Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow – Facing Change at St.Faith’s Church

An Explanatory Leaflet         Published across the parish in March 2017

YESTERDAY St.Faith’s Story by Peter Keat, Server

St. Faith’s Church is the story of a lively school and business area with a thriving community. A ‘Mission Church’ it was built to serve the needs of people of Leesland. The lands on which the church was built were once brickfields; the council purchased a large area for a cemetery and the parish acquired a plot on which to build a Mission Church because the need for a church was highlighted by the construction of the many houses in the surrounding area. The land was acquired in 1885, funds raised and a timber ‘Mission Hall’ was dedicated in 1887.
With the growth of the population the original church was too small and plans laid and funding raised to build a brick extension and after a long struggle enough money was raised not for an extension but for a brick building.

On the 3rd March 1906 the foundation stone was laid and was dedicated by the Rt. Revd. James Macarthur, Bishop of Southampton.  Earlier, with the increase in population a school was needed and the local people set out to raise the £6000 to build a CofE School; resulting in Leesland Infants School in 1894.

The church was re-ordered in 1977, the building being reversed and in so doing providing Leesland with both a church and social centre. The funds for this were raised by the sale of the St.Faith’s Institute which stood by the school.
St Faiths has supported a Mothers & Toddlers group, New Faces group, football teams, cricket teams and a choir and acted as a place of refuge during WW2. Its most important function was to provide a recognised place for local people to receive the basic sacraments but being a ‘dedicated’ rather than ‘consecrated’ church marriages were not possible.
In the Millennium year, the future of the Gosport churches was under threat and three churches were considered for closure SS. Francis and Faith and Christchurch. This caused much concern and all three churches worked hard to maintain their worship centres and were proud of their places within the community. It was a relief when no Gosport church was to close and that their own particular worship centres were safe for the foreseeable future.
After 130 years of traditional service to the community St. Faiths is being re-designated, we thank God for all those people from the past and present who worked and worshipped here and for all who found sustenance, support and love under its roof.
Peter Keat is author of ‘Leesland Life’ – telling the Story of St.Faith’s.

TODAY The Reality, the Response, the Re-designation –  Revd Andrew Norris

The clergy of the parish have been moved by today’s congregation at St.Faith’s. The twenty folk who remain worshipping on Sundays and Thursdays have recently shown such grace in face of change and courage in their faith.

Sadly since 2014 St.Faith’s has seen a reduction of 50% in worshipping attendances and in income. Regrettably any natural decline has only been accelerated by reducing communion to a fortnightly pattern. In this the congregation have known the sadness of seeing members leave their church community to seek communion elsewhere and those who’ve left have only done so with heavy and sad hearts. So, with a few such folk leaving at Christmas it suddenly became clear at the start of 2017 that the future was not sustainable. This is both because there is no-one younger to whom to hand on the ‘baton’ of running the church whilst money reserves will run out in 2018.

With a year in reserve now it the time to act!
Congregational conversation, consultation and St.Faith’s committee meetings explored the options. They were 1. Staying as we are; 2. Closure; 3. Developing Thursday Communion as the main church service; 4. Re-designating St.Faith’s for pioneering the church of the future.

Out of the 18 voters, 16 opted to re-designate St.Faith’s for pioneering and a similar number indicated switching to make Thursday the day of St.Faith’s congregational communion. To ‘close’ or ‘stay as we are’ received little or no support. Even so, no choice was made as anyone’s wish – we’d all love to stay as we are! But grace, courage and faith was truly expressed both in the conversation and by the choices made.

Following St.Faith’s AGM confirming these matters on 12th March 2017 it is now possible for me to explain to the wider community the changes that are therefore taking place.

With some practical restructuring in organising St.Faith’s (e.g,L St.Faith’s Hall Bookings are now managed by the Parish Office) most of these changes will come into effect after Easter.

Not the end but a new beginning!
Because this in not an ending but the opportunity for a new beginning and a courageous fresh start for the church, so it is appropriate that Easter Day will be the last Sunday celebration of communion. Thereafter weekly communion will be on Thursday mornings at 10.00am followed by refreshments – a service for the whole parish and everyone seeking midweek communion would be welcome!

