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‘I’ll take my memories with me – but it’s time for our church to close’
ROBERT Rymill was baptised in this church and had his first spiritual experience here – but he understands that it’s time to move on.
The 67-year-old has attended St Wilfrid’s Church in Fratton regularly for more than 50 years. As one of the two deputy churchwardens there, he’ll be the one locking up the building as the church closes its doors for the final time.
On November 20, the small congregation who worship there will process out of the church and along the road to St Mary’s in Fratton – to symbolise their return to the ‘mother’ church. The Bishop of Portsmouth will join them as they carry the statue and banner of St Wilfrid in procession and then place them in their new home.
St Wilfrid’s was built in 1907 as a ‘mission church’ – part of the parish of St Mary’s, Portsea Island – to provide a smaller, more local church for those living in the area of Fratton around George Street. Its closure allows worshippers to become part of the congregations at either St Mary’s or its other ‘mission church’ – St Faith’s in Landport.
Robert, who has lived within a mile of the church for his whole life, said: “This place has been full of saints who I’ve been privileged to meet. People who wouldn’t think they are saints, but just got on with helping others, raising money, and loving God. They taught me about being a Christian.
“I was baptised here as a baby in 1955, but had stopped going to church by the early 1970s. My sister was in the choir, but had missed one Sunday service. The priest called at our house to find out why. He said to me: ‘I expect to see you in church on Sunday’ and I turned up. I then hardly missed another Sunday for 40 years!
“I also had my first religious experience here. I had keys to the building, and came in on my own one day. I reached out to God and definitely felt the breath of his touch. That sustained me for 40 or 50 years.
“As health and safety parish officer and chair of the buildings committee, I have been most closely involved with the building, but I know that’s not the most important thing. I believe in mission, not maintenance. The building itself has many memories, but that doesn’t mean it should be kept open. Those memories will accompany me wherever I worship.
“As far as I am concerned, the 12 of us left in the congregation will still be part of the Body of Christ in another church.”
The other deputy churchwarden, Debbie Oliver, has been worshipping there since 1988. She came with her daughter Leonie, who was part of the Sunday School.
She said: “I love the sense of community, the welcome, and all the activities that have happened here. There was the Mandy Allen Dance School, the Brownies, the Mothers’ Union and the church choir. We always used to do good Advent and Lent projects to raise money for charities. We’ve always enjoyed good celebrations, and hosted the parish pantomime in recent years.
“But we’ve been talking about closing the church for years, and I think now is the time. We’ve spent the past 10 years treading water with the building, and now is the time for us to become part of another congregation.”
After more than five years of consultation, worshippers at St Wilfrid’s reached the conclusion that their church building needed to close. They are likely to become part of the congregations at St Mary’s in Fratton Road and St Faith’s in Landport. This courageous decision allows the building to be sold, and the proceeds used to benefit the way the whole parish serves the communities of Fratton and Landport.
Among the farewell events was a service on October 12, led by the former Bishop of Dorking, the Rt Rev Ian Brackley, at which many former members of the congregation were welcomed back. They gave thanks and celebrated the life and worship of the church over the past 115 years. There was also a final coffee morning on November 12.
Regular congregation members will gather with the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Jonathan Frost, for the final service hosted by the church on November 20. Once they have processed from St Wilfrid’s, that congregation will join other worshippers for the service at St Mary’s at 11am.
The vicar, Canon Bob White, said: “The Kingdom is God isn’t confined by time or space, or held within walls or buildings, but is made from the people of God, who are a pilgrim people. We’re all called to journey through life, with its joys and challenges, aware of the presence of God with us every step of the way. We’re praying for the people of St Wilfrid’s, as they take their next step on their journey of faith.”