Can You Help Hambledon Keep its Vicar? – Public Meeting April 11th, 7.30pm, Village Hall, All Welcome

Many people place great value on having a church and a vicar in our little village. For some, it is because they are regular worshipers, others maybe attend on special religious occasions such as celebrating Christmas or Easter. Some simply enjoy visiting St Peter’s in its beautiful rural setting on top of a hill overlooking the village, a place for quiet reflection. Others are glad that it is there for family weddings, Christenings and funerals.

And many appreciate its Ministry to the village, maybe in times of need, illness or bereavement and having a vicar living in the village to be a familiar and welcoming friend.

For all of these reasons, and more, the church and its outreach is important, whether you are a regular member of the congregation or not.

In modern times however, none of this can be taken for granted. Even small churches are expensive to maintain, as a building and as a ministry. Hambledon is no exception. Several years ago, local residents responded magnificently when its became clear there was a real risk that services could be curtailed and a resident vicar no longer afforable.

Some gave one-off donations, others set up standing orders or other methods of making regular contributions to safeguard the future of St Peter’s. Over the years some of those generous people are no longer with us or have moved away.

As many will know, Hambledon is in need of a new associate minister to be our village vicar. The stark warning is that recruitment cannot begin unless new fundraising takes place. A meeting is to be held at the Village Hall on Thursday April 11, starting at 7.30pm, when the Church will outline all the issues it faces and invite residents to consider if they can help financially.

Please come along, whether you are a church goer or not. And please read on for a detailed explanation of the current situation from Andrew Dunn, who is treasurer of St Peter’s.

As most people know, St Peter’s Church is now part of Godalming Minster, an amalgamation of the former ecclesiastical parishes of Hambledon (St Peter’s Church), Busbridge (St John the Baptist Church) and Godalming (St Mark’s Church, Ockford Ridge, and St Peter & St Paul’s Church in Godalming town centre). With Rev Simon Willetts now settled in his new role leading the contemporary congregation at St Peter and St Paul’s Church it is time to recruit a new Associate Vicar for Hambledon.

The Minster scheme – which provided the legal and contextual framework for the amalgamation of the four churches – was founded upon many points of agreement and understanding between the former parishes. One such point was that there shall be an Associate Vicar for Hambledon, who shall live in or around the village, for so long as funding exists for that role and accommodation. Guildford Diocese very much honoured its side of the bargain by acquiring Orchard Farmhouse in January this year thus providing a comfortable and well-appointed home for our next and future vicars. As Rector Rev Simon Taylor notes, “such a purchase in a small village context is extremely unusual (if not unique), and a primary reason for the Diocese buying the property was the equally unusual amount of financial support provided by non-church going villagers who recognise the value to the village of having a clergy presence”.

Unfortunately our church cannot rely on the taxpayer or the Diocese or the Church of England to survive. All churches (believe it or not) are almost entirely funded by donations from people in the local community. If a church cannot afford to pay its vicar or its running costs it will be forced to close. We are fortunate in Hambledon in that we have a number of regular churchgoers and non-churchgoers who give money on a monthly or occasional basis. Sadly, however, we have lost a number of people in recent years to whom the church was grateful for support. The position now is that, if we want a new vicar, we need to fundraise to balance the books. And we need to do so before we can advertise.

In broad terms it will cost £115,000 per year to run St Peter’s Hambledon with an Associate Vicar. This figure includes a 50% contribution to the Associate Vicar’s salary, pension, national insurance and accommodation expenses of £75,000 (the other 50% will be paid from Minster general funds). Against that cost, Hambledon’s forecast income for this year is no more than £100,000, meaning there is a shortfall of £15,000.

We are therefore launching a fundraising campaign to secure our forecast income plus the shortfall by asking people to kindly commit to giving to the church for the next five years.

Why have an Associate Vicar and what is the alternative?

St Peter’s Church was founded before 1086. There is a roll of Rectors on the wall of the church dating back to 1301. The church is open every day for people of all faiths or none. There is a service every Sunday, mid-week morning prayer on Wednesdays, and Messy Church for younger families once a month.  St Peter’s also hosts a monthly coffee morning and NHS hearing aid clinics. It is a sought-after church for weddings and other poignant life events. Choral Evensongs are held each season, and in recent years events like “Hymns & Pimm’s” have drawn the village together. As part of Godalming Minster it is well connected to the wider pastoral, youth and missional activities, which flow both ways. It shares the Minster vision to provide a spiritual heartbeat in the community and evolve, as necessary, at a pace suitable for our village.

The real benefit of a dedicated Associate Vicar is that he or she will be able to lead the church and have a presence in the village, not just on Sundays or at the main festivals such as Christmas and Easter, but in all walks of daily village life such as with the nursery school and in the shop and in the pub and with our clubs and societies. In recent years the vicars have been alongside the community at pub carols, village hall events, in the shop, as nursery school trustees, at St Dominics, and even on the cricket pitch.

As Rector of the church in this area, the first article Rev Simon Taylor wrote when he moved here in 2010 was a letter in the parish magazine. At that time there were questions about how to sustain local church care and support for the village in a rural area like Hambledon. The vision has applied well for 15 years: “a vision that will not perish: one of love, care, community, willingness… local churches are best led from a local perspective… for the good of the entire community.”

Last week the community coffee drop-in in the church room was absolutely packed. People who walk past St Peter’s in the week are surprised to find the door is open all day and the building is a haven for walker, tourist and or quite reflection alike. We have a pastoral network for care and always provide support for times of trouble, sadness or joy.

The alternative to having our own vicar is to call on other clergy from around the Minster to stand in on Sundays. But without a dedicated Associate Vicar there is a real risk that over time activities reduce and Sunday services are less frequent.  The church’s presence would recede to the point where its viability becomes a doubt. People may recall we had a fundraising campaign in 2019 prior to recruiting Simon Willetts. Louise Rhodes was a real heroine of that campaign bluntly and brilliantly telling people that, if they wanted to keep the church open, they should commit to its future. Those words ring true today.

What can I do?

If you already give to the church we ask you to kindly consider increasing your regular donation, or at least confirm you will continue your current giving. If you do not currently give to the church, we ask you to kindly consider giving what might be possible having regard to your own personal circumstances. Even a small monthly payment will make a difference.

Please call or email Andrew Dunn 07973748861 to discuss how you can support the fundraising campaigning. All gifts or donations are confidential.

For those who are keen to get going please do what you can using the following bank account:

Account name: Godalming Minster

Account no: 00705349

Sort Code: 60-09-04

Bank: NatWest

Ref: Hambledon Associate Vicar

Gift Aid

Godalming Minster is a registered charity (no. 1128305). This means that we are able to reclaim Gift Aid equivalent to 25% of donations from those who will pay tax in an amount at least equal to the value of their donation.  If you have not already done so, please complete a Gift Aid form: you can download a copy here or hard copies can be collected from the church.

Date for the diary – talk in the Village Hall – 7.30pm on Thursday 11 April 2024

There will be a talk in the village hall at 7.30pm on Thursday 11 April to discuss this subject further. Everyone is welcome and it is hoped that some of us may walk up to the pub afterwards! 

And finally…

We could have all the money in Christendom but our village church simply could not function without the generous gift of time by all the volunteers who help it run, from the organists to the flower arrangers and all who help at services.    

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