Emsworth, Hants

Click to enlarge

A fishing community at the north-west corner of Chichester harbour, in the parish of Warblington and now part of the borough of Havant. It had no place of worship until St. Peter’s proprietary chapel was built in The Square in 1789 (replaced by St. James parish church in 1840).

In the 1830s and 1840s the Wesleyans from Chichester and the Primitive Methodists from Petersfield attempted to establish missions in Emsworth, but without permanent success. Eventually in 1874, under the leadership of the Rev. George P. Clark, newly appointed Superintendent of the Chichester Primitive Methodist Circuit, converts were made and within two years a society was established with 58 members. A site for a chapel was acquired in The Square at the centre of the village, where it still stands. Some of the adjoining land was sold off, enabling them to build the chapel on the street front, next door to St. Peter’s chapel (which later became a cinema). It was opened on 25 April 1877 Access for many years was by a small central porch. The limitations of the site as well as financial constraints were among the factors determining improvements to the premises for many years.

From 1877 until 1932 Emsworth was in the Chichester PM circuit, with an all-time low of 9 members in 1929. But soon after Methodist Union it was transferred to Portsmouth, sharing ministers with various churches in that circuit. The post-war years saw social and demographic changes that brought the possibility of alterations to the premises. The membership at Emsworth began to grow again in the 1960s and a District Replanning Committee in 1964 expressed the hope that ‘in the light of the young and virile leadership that has emerged in recent years, it would be a mistake to vacate our central site’. Some urgent first aid was undertaken on the building. One token of new life was the annual ‘Industrial Festival’ held for some years.

On 17 July 1977 a service to mark the centenary of the church was held in St. James’s parish church, with the Rev. Harry Morton, secretary of the British Council of Churches, as the preacher. Improving Anglican-Methodist relations at national level at this time led to a degree of shared worship locally, but the Scheme of Union resulting from years of ‘Conversations’ failed to get a 75% vote in the Anglican General Synod.

In 1979 the temporary housing of Vietnamese refugees on Thorney Island led to their being welcomed with jasmin tea and other refreshments in the church, and this later resulted in the opening of the Pastoral Centre, with the recently retired Mary Bray as its first manager. A building fund was opened in 1980 and alterations were begun in the following year, including the opening up and extension of the front facing the Square to make it more inviting, a coffee bar on the south wall and a new sanctuary. The new premises, costing £76,000, were opened in May 1982 by the Rt, Hon. George Thomas, Speaker of the House of Commons, who was full of praise for the project. The church itself became - and remains - the Pastoral Centre’s venue, staffed by teams from all the local churches, providing a meeting place, refreshments and a friendly welcome at the centre of the village. As Mary Bray wrote in 1988, ‘Our activities here take place within sight of the sanctuary because all service is offered in the name of Jesus Christ, to whom our work and building are dedicated.’

As the 20th century approached, the opportunity to extend the premises became a reality. Schemes to acquire the site to the north, including St. Peter’s Church, had come to nothing. But in 1999 the neighbouring property to the south, ‘International House’, came on the market, the church was offered first refusal and led by the Senior Stewand Hugh Benzie, a speedy decision was accompanied by the beginning of fund-raising. With gifts and loans from members together with grants and loans from other sources, ‘Project Connect’ followed, including an atrium to join the two buildings from front to back. A service of Rededication was held on 8 March 2008.

Emsworth has been the chosen retirement venue for a number of notable ministers, including the missionary doctor Frank Davey, the biblical scholar [[Entry:2345 Cyril S. Rodd] and the Rev.Geoffrey R. Senior, much of whose ministry was spent among the Chinese in the Far East.

Quotations

'It was recommended by the District Meeting held at Poole om the 12th, 13th & 14th day of May1835, that the Conference should station a Travelling Preacher at Emsworth, to cultivate that part of the field of Gospel labour, to be separated from the Portsmouth Circuit - to give two Sundays out of four to help the Chichester Circuit, to be wholly dependent for his support on what he may raise around Emsworth, with a special grant from the Conference, and to be placed under the care of the Chichester Superintendent.'

Chichester Quarterly Meeting minutes, June 1835

Sources
  • GD. Smith, A History of Emsworth Methodist Church (1996, 2014)
  • Dot Warren, The Centre in The Square, the story of Emsworth Pastoral Centre (2014)