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Fabric for the Fabric

It’s a common problem.  A small community has an ancient church in need  of significant repairs.  It is a challenge to find the money, even with extra giving from the regular congregation, the wider community and other funding bodies.  What often happens is that the church embarks on a lengthy programme of fundraising which can be exhausting and sap the creative life of the parish.  The question is how can we engage with maintenance without it eclipsing mission?   St. Mary’s Church in Lamberhurst has been grappling with this subject and they’ve found an unusual way of drawing attention to the fabric of the church while also building bridges into the community.  

There has been a church on the site for over a thousand years.  The current building is grade one listed and mostly Medieval.   Major work needs to be done in the chancel, the porch and the tower and the project will have to be phased.   Thankfully St. Mary’s is in receipt of a generous legacy to start things off but the estimate for the first part of the work is for £250,000, and that’s before any further problems are uncovered.  Faced with these numbers, the task ahead is daunting but the small community are determined to meet the challenge.  They have devised a project that combines fundraising with community engagement, proving that maintenance and mission can work together very well.

This was the brain-child of Julia Cruse.  Her idea was to draw attention to the need of the fabric by wrapping up the church in material panels and asking the community to design them.  It was, as she said, ‘focusing on the fabric of the church and focusing on the fabric of the community.’   She said that at first, many people’s response was ‘you’re doing what?’  It was a difficult concept to understand and there needed to be some further explanation.  Julia was joined by Daphne Huggett, Ann Giles and Auriol Burnett-Hitchcock, who became the ‘Wrap Around’ Team. Together they sold the idea to local organisations, the school and pre-school, clubs and individuals.  They advertised it in the parish magazine and ran workshops at the church and at the local village market, including one children’s workshop.  Suddenly the idea began to catch on.  The church provided the fabric pens and glue and donations of fabric came in from all over the place.  Although at first many were unsure what to create,  it wasn’t long before ideas came and the panels began to take shape.

Each panel needed to be of a certain size but no directions were given about its decoration.  It was estimated that they would need 150 panels.  On the ‘Wrap Around’ day there were in fact 148 around the church inside and out, and 3 on the tower.  The panels have been a creative expression of the group or individual that made them and the concept has captured the imagination of all ages.

The project has bought in donations for the building works, but it’s also done something more significant: it’s underlined the fact that St. Mary’s is a church belonging to everyone, where all are welcome.  People have been invited in to see what has been happening and to get involved if they would like to and they have come.  Some people involved in the project had never set foot in the church before and are now building relationships there.  One couple who tended a family grave in the churchyard and always assumed the church to be locked,  have been in for the first time;  another couple have decided to re-connect with church after moving house and losing contact.  It has also pulled people together and given an immense sense of satisfaction in creating something of value. There has been good support too from St. Mary’s sister church, St. Luke’s at Matfield, with some of their congregation making panels for the project. The general feedback has been so positive that there are plans afoot to begin a regular arts and crafts club which will meet in the church and be open to all.

It is hoped that some of the  151 panels will go on tour, and others will be recycled and used for new altar cloths or cushions for people in the community.  There is still a large amount of fabric left and this will be donated to another village that has been converted to the creative possibilities for their church.

The project has ignited enthusiasm and built bridges between the community and its church.  Although the challenge of meeting the costs of repairs remain, St. Mary’s ‘Wrap Around’ project has certainly put the ‘fun’ back into fundraising and much more besides.

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 The ‘Wrap Around’ Team from left to right: Julia Cruse, Ann Giles, Daphne Huggett, Auriol Burnett-Hitchcock

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