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Faith and confidence enable vital improvements to one of our churches

First published on: 17th March 2023

Faith and determination have delivered vital improvements at St John the Baptist, Low Bentham in the far western corner of our Ripon Episcopal Area.

The village sits a stone’s throw from Lancashire and Cumbria and 14th C St John’s became the parish church for the communities of High and Low Bentham some 12 years ago.

The church is mentioned in the Domesday Book and pillaging Scots destroyed an early building after the Battle of Bannockburn. The tower built afterwards, around 1340, remains to this day. The church was rebuilt in 1822 and then again in 1876 with a porch and new entrance door added in 1891.

And now St John’s has just finished its latest reincarnation and offers a versatile worship space, sparkling new toilets and a cleverly-designed concealable kitchen that vanishes behind sliding doors so the grand west door may be used on ceremonial occasions.

The entrance is now more welcoming and new visitors this year include children from Bentham Community School - able to stay for much longer, thanks to the new amenities.

“It’s a now an ancient church building fit for today and hopefully for generations to come,” said David Channing, one of the churchwardens and part of the Building Committee that oversaw the £350k project that began April 2021.

Fellow churchwarden Christine Bosman summed up the confidence that helped push the project ahead, despite not having full funding at the outset: “It was a leap of faith really!

“We felt that if God wanted us to do all this, then he would provide the wherewithal – and he did.”

St John’s treasurer Libby Wheildon said the church was £100k short of the total, but pressed on by paying for work in stages: “We knocked on a lot of doors and had a lot of rejections, but we received wonderfully generous support from the All Churches Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Harold and Alice Bridges Trust. Grants were also received from the Diocese of Leeds and the Beatrice Laing Foundation.

“The local community were with us too and people donated £12,000 which paid half the cost of our new chairs that replaced the pews.”

Lay Minister Judith Johnson said one of the arduous tasks was obtaining the necessary approvals and permissions for changes to the church – including the upcoming removal of its defunct organ, last played in 1993.

“I have to say the staff of Diocesan Advisory Committee were extremely helpful in us getting all the faculties we needed,” Judith said.

The project began under the last rector, the Revd Anne Russell, who returned earlier this year to dedicate the completed work in a special service and as St John’s seeks a new incumbent, it is more than fit for active service.

The schoolchildren  will be back for their Easter Service, there will be an Easter Egg Bingo run in a the nearby Victoria Institute on Friday, March 31 and St John’s will be home to flowers and cream teas on the Easter Sunday and Easter Monday afternoons.

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