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Merstham church to close after subsidence damage deemed too expensive to fix

By Surrey Mirror  |  Posted: March 28, 2012

  • The Reverend John Smith

  • The Reverend John Smith is moving on

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A COMMUNITY church is set to close within three years.

The Church of the Epiphany in Mansfield Drive, Merstham, needs around £200,000 worth of work to repair subsidence damage.

Realising fundraising is unlikely to reach this amount, the Parochial Church Council took the decision to close it at a meeting on Tuesday.

But the parish's clergy are keen to stress that although the church building may be closing, the church community is not leaving the estate.

Reverend John Smith told the Mirror: "There's no fear that the church locally will withdraw from Merstham or the estate.

"The church is part of the community. There's no way of knowing exactly what shape we will take in the future. It is something we are looking to work out.

"It makes sense for us to be looking to see what's the best value we can get, given there are three Anglican churches in Merstham currently."

The building will not become structurally unsafe for another two or three years and will remain open until that time, with the council resolving to pay for "minor maintenance work".

But the parish clergy claim no long-term plan has been made yet and say moving to a new location is a possibility.

The church, which was built in 1955, has a hall attached which plays home to community a groups including the Jellybeans Playgroup and the Epiphany Project, for people with mental health problems or learning difficulties.

Nearby residents were shocked at the news and sad to hear the church, which the estate has built up around, will be taken out of service.

Resident Elsie Peasey, 82, said: "It would be a shame to see it go. It is important. They have fetes in the summer. I like to go there and it makes a nice day. It is a focus of the estate; it is nice to have it."

The Reverend John Smith led his last service at the Church of the Epiphany in Merstham on Sunday, after 13 years in the parish.

Looking back on his time here, the 59-year-old says community involvement and the foundation of Gatton Community Theatre will stand out as two highlights.

He told the Mirror: "It’s been very, very fruitful. I’ve had a great time here. They are lovely people.

"There have been exciting things like the formation of Gatton Community Theatre. I had a vision of doing a Passion play and that came out of the vision."

As a governor at both Merstham School in London Road South and at St Nicholas School in Taynton Drive, he believes involvement with the community is central to the vicar’s role.

"Getting involved helps," he said. "I think what people don’t really see of the church is its work in the community. It’s not just about what happens on a Sunday.

"That has been a big part of what I’ve been doing. It is how the church can play its role in the regeneration of the estate."

The father-of-two came to Merstham in 1998 after working as a vicar in Bermondsey and Whyteleafe. He was ordained in 1979, having worked at Barclays bank before studying to join the clergy at St Andrew’s University.

He will lead his first service at his new church in Hoo St Werburgh, Kent, on April 26, after spending his 60th birthday in Venice.

"It will be my first Easter off for some years," he said. "It will be nice to have Easter off and go to Rochester cathedral."

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