers), and Bible study. There is an example of a Church of England parish plan, interesting in its mission focus.

 

From Dronfield we go to Calow URC. All I can find is that the congregation dates from 1837, and the church has a graveyard (https://churchdb.gukutils.org.uk/DBY116.php): unusual perhaps for a Reformed church.

 

And from Calow all the way home, back to St Andrew’s with Castle Gate.