On 16 September 2007 the Archdeacon of Bedford, Paul Hughes, dedicated our new parish room. It was an exciting, uplifting day which those who were part of it will never forget. In bright sunshine the building was seen at its best doing what it will always do inspiring people to ministry and worship.
This is the story of how a small village Christian community which 20 or so years ago met in a cold dark church, had low single figure congregations and was being actively considered for closure came back from oblivion.
In 1995 an Alpha Course was held at Sunnyside. Stephen Breukleman suggested that Bourne End parishioners should come on the course and four of us were warily coerced to join. We were wary because it was not the form of ministry or worship that we were used to! On those courses there was a weekend away, something which doesn’t seem to happen now; an away day seems more usual now. We went to the Focolare Centre in Welwyn Garden City. It was an inspiring weekend, I remember driving back with Gladys saying we must do something and tell people what has happened.
We then had the trauma of Stephen Breukleman’s illness and death, which bought
us closer as a parish and closer to our friends at Sunnyside. We were actively involved in the appointment of the new vicar. One of David Abbott’s first acts was to ‘seed’ two new couples to our congregation. John & Carole Lewis and Martin & Helen King. John, Carole and Martin were Lay Readers and Helen was our organist. This helped to strengthen Bourne End as a separate parish rather than a quaint embarrassing appendage to Sunnyside! The readers provided the continuity of worship and ministry in Bourne End. Helen provided quality music for the first time in many years. Out went the old un-tuneable (and unplayable!) pipe organ and in came a multi voiced electric piano! We then set about improving the facilities. I remember reading an article by David of a small Christian community he knew where the women of the village carried water to the church. The twist, of course, was that he was not writing about a Ugandan or Sudanese village but about Bourne End! The nearest water was in the village at Sharps Lane nearly a kilometre away! A working party was formed and our millennium project was to hand dig a trench and lay a water main along the London Road to the Church! With thearrival of the water we incorporated a toilet and small kitchen in the already small vestry. We were fortunate to have the Bishop of Hertford to officially open these facilities. We could now offer real coffee after the service and proper facilities before, during and after the service! At the same time the heating and lighting were improved and the nave decorated. What a difference! We could now offer the congregation our own unique services, lead by our own leaders supported with good music. All this with 20th century facilities in a well-lit, warm, bright church – with real coffee afterwards!
We noticed children were starting to come to our services and realised that we were doing nothing to cater for them. At a PCC meeting in 2001 the members were quizzed as to how many children they thought there were in Bourne End. Numbers varied, 10, 15, 19? In fact there were over 50 children in our village and we were doing nothing for them apart from resenting the noise they were making! That is how the Caravan Club came about. An old caravan was located by David Gubbay and donated to the Church by contractors who had finished using it as a site hut! For the last 4 years it has been the home of our children’s work, coordinated by Helen Harrison. In 2003 we approached Nick Wood of Blackwood Architects to design a meeting room extension to the church. David Abbott knew Nick and his family as they worship at Sunnyside. Initial sketches were done and on 19 May 2004 after a day of prayer the previous Sunday the PCC voted on the New Parish Room. It was unanimously decided to produce drawings to obtain planning permission. There were some slight reservations about the size and detail of the extension but the mood was to emphatically move the project on to the next stage. We also formed a Building Fund Committee chaired by Martin King. They looked for ways to raise money from any source, Grants, donations, pledges, events. Originally it was estimated that £105,000 to £115,000 would be needed.
In November 2005 we voted to ask the Architect to produce drawings to enable us to obtain Building Regulations Approval and obtain a faculty from the Diocese. In Jan 2006 we agreed to produce tender documents and produce a list of contractors to invite tenders from. In March 2006 we were out to tender awaiting results. We had the results in May 2006 and were horrified to find that there was an enormous spread of prices the lowest being nearly 50% above budget at over £160,000! We asked the architect to find savings and finally in September 2006 we agreed a contract with Terry Silver of Springfield Homes for £141,800.00. The first sod was turned by David Abbott in November 2006. The work had started!
However you should not imagine that it was easy and everything went smoothly. In July last year Martin King, who had been leading and driving this project, suddenly left the parish and left an enormous hole in our leadership. The work continued until March this year. It was known that the electricity supply which came overhead to the west wall of the church would need to be moved to enable the glazed link to be installed.
This was to be organised by us as the client. We contacted the electricity supply company and arranged for the work to be done. We had to pay for it before they would even come out to look at the site. After they surveyed it they said it should take 4 to 6 weeks to get the work done. In fact it took 22 weeks! In that time our builder Terry Silver had run out of work to do and so had to pull off site, there was a rumour that we had run out of money and had abandoned the project! Worse still the glazing company who were scheduled to carry the work out went into liquidation! Eventually the electrical work was carried out and a new glazing company found – at a larger cost! They finished on the Saturday before the dedication of the new parish room on Sunday 16 September 2007.
We now have taken possession of our parish room. We held our first PCC there this week! It is really a very exciting building and as with every good design there are aspects which only are seen as we use the building. For example when the scaffold came down to reveal the view of the three crosses which form the west window I stood in Little Heath Lane looking at it. I looked at the overall statement that the west window makes, the way it compliments the original design and then as I stood there I noticed a small figure reflected back at me from the large expanse of glass. I could see myself, small and insignificant, reflected back against this huge iconic view! Where do you fit in to your church’s vision!
Another time at an evening rehearsal with the church illuminated and the meeting room in darkness I was told to go into the new room and look back at the church through the glass door in the west wall. Again a view of the church never seen before with the altar and chancel perfectly illuminated and framed in the glass door!
We are awaiting the final bill but our treasurer has told us that we should be able to pay it without having to borrow any money at all! An amazing achievement! We have been expertly advised by our Treasurer Edith. It was her proposal which made sure that we kept up our giving to charities while we were raising building funds. She it was who famously announced at a PCC ‘that the more we give away the more we receive’.
People have asked how did you, a little parish which a few years ago had problems meeting its Diocesan Quota, do it? I have to say I don’t know! Like all Christians when we don’t know the right thing to do or don’t know how we can achieve something we pray! We prayed for support and prayed for guidance. There is no doubt amongst those who were at the day of prayer and at the PCC three days later that we were guided to take that unanimous decision. Not by booming voices telling us what to do but by the gentle certainty that we all had in our hearts that it was the right thing to do. When there were the setbacks and doubts we were sustained and encouraged by prayer.
What ever we have achieved it is to God’s greater glory and we have only achieved it through Him. As we have prayed every week – with this building help us to bring His word to the centre of people’s lives in this village.