September 23 2014 Latest news:
Story by: JOHN ELWORTHY
Monday, January 13, 2014
The clergyman spearheading the restoration of St Mary’s at Westry near March will celebrate the official opening by finally retiring.
The Rev Anthony Chandler retired from his other parish, St Peter’s Church, March, but stayed on as voluntary priest in charge at St Mary’s after arsonists destroyed it.
But now, four years after the fire, St Mary’s – which on Monday had its new organ hoisted into position- is within two months or so of being officially re-opened,
The parish will then become the responsibility of The Rev Jenny Webb who will combine duties with that at St Peter’s.
For Mr Chandler it will be a rollercoaster of emotion in coming weeks as the church prepares for an official re-opening by the Bishop of Ely, probably at the end of March.
Before then townsfolk and supporters will be invited to weekend open days to see the extraordinary scale of the works undertaken to restore St Mary’s.
Nearly everything in the church has been built from scratch – the lectern, pulpit, wooden benches, oak carved armchairs and even a new font.
The fire destroyed most of the interior but some of Britain’s top ecclesiastical advisers have worked on the restoration.
“Because of huge public support we’ll have two weekends before the opening so that people can have a look,” said Mr Chandler. “I have already taken many groups round on an informal basis and it’s been the case that if anyone asks then I have been more than happy to show them round.”
Visitors will experience a stunning, awe inspiriting renovation and restoration – and enjoy a church that is remarkably warm!
The church authorities have include air sourced heat pumps which provide instant, eco friendly warmth that can be adjusted within seconds.
Everything about the church has been designed to provide for use by community groups although Mr Chandler believes it could have a massive future for conferences for up to 100 people.
“Every technological device has been added – and for example if a small conference wished to use St Mary’s they could arrange outside caterers to serve food inside our community hall,” he said.
The organ, too, is expected to attract enthusiasts and concerts are likely to flow over the coming years.
The hall has been the temporary home for the congregation which is renowned for maintaining the tradition of The Book of Common Prayer.
Mr Chandler said the move towards re-opening was signalled over Christmas when the bells were pealed for the first since the fire to summon people to morning worship in the hall. Such was the popularity of hearing the bells again that they are now rung again every Sunday.
Under floor heating, moveable furniture, and even a font that could change positions if traditions change, are included.
Mr Chandler is confident the church has an exciting future and says it is “going to catch the eye- it is the vision of the architect working with many people”.