The most prominent themes of this blog turn out to be closing churches and coping with a smaller numbers of people in too many open churches; this is the sixth of twenty-nine posts so far which focuses on them. So the discovery I make about myself is that 20% of my attention appears to be given to these themes.
The picture is of St Matthew’s, Fairfield which has just officially became redundant. In the end it was the need to spend substantial amounts on the roof which prompted the move. At Easter most of the members of the remaining congregation moved ‘back’ to the ancient Scartho Parish Church which had originally established St Matthew’s as a ‘daughter church’. Yesterday the formal Church Commissioners scheme came into force bringing what had become two separate parishes back into one.
I’m told that in the 1960s the new Fairfield estate was overflowing with young families, and it was some distance south of Scartho Parish Church which had quite an old fashioned pattern of worship anyway. The mission strategy to establish a separate church where Family Worship flourished made a lot of sense, and many people are thankful that it was pursued for a generation of fruitful ministry. Forty years later the resources of the Church of England are more limited, the age profile of the estate is much older, Scartho itself has grown to the north as well to the south, and Scartho Parish Church is more obviously welcoming to families. The mission strategy to seek to serve the larger community well from one strong ancient church at its centre makes a lot of sense.
The bigger picture is this. If I had come to the area now covered by urban Grimsby and Cleethorpes 150 years ago I would have found five ancient Parish Churches. They are still clearly identifiable at Great Coates, Little Coates, Grimsby, Clee and Scartho, and nearly three hundred people will worship at regular services in them next Sunday. From the opening of St Peter’s, Cleethorpes in the 1860s to the opening of St Matthew’s, Fairfield in the 1970s a Bishop then came to dedicate a church on a new site twenty times; it was felt that every new housing area required a local church building.
But the Church of England vastly over stretched itself in doing this, and now half the twenty new churches have been disused and, in most cases, demolished. A St Barnabas’ church shut as long ago as the 1950s and now St Matthew’s is the tenth of them to do so. Nevertheless, this all means that we still have fifteen open churches; we have one for every 8000 or so people, and we have more open Anglican churches than the thirteen churches the Baptists, Catholics, Methodists and United Reformed Church have open between them. Actually, with a range of small independent congregations as well, up to two thousand Christian people may be meeting for worship in nearly forty different buildings next Sunday.