Fresh expressions respond to spiritual openings in society: Tolland

Tuesday, 8 September, 2009

This story illustrates the principles of Fresh expressions respond to spiritual openings in society in the Guide.

Tolland - Margaret ArmstrongIn 2001, the parish of Tolland, on the Brendon Hills, Somerset, was about to lose its church. The regular congregation at its monthly service of matins consisted of the two church wardens and their wives.

Then Margaret Armstrong arrived as part-time priest-in-charge of the five-parish benefice, of which Tolland is a member. She asked the church wardens if they were ready to try something new.

They said yes and got behind it,

Margaret says.

It was a real moving of the Holy Spirit.

Now the church is open for seven services a year and is attended by over half of Tolland's population of 40.

It is now an important part of community life,

says Margaret.

Is there a city or suburban parish that has more than half its population attending church?

'Despair has turned into enthusiasm and wanting to worship'

The seven services take place for festivals, including some more novel choices such as Clypping, a medieval custom of hugging the church discovered by Margaret when she read Seasonal Worship for the Countryside (published by SPCK). A pet service is also popular. Christmas can attract up to 120 people.

While Margaret leads services, it is the congregation which readies the church for each occasion, showing a care which includes making 'busy bags' for children and providing facilities for the pets at the pet service.

Tolland - ladsThe churchyard is managed for wildlife and is known in the village, through the parish magazine and by word of mouth, as a 'quiet space'. People come from further afield to see displays of seasonal flowers such as snowdrops and orchids, and to 'be quiet, look and listen,' says Margaret.

The impact of this revival of church life has spread into the village, which now holds an open gardens day to raise money for the building. The parish's contribution to the finances of the benefice is no longer in the red and, more importantly, Margaret believes, she is noticing 'an evolving spirituality' in her one-to-one conversations.

There is a growing community life as well as a revived church life,

Margaret observes.

It started with helping them to worship God and believe in the value in doing that. Despair has turned into enthusiasm and wanting to worship.

This is a learning point from: