The Church and Christianity have been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. There has never been a flash of light for me, but at age 9 when I won a school prize (for running) I asked for a prayer book. Also at age 13 when I decided to be rebellious and not go to church for a while, I found I had a great hole in my life. I learnt my lesson. From what I know of my family's history, Christian commitment runs in the family. No ministers you understand, but a good line of Church Wardens. Both my father and grandfather have been church wardens, with my father being a Lay Reader in the Church of England, whilst my grandfather helped to build his local church. At least some earlier ancestors played similar roles. So perhaps it is in the blood.
I was brought up in the Church of England, Baptised as a baby, attended Sunday School, and was confirmed at the age of 13. The church youth clubs were the mainstay of my social life as a teenager, both at St James's, Hampton Hill, and St Swithun's in Purley. At St Swithun's I was also a server. This means helping the minister in the preparation of communion, and clearing up in a proper way afterwards. It also involves such things as carrying the bible, cross or candles in processions. As a follow up to confirmation, I found this a useful education in the mysteries of Holy Communion.
At university (Leeds if you have not read elsewhere) I was a member of the Anglican Chaplaincy. The Chaplaincy provided a foundation for life at university, both religious and social. There was an opportunity to explore the Christian faith more deeply through house group meetings with one of the Chaplains, together with a strong social programme, for which I would usually provide the musical entertainment for a disco or barn dance. We were a cohesive and lively group. I eventually became a Student Church Officer.
I also joined the Anglican and Methodist Society. The most important thing about this is that it is where I met my wife-to-be, Lydia. This was my first sample of Christianity outside the Church of England. To me it showed something I have been only confirmed in since, that what the different denominations have in common far outweighs the differences. What differences there are seem to come primarily from tradition and organisation that has grown up over the years, rather than in the basics of the Christian message - that God so loved the world that he gave his only son Jesus Christ to save us from our sins. Eventually I became on officer (Vice Chairman, or Secretary - I can't remember exactly what now)
One of the great benefits of the Anglican and Methodist Society, was that they had access to a house in Hurst in the Yorkshire Dales that could be used for a weekend break. The Anglican and Methodist Society ran house groups, and one of the joys was that each house group would have the use of Hurst for a weekend. Quite a lot of planning was involved, because the minibus had to be booked, the menus planned and food bought (not forgetting important things like toilet paper) and a service prepared and run at one of the local Methodist churches in the Dales.
When we moved to Essex we went to St Mary's Langdon Hills. The congregation was quite small when we joined, and grew smaller, but stronger, during an interregnum. However, with a good minister, David Greaves, and a growing population from being a development area, the congregation grew to a respectable size. Lydia had learnt bell ringing as a teenager, but this was the first church we had attended together with a peal of bells, so I learnt the basics of bell ringing.
When we moved to Thorpe Bay we also joined our local church, and our children, Naomi and David, were christened there. For the whole period we were there, there was an interregnum, which ended as we left. We were lead by a Lay Reader, and something that characterised the services was that they were family oriented, with services aimed at families with young children, that were consequently of short duration, say 40-45 minutes, and simple in their content. It was a revelation as to what church services could be.
For our year in The Hague we attended the British Church in The Netherlands, at the British School in Voorschoten. This was again a family oriented church with an informal style. It was also ecumenical in nature, with members from a range of denominations. The church was particularly good at involving newcomers from the expatriate community.
We returned to Hampshire in the UK in 1990. For 18 months we lived in rented accommodation first in North Baddersley, and later in Bursledon. We attended the local church, getting involved with things like the Sunday School.
We finally settled in Whiteley, a new development. We joined St Peter's Titchfield, where we helped in the Sunday School, and eventually became members of the PCC (Parochial Church Council). However, it was always clear that Whiteley would need a church of its own one day, so once there were enough residents we started by setting up a house group which we called Whiteley Christians which met once a month starting in 1993. This was ecumenical, and shortly after this was established we discovered that there was a group called the Whiteley Executive made up of representatives of the different denominations present locally. This group was responsible for the development of an ecumenical church in Whiteley. We were invited to join the executive.
The main issue in starting a church was having somewhere to meet. A Community House was supposed to be provided by the developers, but had been delayed. It was finally due to be ready in September 1995, so we decided that we would plan for the start of services at that time with support from local ministers. The only problem was that there were still further delays in the completion of the Community House. Rather than delay starting services, we offered the use of our home, and the first service was held at our house at on 10th September 1995. This continued for about 6 months, until we were able to get an agreement with our local hotel, the Solent Hotel, that we could use one of their rooms at a reduced rate. At this time we also gained our first part time (one day a week) minister, Margaret Barker (now Davies). During this period we were holding services in the evening, starting at 6pm, with a congregation of between 12 and 20, made up of Whiteley residents and supporters from local churches.
Finally, in October 1996, the Community House was ready to use, and coincidentally at the same time we had a half time minister appointed, Judy Henning. We decided that since we now had our own minister that we should move services to the morning, but this meant that we lost most of the people from local churches who had been supporting us, so numbers dropped to about 10, but under Judy's leadership, and as the district has grown, so has the congregation. The congregation is noticeably young. A significant number of people moving to Whiteley have done so either because they have got married, or because of a baby, so as the congregation grew it was possible to start a Sunday School. By September 1999, we had outgrown the Community House with congregations above thirty on a regular basis. Fortunately, the local primary school had recently been completed, and we were able to get agreement to use their hall for our services. The congregation continued to grow and in 2001 Judy was made a full time minister. In the summer of 2002 we moved next door to the Community Centre that was recently finished. Both Lydia and I have served on the Church Council from time to time. I was Church Warden and Chair of the Church Council in 2005 during the interregnum following Judy's departure.
One of the problems of not having a permanent home is making the place of worship special. Fortunately, one of our congregation, Joyce Crowther, has an interest in quilting, and arranged for Romsey Quilters to make a banner for us. This is much treasured by the church.
Whiteley Church Banner: "The Way"The next target is a church building. A site has been designated near Whiteley Village shopping centre. A working party was established in 2000, to which I am secretary, with representatives from the different denominations. This developed a requirements specification, before being turned into the Building Committee, reporting to Whiteley Church Council. An architect has been appointed, and a design has been developed. There is a long way to go, not least in fund raising.
In 2004 it was time for Judy to move on after completing eight years as our Minister (the maximum allowed in our constitution). Our new Minister, Barry Dugmore arrived at Christmas that year. A proposal to build a Church school in Whiteley was brought forward. Unfortunately, the site proposed for the project was controversial, being an existing public open space, and Winchester City Council refused to release the land. An alternative site was proposed by Winchester City Council, but this was rejected by the Portsmouth Diocese. Barry moved on to a parish in Tiverton in May 2007.
After Barry’s departure, the Anglican’s decided that they did not wish to continue in the Local Ecumenical Partnership, and that the congregation had to decide either to be part of an LEP without the Anglicans, or become an Anglican church. The congregation voted for the latter, and Rev. Bill Day took oversight of the Church in addition to his duties at St Peter’s, and the Rev Lorraine Snape joined us as a Non-Stipendiary Minister. On his retirement, Lorraine and her husband, Gary, have provided joint ministry to the church. In 2012 Gary and Lorraine left us for well earned retirement.
We are currently in an interregnum, but are fortunate to be supported by Rev’d Philippa Mills as interim minister.