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Story of St Werburgh bringing a goose back to life inspires Derby church plant

15 September 2017


Back in use: St Werburgh’s, Derby, is cleaned up, last week

Back in use: St Werburgh’s, Derby, is cleaned up, last week

THE story of St Werburgh, who was said to have brought a goose back to life, has been invoked in the launch of a church plant from Holy Trinity, Brompton, in Derby city centre.

In a promotional video, the Revd Phil Mann, who will be Pioneer Minister of St Werburgh, Derby, says: “We want to see this building come alive again, full of people of every age and stage. . . A place where they find and encounter Jesus Christ.” He refers to St Werburgh, the daughter of the King of Mercia, in the seventh century: “Part of her story was about seeing dead things come back to life.”

The church will open on Sunday, 33 years after it was closed. It was converted to a shopping arcade in 1989-90, then, after a period of further disuse, became a Chinese restaurant, but was in disuse again in 2009. In July last year, the Church Commissioners announced a grant of £1.26 million to the diocese, to establish a “City Centre Resource Church and Missional Community” in Derby, to “support outreach to young people and 14 deprived parishes”.

A summary of the grant said that Derby was “under-resourced for mission compared to the rest of the diocese, and has shown the most significant decline”, and that the church would have “a particular focus on families and young adults, including the student population”. It would have its own “missional community”, comprising up to eight young adults, “who will be recruited, trained, and developed for mission projects to be undertaken in the deprived parishes in Derby city”.

On Tuesday, the Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, said that the aim was to reach the “98 per cent of people who do not come to church. . . There are a lot of big estates in Derby, very needy areas, where the parish presence has a particular style which does not really gather young people with sufficient number: something exciting or engaging.”

St Werburgh’s would serve as a “school of resourcing”, helping to create resource churches in surrounding market towns. “They won’t be exact clones, but I think we will learn a lot about building a critical mass, the style of worship. We may be able to send out worship leaders into market towns, and offer a new kind of service, and create a new kind of congregation.” There had been “some take-up” for the missional community, he said.

Mr Mann has 17 years’ experience in church leadership. He was a youth pastor in Guildford for ten years before his ordination in 2008. He served as Curate of St James’s, Gerrards Cross, for six years, before spending the past year as Curate at Holy Trinity, Onslow Square. The new church is a joint plant with St James’s, Gerrards Cross, and Holy Trinity, Brompton.

Last month he said that he was looking forward to working with other churches and organisations. “We have a lot to learn . . . Our vision for St Werburgh’s is to build an authentic community, which is Christ-centred, that plays our part in transforming the city and beyond.”

St Werburgh’s is Grade II* listed. The 17th-century tower and old chancel have been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) since 1989, but not the 19th-century church attached to it, built by Sir Arthur Blomfield in 1895. Dr Samuel Johnson married his wife Elizabeth “Tetty” Porter in the chapel, in 1735, and this is open to the public. Last week, the CCT published an advert for three visitor-welcome volunteers. Dr Redfern said that the long-term aim was to bring the entire set of buildings together.

After the closure in 1984, the parishes of St Werburgh and St Alkmund were merged.

The Priest-in-Charge of the parish, the Revd Jean Burgess, said this week that she had been “privileged to be involved” in discussions around the plant.

“It has been great to meet Phil and I am looking forward to working with him and his team, alongside other colleagues in God’s missional purposes for Derby,” she said. “It is always exciting to see God bringing renewal and new life and the Church family at St Alkmund’s will be praying for God’s blessing on St Werburgh’s as the doors are opened once again.”

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