Pray that the future will be akin to the emerging church portrayed in The Acts of the Apostles taking forward the story which Luke started in his Gospel. The Gospel faces the reality of losing the ‘Jesus’ we thought we understood, and it calls us to the new life of resurrection – whilst the book of Acts says ‘watch this space’ and see what that new life looks like for a church of disciples who courageously offer themselves as a ‘clean slate’ to God and their community!

At St.Faith’s AGM Mr Ron Doherty was appointed as the St.Faith’s Congregational Deputy Warden and Mr Mark Trasler was confirmed as Treasurer for 2017. Other roles and the church committee were dissolved with the duties being transferred to the Parochial Church Council on who’s behalf the District Church Committee had formally acted.

In this the burden to manage the building has been lifted from the very few and the baton for the future has been handed over to the successors whilst the congregation will still have our popular Thursday communion in the place we’ve always loved and cherished, whilst sharing the fellowship we’ve enjoyed.

It means that the whole building of St.Faith’s has now been offered up to pioneering ministry for Leesland and it will principally be overseen by Revd Tim Watson as our Pioneer Minister. A clean slate for the future story to emerge!

Our difficult circumstances may have led to the offering up of the whole building to the pioneer minister more completely and sooner than may have been imagined, but St.Faith’s as a hub available to pioneering was always part of the 2014 proposals. The papers shared with the congregation, approved by the DCM, proposed by the PCC, adopted by the Deanery Mission & Pastoral Committee, submitted to Deanery Synod and welcomed by the Bishop’s Council to be approved by the Bishop in appointing a pioneer always stated: St.Faith’s Church, Tribe Road, would, in this proposal be offered as a hub in the community for the mission of a Pioneer Minister. As a building it lends itself to modernisation and development as a community centre and home to new Christian communities within the networks and needs of the area.

It is to this future that St.Faith’s congregation have generously, courageously and faithfully offered up their beloved building to see if it can become a vital ‘Mission Hall’ once again; just as it was dedicated to be in 1887. We will work hard towards that vision, but in the end we can only watch this space to see what happens!
We do that as together I invite the whole parish to pray for the folk of St.Faith’s, for pioneering in Leesland, and for us all to be co-operating with the work that Christ is performing in the community with the same grace and courage that the St.Faith’s congregation are showing.

Revd Andrew Norris, Rector

TOMORROW The Possibilities – Revd Tim Watson

St. Faith’s church in Tribe Road is changing. As outlined elsewhere the existing pattern of services at St. Faith’s will be changing, but the changes at St. Faith’s will reach further than just the service pattern.

If St. Faith’s is to continue to move forward as a centre for mission in the Leesland area we will need to undertake a radical transformation of our understandings about what the building is and what it might become.

In the space provided below I want to point to four brief points of possibility:

First: The worshipping congregation of St. Faith’s will become one of potentially many more users of the building. The building will still be a church building, but the church activities that are undertaken in the building may go beyond what our understandings of what makes St.Faith’s St.Faith’s. For example, we may find ourselves with an arts-focused or family-oriented worshipping community meeting at the building.

Second: The building may no longer be known as “St. Faith’s”. St. Faith’s as a congregation, will no longer be the primary users of the building, rather, they could be one among many of the potential users. Through conversations with people in the locality it has become clear that while some have a connection to St. Faith’s, many local residents do not even know the church exists, and so we will be looking at maximising ways of identifying the location of the church building through a new name.

Third: One of the challenges the St. Faith’s building faces is its location. (And looking back to Ordinance Survey maps of the 1860s – this has always been the case). St. Faith’s will never be a building that has a huge opportunity to engage with “passing trade”, the built environment limits this. However, the building has potential to be used successfully as a ‘place of invitation’, and with that in mind we will need to look at using the building for those things it can facilitate: Perhaps a toddler group? A community film club? Family worship with food? A homework club?

Fourth: As we look to the future for the building we must do so recognising that ultimately St. Faith’s may not be the best physical location from which to serve the Leesland community. With that in mind it makes sense to look ahead at a twelve month period of experimentation where the potential of the space can be explored more fully.

Revd Tim Watson, Leesland Pioneer Minister