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Portsmouth: new life for closed church?

Worshippers are aiming to re-launch a Portsmouth parish – with an influx of Christians from a nearby congregation.

A group from St Jude’s Church in Southsea, aim to begin a new congregation in the church hall of St Margaret’s Church, Eastney.

St Margaret’s last hosted a Sunday service in December 2015, after its PCC had asked the Bishop of Portsmouth to officially move the church towards closure.
 
But a group from St Jude’s feel called to serve the community that lives around the church in Highland Road. The church building itself remains closed for health and safety reasons. So the congregation planting team are now meeting regularly in the church hall for midweek prayer and worship, as they work out how best to serve the local community.
 

Members of the new team at St Margaret’s Church prepare to
lead their open day last month

They held an open day in June with a jumble sale, bouncy castle, coffee and cake, and invited local residents to meet them. And they hope to get to know men who live nearby by offering weekly fitness training. The ‘Relentless’ circuit training sessions on Friday nights are led by a qualified fitness instructor.
 
The vicar of St Jude’s, the Rev Mike Duff, who is overseeing the new congregation, said: “The deanery has asked St Jude’s to take the lead in starting a new ministry at St Margaret’s – so for the foreseeable future it will be an outreach congregation of St Jude’s. We are so pleased to have been offered the opportunity to re-open St Margaret’s hall, and rebuild a congregation that can respond to the needs of local residents.
 
”It’s in a part of the city where some of our members live, and I’m really excited that a group of them have felt called to reinvigorate the Christian outreach in their area. The team has agreed to oversee the bookings for the church hall, which can now be opened to community groups again. And they are trying to work out what kind of regular pattern of worship would be best for those living nearby – so that might or might not involve Sunday services.”
 
The team is being led by Fran Carabott, who lives in nearby St Augustine’s Road, and has been part of the evening service leadership at St Jude’s for several years. The team have already introduced themselves to local residents and tidied the church garden and churchyard.
 
“It is an exciting opportunity,” he said. “Every local resident who we’ve spoken to seems really positive about the church hall opening again. And we feel God is calling us to do this – we’ve only recently moved into this part of the city, but believe that it’s a great place to be.”
 
He has recruited another St Jude’s worshipper Darren Brewer, who works as a fitness instructor in Havant, to lead Relentless sessions from 7pm-8pm on Fridays.
 
Darren said: “The idea is to provide something different that might bring men in. It’s circuit-based, so they spend one minute on each activity, then move on to the next. But it’s for all abilities – we’ve had everything from teenagers to men in their 60s. We invite men who wouldn’t normally go to church. They can have a physical workout, and then we can talk to them and ask if there is anything they would like prayer for.”
 
The fledgling congregation includes one person from the old St Margaret’s congregation. Jill Chalmers was elected to the PCC when all the others resigned. She said: “I was sad when the previous congregation finished because there was no Anglican church in the Eastney area of Portsmouth between Albert Road and the Eastney shops. I’m excited about the new ministry beginning at St Margaret’s, as this will create something totally new and fresh and bring new life to this area.”
 
And former St Margaret’s member Liz Bradbury said: “Obviously it is sad when a church closes and those of us left in the dwindling congregation have to find new parishes. But Steve and I have been welcomed at St Peter and St Paul, Wymering, which was the parish where Steve grew up. God must have great plans for St Margaret’s and I know that the new team led by Fran will bring vibrancy and a strong faith to a new congregation.”
 
Other former St Margaret’s congregation members are also now at other city churches. Their request for the bishop to close the church in 2015 was in part down to major structural problems with the church building that would cost £1m to repair. No decision has yet been taken about the future of that building.

Main photo: Fitness instructor Darren Brewer (left) and congregation leader Fran Carabott, who lead the Relentless fitness training sessions on a Friday night

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