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Isle of Wight gets £2.7m plan for ‘revitalisation’

05 January 2024

Different worship styles central to new church-plant project


The Isle of Wight, seen from Ballard Down in Dorset

The Isle of Wight, seen from Ballard Down in Dorset

A PIONEER priest appointed to help to lead a five-year, £2.7-million project in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, will be licensed by the Bishop of Portsmouth, Dr Jonathan Frost, this week.

In October, the diocese announced that it had secured £1.2 million from the Church Commissioners’ Strategic Mission and Ministry Investment (SMMI) board (News, 31 March 2023) for a project to plant a new congregation in Ryde, while “equipping existing ones to have more engagement with schools and explore new ways to serve the local community”. The grant will be supplemented by £1.5 million in diocesan funding for clergy positions.

The project is the first stage of plans to “revitalise Church of England churches across the Isle of Wight”. It follows earlier Commissioner-funded reorganisation on the island (News, 26 October 2018), currently undergoing a “reset”.

The new project will seek the growth of the congregation at All Saints’, Ryde — “the cathedral of the Island”, which has been in vacancy since 2021 — from 30 to up to 300 new worshippers attending different styles of service. A new family-worship service will be planted with the help of Harbour Church — the Holy Trinity, Brompton, church-plant in Portsmouth — in addition to a café church, traditional eucharistic worship, and an intern scheme for young people.

It is envisaged that, in five years, worshippers from All Saints’ will transfer to other C of E congregations on the island, “to complement worship and mission initiatives happening elsewhere”.

The project will entail pastoral reorganisation, with the creation of a new benefice that encompasses five parishes: All Saints’, Ryde; St John’s, Oakfield; St Michael and All Angels, Swanmore; St Peter’s, Havenstreet; and Holy Cross, Binstead. All the PCCs voted in favour of the reorganisation in January last year.

On Sunday, the Revd Heath Monaghan will be licensed as Team Rector. Ordained in 2021, his time as a pioneer curate for Ryde and Bembridge included a year at Harbour Church. Before ordination, he founded and led Aspire Ryde, a community centre used by thousands of people each week, housed in Holy Trinity, Ryde, which was closed for worship in 2014. In 2016, he established a house church, Dwell, many members of which are expected to join the new contemporary congregation at All Saints’.


Last month, he described how “the social capital and networking I’d done when I was at Aspire Ryde meant this project has been warmly received by the community. It has turned these parishes, with their incredible history, into hope-filled organisations that are ready to take the next step in serving their community.”

In April, he will be joined by the Revd Oliver Mitchelmore, currently a curate at Holy Trinity, Brompton. Mr Mitchelmore, who will have responsibility for planting new congregations, formerly worked as a nurse in cardiac intensive care and clinical research, and undertook some of his training on the island. “We’re passionate about creating spaces where youth, young couples, and families thrive, and we believe the church can be the centre for family life and support healthy relationships,” he said last month.

Some of the funding will be used to recruit an operations manager, worship leader, youth leader, and children’s pastor. There will also be some renovations to the building at All Saints’.

The SMMI-supported project in Ryde follows a series of Strategic Development Funding (SDF) projects in the diocese totalling more than £5 million in grants. The first established Harbour Church (News, 2 September 2016), which was launched with 20 people and is now the largest church in the diocese, with four congregations across three churches — St George’s, Portsea; St Alban’s, Copnor; and All Saints’, Commercial Road. Since 2020, it has established church-plants at St Teilo’s, Cardiff; St Andrew’s, Paignton; and Christ Church, Gosport.

DIOCESE OF PORTSMOUTHThe Revd Oliver Mitchelmore

This first grant was also to used to promote pioneer ministry and create new pioneer posts (News, 28 September 2018). A Church Army research-unit evaluation reported a shift in culture in the diocese, but noted that, by autumn 2020, only one of the original group of pioneers appointed in 2015-16 was still in post. Some of those interviewed felt that the diocese’s focus had shifted to church-planting.

In 2018, the diocese bid for SDF support for a £9-million plan for reorganisation in urban areas, including Newport, on the Isle of Wight: areas where, “despite the best efforts of clergy and congregations, relatively few people go to church.” A presentation stated that: “People who have never gone to church before are unlikely to join in with what we currently do, but some will come if we provide new, accessible, child-friendly worship.” New teams were to “plant new congregations, inspire and deepen discipleship with those who don’t currently attend church, promote evangelism and improve church buildings — as well as maintaining traditional worship.”

Pastoral reorganisation was contested, with the Commissioners’ Mission, Pastoral and Church Property Committee agreeing to some, but not all, of the proposed schemes. In Newport, the parishes of Newport Minster, St Mary’s, Carisbrooke, and St John’s, Newport, were merged.

Last June, the diocesan synod heard that there had been “shortcomings in the delivery and management of our strategic development programmes”, but that a new nationally funded Strategic Programme Manager, Vanda Leary, was in place. The Commissioners have since agreed that there should be a “reset” of the projects in Gosport, Newport, and Southsea, “with some of the national funding reallocated across those projects, and some adjustment of the outcomes expected”. The original SDF allocation was £2-million.

In November, Ms Leary delivered a presentation that suggested that some of the original SDF bid outcomes had been “unrealistic”. Some projects had no “realistic prospect of delivering the growth outcomes that were given in the bid as the justification for investment”. In Newport, the focus had been on the Minster building project — it is set to reopen this year — rather than growth.

Last March, it was announced that Canon Sarah Chapman would come out of retirement to serve as Interim Rector of Newport and Carisbrooke with Gatcombe.

In total, about 1400 people worship on the Isle of Wight each week (less than one per cent of the population), served by 11 full-time stipendiary clergy, set to increase to 19. Among the challenges that the Church there faces are declining and ageing congregations and a growing gap between the costs of ministry and the amount raised by the parish share.

It is understood that the project in Ryde reflects a change in culture in the diocese, under a new leadership team with an approach more “bottom-up” than “top-down”. Dr Frost was installed in 2022, after a Statement of Needs called for “skill and wisdom in holding together those who are excited and those who are hurting”, given a “major programme of change to support mission and growth across the diocese”.

During the General Synod debate on the reform of the Mission and Pastoral Measure (2011) in 2021, Emily Bagg, a lay representative for Portsmouth, described the impact of pastoral reorganisation on her clergy husband, who had served in parishes now part of Newport and Carisbrooke with Gatcombe. While the right thing for the parish, it had caused him “deep harm . . . which led him to deeply question his calling” (News, 16 July 2021). The financial arrangements for compensation offered to her husband had left them paying almost £20,000 in taxation at source.

In September, the Revd David Morgan was appointed Team Vicar for the new benefice in Ryde (Gazette, 8 September 2023), with specific responsibility for traditional worship. The Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight, the Ven. Steve Daughtery, said that his appointment was “a really important one, as we seek to preserve and build on the faithfulness of many years of traditional worship and musical excellence”.

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