Weekly outdoor prayer at St Mary the Virgin Church, has brought the Fawley community together and the church a new vision for being at the heart of the village.
As numbers attending the church had started to diminish over several years and churches were closed at the beginning of the pandemic, a lay member of St Mary’s, Julia Ogilvy, started a time of outdoor prayer time every Friday to gather some of the 250 local people in the village. After two years, and despite the great British weather, there are still between 20 and 40 people joining each week, both regular churchgoers and those with no church background.
With no pub or village hall, the church is the only real space in Fawley where people can come together. The regular prayer gatherings have revived the community and facilitated discussion about how the church can continue to support its congregation and the community.
Recognising that the church could provide better equipped facilities for the community, with the support of a grant from the Development Fund, a feasibility study was carried out to establish the reordering options available. The aim is to create a multifunctional space that maintains space for church services as well as being suitable for regular community events and groups including farmer's markets, music events, and weekend cafes.
A survey was carried out among local residents to ensure that the community was involved in what the church did next, and they offered overwhelming support for the reordering. A faculty was granted from the DAC Church Buildings team in July for work to transform the space to begin. A few rows of pews at the back of the church will be removed to create more space, a kitchen and toilet will be installed, and the gallery and font will be moved to create more seating. The entrance to the church will be improved to make it more welcoming, the chancel re-decorated and the failing organ will be replaced.
David Napier, a Churchwarden at St Mary's, shares the plans for the church:
“The church is very much still in Victorian mode, and we have no real space for meetings. So, the reordering process will be instrumental in helping us to reorganise and be more relevant for community use.
“We hope that the church will become a place for local people to gather for group meetings, events, and lectures, and also being in the church it will spark an interest for them to explore faith and join regular worship.”
Since fundraising for the £350,000 project began in 2021, village residents have shown their support through the Friends of Fawley Church charity raising over £215,000 so far. Works are expected to begin in January 2023 and aim for completion in the autumn.
The Development Fund was launched in 2019 to enable missional creativity and assist churches in the Diocese of Oxford with their visions to become more Christ-like and support their local communities. Since its launch, the fund has donated over £2.7 million to more than 140 local church projects across the Diocese of Oxford.