Keith provides a detailed report on the state of All Saints Church in Wretton and asks for readers help with fund raising
May 2008 Newsletter
Those residents of Wretton and Stoke Ferry who use the public path past Wretton Church's West Door will have been aware of the work being done to the roof over the past few months. It seems that it will take until the end of May to be completed. We are planning to have our first services back there in June.
This very expensive work (not yet finally priced, but probably costing about £70,000 in total) is going to be paid for mainly due to the grants being made to us by English Heritage - an organisation mainly funded by the Government - ie by your and my taxes. About a quarter of the cost will be met by some smaller grants from charities such as Norfolk Churches Trust and by way of fund-raising by us in the Church - events and begging letters!
The events have included a fete, a stall in the Stoke Ferry Summer street party last year, a sponsored sleepover by some teenagers in the Church and so on. We have delivered letters to all the residents in Wretton and Stoke Ferry over the past two or three months and have been delighted by the positive response we have received. It is clear that there are many of you who are ready to put your money where your mouths are - indicating that, even if you are not Church goers, you do want to retain your Church in your midst. This is also indicated by those who come to the Church for their Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals.
Many of you, who are not normally visitors to the Church, are shocked by the poor condition of the interior - the badly damaged plaster, the faded George III Coat of Arms, the missing Paternoster and Credo Boards - and so on. You are right to be shocked, maybe not shocked but certainly saddened. The building almost certainly goes back to the 13th Century, although its origins are shrouded in uncertainty. The interior of the West (ie the main door) arch looks rather Moorish or Arabic - possibly it was influenced by a Crusader from Wretton!
There are two types of pews. Most of the pews are individually hand cut and made (rather crudely) in the early seventeenth century - many of them are dated 1627 on the ends. A few are dated a few years earlier and it looks as though there was an attempt then to make pews which were superseded by the later lot, using some of the old wood, with its dates still visible. The front pews and the altar were made in 1624 and 1627 and bear the names and initials of the then Church Wardens - still perfectly legible. The pillars are not the same as each other - so they went in at different times, although it seems to be one roof - this is a real mystery.
The organ came from Stoke Ferry Church when it was closed a few years ago. It is a Victorian Nicholson organ. It is not especially remarkable, except that it is still in virtually original condition, with no 'improvements' to it over the years. This makes it, not unique, but special. We reconditioned it when we brought it to Wretton and it has a lovely sound. All over the side panels are the scratched initials and names of the little boys of Stoke Ferry who used to hand pump it (the hand pump is still in full working order) before an electric pump was added.
The Church is well worth a visit, especially by the locals who have not realized that it is so interesting. It may be possible to open the Church for access by interested visitors during the Wretton History Fair on Sunday 18th May, but we cannot say at this moment. But all are welcome to come either then and/or later when it is fully open again. The Church is normally open for a visit or a quiet time of prayer or meditation most days of most weeks during daylight hours. It is a resource for all.
I started these notes by with reference to the cost of the current costs of the roof repair and the source of most of the funding. - you and me through our taxes. Some of those who have read this far will be offended by this diversion of their taxes to the preservation of expensive buildings for the use of what is now, to all intents and purposes, a minority religion in the UK. You deserve an explanation at least, even if that is not enough to satisfy you.
It is a hotly debated topic in the Church itself! In Wretton and Stoke Ferry for example, if we were to be able to (and if we wanted to!) demolish the Church and sell the site for development, we would generate more than enough funds to build a small modern Church which would be more comfortable and inviting than the existing building. We would have money left over to give to charity, to develop some local projects, to do worthwhile things with. This is one possibility, even though currently it would be illegal for us to do so.
We could so change the laws of this country that there was an automatic grant or diversion of taxpayer funds to every (just Anglican or including ? other Churches) Church, so that we could afford to maintain our buildings properly at all times without having to be worried about how to pay for it. This is common practice in north European (essentially non Roman Catholic) countries.
The alternative is for us to muddle on, in our very English way, with some Churches generating enough income from their own activities and congregations (or from Trust Funds set up by long dead donors), but with many more (especially small rural Churches) unable to pay their way, relying on subsidy from richer Churches in their Diocese and having to seek charitable and government aid when large expenditures are required. The small congregation at Wretton Church spends a lot of its energies and time on how to pay its way, instead of the more spiritual matters that they would like to concentrate on.
But, like it or not, we are the people who are legally entrusted (and legally bound to cope) with the maintenance and care of these listed buildings that many villagers want to see preserved in their villages, even though they have little interest in the Church of England.
I have explained what happens and how we are, in a sense, trapped by the way things are, but that will not necessarily satisfy those who see no point in it all. Essentially there are three types of person who are involved here. There are the members of the Church in the sense that they come to Church to worship - regularly or infrequently, but nonetheless using the Church for its prime purpose. There are those who are passive Christians or not antagonistic to Christianity who like to see (who want to continue to see) a Church in their village, who may well want to be able to be married there or to have their funeral there. Finally there are those who are totally indifferent (or antagonistic) to the religious aspect of it all and who see no special reason why this old building should be preserved at their expense.
I think the second group are probably in the large majority. We would love to see more of them prepared to make a regular contribution to the cost of the building's maintenance, so that it does continue to feature as a 'working' Church and so that it can be brought up to modern standards inside, which will make it more attractive and comfortable to be in. If every family (excluding those who are opposed to the presence of the Church) with one or more earning member in it contributed £5 or £10 per month (less than the cost of going out for a meal or to the cinema) to the Church, we would easily cover our costs and be able to make the interior improvements we are desperate to do, but can't (for example to replace the condemned electrics that we continue to use because we have no choice). So I am, yet again, reduced to begging - but I do so without apology.
It is a lovely Church, it has an interesting (if cloudy) history [what about when Cromwell used it to stable his horses, when King's Lynn was besieged - only called King's Lynn after that because it held out for the King - before then it was Bishop's Lynn!] and when it is lost, it will be for ever! Please come and visit it. If in doubt contact me on 01366 500960 or the Churchwardens - Trish Willis on 01366 500138 or Elaine Taylor on 01366 500948).
Licensed Lay Minister