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Revitalising Ride+Stride in Northamptonshire in the Chenderit Benefice
Northamptonshire can boast splendid examples of Saxon, Medieval, Georgian, Victorian and Modern church architecture. And it is not just the buildings, but also their furnishings – pews, choir stalls and pulpits – their stained glass, wall paintings and carved stonework. These churches are important, not just as places of worship, but also as the focus for the local community, both at times of celebration and commemoration.
Nicholas Ward writes about how the Chenderit Benefice in Northamptonshire has been revitalising Ride+Stride for Churches.
On Saturday 3rd February 2018, the Reverend Nicholas Leggett was installed and inducted as the Rector of the Chenderit Benefice in Northamptonshire and the Reverend Carolyn Oley was licensed as Associate Priest, in an inspiring service presided over by the Bishop of Peterborough. In his sermon, the Bishop firmly reminded the congregation that each of them had a responsibility for helping Nick and Carolyn to make a success of their ministry with us.
The new Benefice Team faces many of the same challenges that are faced by the Church throughout the country – falling attendances, the struggle to raise income, wonderful-but-expensive-to-maintain churches, and differing preferences on church ritual and so on.
Early on, there was a discussion about Ride+Stride for Churches and the question was raised as to how this splendid event, which was started in Suffolk in 1981 but soon became a national event, could be used to raise awareness amongst local residents of the 10 churches in our Benefice area, six Anglican, three Methodist and one Baptist.
Our idea was to build on the good work being done nationally by the National Churches Trust and in Northamptonshire by the Northamptonshire Historic Churches Trust by organising a series of local Ride+Stride for Churches events which might attract greater local participation than has been the case in recent years. This might in due course lead to increased attendances at our churches, as well as increased income for them and for Northamptonshire Historic Churches Trust. We decided to have a go.
In 2018, our key event will be a Benefice Walk of approximately ten miles mainly along public footpaths which will start after a short prayer service at 9:00am at Warkworth Church, go through Middleton Cheney, Chacombe, Thenford, and Marston St Lawrence and finish at Greatworth at about 3:00pm, visiting all the ten churches on the way with refreshments available at some of them.
The walk is intended to be great fun; it is not a race and participants are welcome to walk at whatever speed suits them best.
There will also be one organised horse ride starting at Great worth at 11:00am and taking a circular route on country lanes to Marston St Lawrence and Thenford and thence back to Greatworth.
Most cyclists prefer to plan their own route, either on their own or with friends. We are therefore not organising a Benefice bike ride this year but the suggestion has been made that we consider organising a “Tour des Eglises de Banburyshire” for next year!
We are encouraging those who do not want to walk or ride a horse or a bike to visit our ten churches in their cars.
To give added excitement to the day, we are organising a quiz, compiled by a respected local historian and based on what participants will see when they visit our ten churches. The winner will receive a specially-commissioned painting by a local botanical artist of a flower or plant of the winner’s choice from amongst those found to be growing in our churchyards on the day of Ride + Stride for Churches.
We are hoping that some of our local organ-players will play church music in some of the churches as the Benefice Walk passes through.
It is important that we work closely with our friends in the other churches in our area. We were delighted to receive an email from the Superintendent of the Methodist Circuit which includes the three Methodist churches in the area of our Benefice saying: “We hope to make this a joyous day with fun, laughter and fund raising. Thank you for all you have done in highlighting this day.”
Our events will be formally opened by Mr James Miller, a Deputy Lieutenant of Northamptonshire, who will start the Benefice Walk at 9:00am at Warkworth. Mr Miller is the author of the detailed descriptions of 100 of our county’s most stunning and historic churches listed on the website of the “Northamptonshire: Britain’s Best surprise” campaign. Three of these churches are in our Benefice.
To make a success of these events, we need as much publicity as we can get. We started this in June with a “Save the Date” announcement calling not only for participants and sponsors but also for volunteers to help organise the events and to keep the churches open for as long as possible. This was widely publicised in local websites, social media, newsletters and local papers. We have now published our programme and are going through the same process with local media.
We have printed 1,000 copies of the programme with copies of the sponsorship form stapled to it, and these are being put on display in churches, shops, pubs and other public places throughout the Benefice. This leaflet has also been delivered door-to-door in six of our villages.
We have also been fortunate to get some coverage for our activities in one national media outlet so far. Octavia Pollock visited our area as we were planning these events and saw a number of our churches. This led to an article on Ride + Stride for Churches which was published in the 25th July edition of Country Life magazine and which refers to our Benefice. We will be able to cite this article as we talk to local media in the run-up to 8th September.
Making the most of the day
All this is great fun and we look forward to seeing how much support we generate this year. But, whatever the result this year, this is not the end of the matter. We hope to build our events in the years ahead so that Ride + Stride for Churches will make a contribution to helping our splendid new Benefice Team to build congregations and to carry out the work of the Church in our Benefice. And thus to enable us to take some small steps towards complying with the urgings of the Bishop of Peterborough at the Service in Middleton Cheney earlier this year.
As with any long established charity event, the enthusiasm for Ride+Stride for Churches can wax and wane. In our Benefice we are determined to make the most of the day and have found that many people really like the idea of getting out and visiting churches whilst also raising money to help keep them in good repair.
In 2017, despite inclement weather, throughout England Ride+Stride for Churches raised around £1.3m. Let’s hope the sun shines on September 8 so that this year even more money is raised both locally and nationally and that more people can experience for themselves the spiritual, community and historical value of our nation’s wonderful church buildings.
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