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Volunteers and stained-glass windows celebrated at first National Church Awards

28 October 2022

STEPHEN MACKAY/COMMONS/GEOGRAPH

The view across St George’s Park to the tower of St George’s, Kidderminster

The view across St George’s Park to the tower of St George’s, Kidderminster

THE first National Church Awards to celebrate churches and the volunteers and people who look after them has awarded its top prize to a small Roman Catholic church in Northern Ireland.

St Macartan’s, known as “The Forth”, in the Clogher Valley, was singled out for its involvement of local people as volunteers, and its recent restoration project of its famous Clarke Studio stained-glass windows.

The judges said: “There’s a sense of bringing everyone together to share in the activity. It’s wonderful to see an ecumenical project which demonstrates that leadership is a real linchpin to success. So often clergy think that the gutters have nothing to do with their vocation, but it’s great to see their involvement here.”

The church was named as Church of the Year in the new awards, which have been created by the National Churches Trust. The awards celebrate winners in four different categories. Judges selected the overall winners from nominations made by churches throughout the UK.

St George’s, in Kidderminster, won the award for excellence in church maintenance for its active volunteer maintenance team, who meet weekly.

Judges praised the team’s record-keeping and sharing of their knowledge with other churches. The Team Rector, the Revd David Hildred, said that the team of men and women were called “Faith in Maintenance”, as their work was part of the church’s mission.

“Most, but not all of the team, will have attended church the day before, and so at coffee time there is the chance to mull over the previous day’s sermon once again,” he said. “The team work together so that our buildings and grounds offer their own witness to the good news of Jesus, by being as accessible and as welcoming as possible. Most of the members of the team are retired, but, from time to time, are joined by younger people who benefit from their wisdom and experience.

“The National Churches Trust award is a great celebration of their skills, dedication, fellowship, and generosity.”

The Open for Visitors Award, which seeks to celebrate warmth of welcome for visitors, and also quality of interpretation, was awarded to St John the Baptist’s, Scampton, in Lincolnshire. The church is just one mile from RAF Scampton, and the graveyard contains 107 Commonwealth graves, attracting 1000 visitors a year.

Judges praised the church’s close links with other local tourist attractions and food outlets to help create a day out for visitors.

The project to renovate Bath Abbey won the President’s Award for new church architecture and reordering. The “Footprint” project oversaw the conservation of the historic stone floor, which has more memorials than any other church or cathedral in the UK; the creation of new underground space; and the adaption of the heating system to use Bath’s hot springs as a low-carbon heat source (Feature, 21 January). Judges described the project as “innovative, sensitive, and elegant”.

A community shop in a Welsh church won the Church and Community Volunteer Award.

St Paul’s, in Rhosesmor, Flintshire, is at the heart of village life for a community which is three miles away from the nearest shop. Their shop, called the Outpost, is run by 37 volunteers, and also offers a book club, a jigsaw and veg swap, and has recently been providing support to Ukrainian volunteers.

The judges praised it for “the way that volunteers had responded to the specific needs of the area and the way the church has harnessed the generosity of spirit of a large number of people in a small village.”

The Team Vicar, the Revd Hugh Burgess, said: “This is a great reward for all of them for the hard work, commitment, and mutual support that they give to make this project work for the benefit of the whole community.” He said that the team “were struggling to hold back tears” when the prize was announced.

The awards were presented by the actor and comedian Hugh Dennis, who described churches as “the beating heart of the nation”.

Claire Walker, from the National Churches Trust, said: “Our new National Church Awards bring together all that is brilliant about the work happening in and around church buildings Architecture, maintenance, supporting volunteers, and providing a great welcome are all hugely important to the future of churches.”

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