Church marks five decades at the heart of community life
- Credit: Nick Butcher
A popular community church is celebrating a major milestone.
St Luke's Church in Beccles first opened its doors 50 years ago with the message that everyone was welcome.
And five decades later the ethos of the church still remains the same with generations of families using the facility to worship, find friends or access the abundance of clubs available.
Since the church was built, eight vicars have been installed, including the Rev John Beauchamp who was there for 18 years.
And in February the Rev Rich Henderson took over as priest in charge at both St Luke's and St Michael's Church in Beccles.
He leads a parish team, made up of assistant curate Philip Miller, children's worker Lindsay Blankley and administrator Carrie Darnell, although they are supported by a stalwart band of ministry members.
Mr Henderson said: 'It's in St Luke's DNA to serve the community, we are very outward looking. We are always looking to develop the building to serve the groups we have here. The important thing is that we are open all the time and everyone is welcome to come in to explore or just have a cup of tea. For many people, St Luke's is just part of their lives.'
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When the Rigbourne Hill housing estate was planned it was decided that some of the land should be left for a church and by January 1965 detailed plans were available.
On Friday, February 12, 1966, a dedication by the Bishop of Dunwich took place and the initial building was used as both a church and church hall. Several years later it was decided to press ahead with the building of the actual church as all the social events and services were held in one room.
The church was dedicated on September 29, 1973, after more than a decade of planning and fundraising.
A chunk of the money came from the St Luke's Thrift shop in Smallgate, which was set up and run by volunteers taking and selling anything from a pin to a piano.
Geoffrey Earl, 87, was one of the volunteers, and helped out in various roles at the church with his wife Dorothy. He has compiled the history of the church over the years and the couple are still part of the congregation.
He said: 'We moved to the area and we were looking for a Sunday school for our son, so we went to St Luke's. It had just literally been built and I got involved right in the early days.
'I was church warden for 12 years and I was really devoted to it. I was there before there was heating and I used to get up in the morning and light the boilers.
'It is such a focal point, and we've made so many friends. We've both really enjoyed it and we felt like it was something we should do.'
In 2006, Mr Beauchamp and Beccles man John Allport were instrumental in raising £340,000 to rebuild and modernise the church, which is now used by more than 1,000 people a week. The mother and toddler group, Thirst Youth Café for teenagers, the Thursday Lunch Club and Waveney Foodbank are just some of many clubs and organisations that have been set up there.
Some members of the congregation have been worshipping at St Luke's since its inception including Molly Martin, who is part of the ministry team. She said: 'It has grown into exactly what we wished it would be and we are hoping it is going to grow even further.'
Mr Henderson said: 'The key thing is we are one parish with two churches, St Luke's and St Michael's, and they both serve the town, there's a lot of joined up thinking and events and we hope to do more of that.'
He said priorities such as developing the website, social media presence, communication with user groups and extending midweek groups for adults were all going well, alongside St Luke's involvement with schools.
A 50th anniversary festival weekend of celebration will take place next Friday, October 21, with a prayer and praise service at 7.30pm attended by the Archdeacon of Suffolk. It will include the recommissioning of elders.
Then next Saturday, October 22, between 10.30am and 2.30pm, there is an open day with stalls, refreshments and a historical display compiled by church warden Fran Tuck.
And on Sunday, October 23, there is a church cafe with breakfast from 10am and at 4pm a festival service with the Bishop of Dunwich, which will include the licensing of the Rev Philip Miller as associate priest.