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Villagers fight to save threatened church near Winchester
A CRISIS meeting by parishioners may have secured the future of an Itchen Valley church.
St Peter's in Ovington, near Alresford, has been teetering on the edge of closure with attendances at weekly services down to 10-20.
If forced to close it would have been the first Anglican church in the area to shut since 1975.
St Peter’s is in financial dire straits and has been running at a deficit of £145 per week.
But a meeting at the church on Sunday attracted some 50 people with a new five-year plan proposed that could safeguard its future.
However details of how the church will cover the shortfall were unclear as the Chronicle went to press. Rector Phil Collins was unavailable to clarify.
Elizabeth Stevenson, secretary to Ovington and Itchen Stoke Parochial Church Council (PCC), speaking last week before the meeting, said: “We are desperate to keep the church open but our income does not cover our outgoings.
“Our killer is the ‘parish share’ as it’s nearly £12,000 a year. It’s that that’s killing us. All churches have to pay it. There are one or two who don’t pay it and they are therefore more likely to be shut down.”
Mrs Stevenson added: “We all take turns to keep it open during the week and the church is just loved and it’s a beautiful church. It would be such a shame if it was closed.”
Nick Young, who runs The Bush Inn with his wife Catherine, said: “There is nowhere left in the village now, in terms of a community centre, apart from the pub. And you have to pay money here.
“I think everyone’s a bit disappointed,” he said.
Church warden Sarah Thorne, of Coal Lane, has been attending St Peter’s for 30 years. She said: “The church is the centre of our community: it would be absolutely heart breaking if it were to close.”
She added: “We ran a fete which raised £3,000 and have held concerts, but it’s not enough. These funds have met the basic running costs of the church but are nowhere near what's needed, and there are just simply not enough people to do it.”
The parish share is the scheme by which the 150-year-old church repays costs which the diocese has met on its behalf – mostly comprising the cost of paying clergy.
The PCC has also agreed to raise funds for £65,000 worth of repairs to the church, but with a congregation of only 10 to 20 people, the council needed to establish whether villagers wanted to maintain the church.
Fifty people attended the meeting on Sunday, September 16, with Rector Phil Collins acknowledging concerns about the parish share.
In a statement on Tuesday, he said: “It was agreed that we should put forward to the Diocesan Board of Finance our willingness to pay the parish share on that understanding, that over the next five years any increase should not exceed the rate of inflation in any of those years.”
The last Anglican church to close was at St Mary’s at nearby Itchen Stoke in the mid-1970s. It is now maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust.