THE Vicar of St Peter’s Whitstable, in Kent, which has opened a temporary post office in its nave, has urged other struggling churches to take similarly “radical steps” to reconnect with the community and reverse the “increasing irrelevance” of the Church.
The Vicar, the Revd Simon Tillotson, suggested that the town post office be moved from its temporary location in a Portakabin in a town car park, to the church, earlier this year, after he saw people queuing outside in the rain. The post Office had been forced to relocate from its larger residence in the town centre last year after the lease expired and the building was demolished. It will remain in the church until new purpose-built premises are completed next year.
“St Peter’s has for a long time been searching for a way to connect better with the people around it, and the post office has proved the perfect vehicle for this,” Mr Tillotson said this week. “Stepping over the threshold is a huge challenge for many non-churchgoers, but if they do that week-in-week-out for their daily financial and postal needs, they may find that they can make the same journey for their spiritual needs.”
The new branch opened in October. It has four counters which are open on weekdays with a later start on Tuesdays to accommodate a morning service. The only disadvantage is a fuller church car park, though there are two other public car parks near by, Mr Tillotson said.
And while the collaboration may “upset” some churchgoers, the move has generally improved the relationship with the community, he said. “The church is in a precarious state with very low attendance, since we get few weddings and funerals, and it is getting harder and harder to build up relationships with parishioners in our increasingly secular society.
“We therefore need to think of bold and imaginative ways of using our church buildings to help build up our links with the people in our parishes. This may upset some of our own church members, but unless we are outward thinking, we are in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant. This is the church where it should be, in the heart of the community.”
The branch was blessed by the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Rev Trevor Willmott, last month. He said: “This is a great use of the building to help meet the needs of the Whitstable community.” Andy Wright, of the post office network development team, said: “We want to thank the Vicar and his congregation for letting us use their building, which will really benefit the community.”