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Council backs church community plan

Posted: Wed, 21 Dec 2016 17:42 by Neil Ryder

Council backs church community plan

In discussions with the rector (Edward Doyle) of the United Benefice of Rogate with Terwick and Trotton with Chithurst, and with the churchwardens and treasurer of St George's Trotton, the parish council has agreed to back a new plan to enhance the facilities for using the Trotton and Chithurst churches for community use. Both are ancient churches and very special in different ways but, like many of England's churches, they are becoming a difficult load for individual
church congregations to bear.

The Church of England centrally does not provide funds for the maintenance of parish churches, but expects local congregations to do so (seeking grants when appropriate), as well as paying towards central C of E costs such as the training, remuneration and housing of parish priests. In the case Trotton with Chithurst, the presence of two Grade I listed churches puts an even heavier load on the small population.

Largely through the hard work of treasurer Nicholas Hall, funds have now been assured to replace the roof of Chithurst's St Mary's but he points out that there are countless smaller, but vital, other maintenance jobs for both churches within the parish that he has no funds to have done.

On the other hand, the parish council (which has no official connection with the church) had been discussing the lack of facilities in the parish for community events and meetings, and even whether it could find a piece of land and raise the money to build a small village hall. However, this was clearly not an immediate possibility and council chair Carola Brown says: "The appeal for funds to replace the roof at St Mary's did not initiate our discussions but it focussed our minds on an obvious option." As councillor Rosie Hodgson puts it: "I started my education in the CofE school at Rogate and Father Edward has been my vicar all my life. St George's and St Mary's are landmarks in our parish and are wonderful buildings that are suffering from much smaller rural and church populations. Churches in England were always centres of community life, and we'd like ours to regain that position."

After initial discussions identified a whole list of facilities that could make the churches much more suitable for community events, the council offered £1,000 to start the project, and will enter detailed discussions with the church leaders to agree a community plan and identify the facilities that it could justify funding. Parish councils are not allowed to fund church building and restoration work - as these are not legally classified as benefitting all parish residents - but they can fund work that improve community facilities. Further details will be released when plans are further advanced. In the meantime, councillor Rosie has agreed privately to stage a concert in aid of the roof fund for St Mary's and parish clerk Neil Ryder has arranged that, instead of paying him a salary, the council will pay £400 towards the upkeep of the churchyard at St George's which, he points out, is perhaps the most publicly visible property in the parish.

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