Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Wiltshire Wonderland

Yesterday (Sunday October 13th) I arrived in the Bristol District where I have spent the first evening and day in the Wiltshire United area. This is an ecumenical area (Methodist and URC) formed just 4 years ago from the joining of two former ecumenical areas, both of which were formed in the 1970s.

Yesterday evening I preached in an area service in Trowbridge United Church. It was good to share with Revd Ward Jones, the Chair of the Bristol District and Revd David Ellis, Superintendent Minister and Chair of the United Area. After worship it was good to meet many people and to discover some who knew the Wiltshire village where I had grown up. The evening finished with a meal with my hosts, David and Ceri who have been generous with their friendship and hospitality.

With Beth in the community cafe
Our first visit this morning was to Market Lavington where the new community cafe is a place where there is always some-one to talk to and a warm welcome waiting.  We were  warmly welcomed and served excellent coffee by Beth. We were joined by others from the church in Market Lavington which now meets for worship in the village hall, having sold the church building 6 years ago. The community cafe is proving popular with residents in this and neighbouring villages, for the food and drink and for the friendship and care that is offered in many ways. It is early days for this new venture but already the people here are looking for ways to develop this outreach. I managed to resist the cup cakes but the enthusiasm and commitment was irresistible and infectious.

People from Wiltshire United Area in St Andrews Devizes
From Market Lavington we went to the centre of Devizes, to St Andrew's Church where they have just completed the second stage of refurbishment of the building. Here I met representatives from the leadership of the United Area and learned more about the ways in which they work together. The premises here are inviting, light and well used throughout the week. This afternoon one of the Toddler sessions was taking place, James was the first to arrive and was busy driving his tractor and trailer around the hall. Messy Church is proving popular here and there is a clear commitment to serve the local community and to share faith.
We had lunch here and this time, I didn't resist the cake.

Our next stop was Whitley Methodist Church. The people in this church have realised their dream and have just completed the buiding work that will enable them to develop mission in this village. If you come to the monthly book swop here you will find up to 80 people swopping their books, drinking coffee and buying cakes. On the last Thursday of each month another group meets for Craft and Chat and on the second Tuesday there is a games afternoon. There will soon be a regular lunch club and all of this has been done after careful consultation with the people living in the village who are now keen to get involved. The official opening is in December, when the decorating will have been finished and the carpets laid. The people here are rightly excited about possibilities for mission in the future. The building work was funded through sale of property when three churches came together, grants from the denominations, a landfill grant from the Hills Group Ltd and of course, fundraising by the members. We were served tea in the newly refurbished hall and lovely cake - I didn't resist!

Inside Seend Church
Next, we drove to Seend Methodist Church. This church was opened by John Wesley in 1775 and has been in continuous use for worship ever since. Next to the church is a row of cottages that used to be called Factory Row, the people who lived and worked in these cottages were weavers, once a major industry here. Inside the chapel is an engraved stone which was once in the wall of a nearby cottage where John Wesley first preached in the area. This chapel is an important and living part of our Methodist Heritage. The congregation is small in number but large in faith. (Here too we were offered cake - reader, I resisted).
The engraved stone rom the cottage where Wesley preached
Monks Chapel
 Our final visit of the day took us to Monks Chapel near Corsham which was built by Quakers in 1662. In that year the Five Mile Act was passed by parliament whereby any minister refusing to consent to the new Book of Common Prayer was not allowed to come within five miles of any town or borough. In 1690 the Independents came to Monks Chapel and now it is a United Reformed Church. Services are held every Sunday afternoon with a regular congrengation of 10-20 and the chapel is packed at Harvest time. It is also packed for the Christmas Carol Service which is held in mid June because the steep path to the chapel can be icey and impassable in the winter.

Inside Monks Chapel
Inside, the box pews are original, as is the high pulpit and the window from which the congregation kept watch for approaching militia. If there was any danger to the preacher there was an escape route through a door at the base of the pulpit and it is said that there was a secret tunnel, though it has not yet been discovered. The original stone floor is uneven, not least because of graves in front of the pulpit where early preachers are buried.

The pulpit with door below throughwhich the preacher could escape
There are some places where the prayer seems to have seeped into the stones and Seend and Monks Chapel are among them. If you are in the area, you should visit.

After a varied and enriching day David drove us back to his home where I was again made very welcome and very comfortable. Tomorrow I am going to Bristol as this District visit continues.

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