OUR RECENT HISTORY
When Roger Ryan was appointed our new vicar in 1988, St Mary’s church and hall both had an unloved and unkempt appearance.
We all wondered what the future held. Could it be renewal or perhaps demolition!
Both were options because our buildings were in such a dangerous state of neglect and disrepair. Almost everything required attention:
- The electrical installation was condemned and the nave was illuminated by a handful of household light bulbs inside a few of the high pendants. Bare wires were visible.
- No heating in the church.
- About half the windows along the Wimbledon Road side were broken and many were sealed up with tape and cardboard. Others were covered in grime and dirt. From time to time pigeons found their way into church.
- The church floor was dirty and wood blocks were in need of repair.
- The wooden front doors of the vestibule were covered on both sides with sheets of blue painted hardboard.
- The vestibule ceilings were covered with white polystyrene tiles.
- Two areas of the nave were partitioned by large wall boards fixed to metal frames, one for children’s meetings the other for storage. The interiors were dirty, smelly and untidy with miscellaneous collections of furniture and debris; a disgusting mess!
- Part of the nave was used for storage. A publisher stored boxes of books on twelve wooden pallets. Furniture was stored from another church which was in the process of rebuilding. Clothes and household items were stacked on pews and covered with bedspreads awaiting the next jumble sale. A theatre group stored costumes and equipment.
The small congregation had been concerned for many years about the daunting size of the church which was built in 1904 to seat a congregation of 900 and was viewed as a burden rather than a resource.
St Mary’s church was thought to be too big and expensive for a small elderly congregation to maintain.
In 1980 there had been provisional discussions to begin the long process of demolishing both the church and hall. It was thought that the whole site could be redeveloped for housing and a smaller church.
The temporary wooden hall, built in 1968, was also regarded as an embarrassment and a liability:
- The flat roof leaked rain water into twelve plastic washing-up bowls.
- Heating was provided by four smelly calor-gas stoves.
- The hall had a cold unwelcoming atmosphere with walls and cupboards painted white and blue with blue and brown carpet tiles.
- The entrance floor of the hall was damp, often wet, and broken.
- Storage was inadequate.
- The smelly toilets and kitchen were in urgent need of renovation.
- The hall was rented to a Montessori day-nursery school whose teachers complained to our new vicar and requested improvement.
This was a daunting task for a new vicar to take on and attempt to put to rights.
The author, Anne Townsend, who had recently been ordained and had taken up a training post at St George’s Hospital chaplaincy, visited Roger in 1989 to hear his story and write an essay as part of her course. In the concluding words of her honest report she referred to him when she wrote, ‘I would not like to be that man facing those tasks!’
Roger says that two things attracted him to our parish.
First, Summerstown was vacant which gave him and his family the opportunity to move back to London from Laceby and Irby near Grimsby in the Diocese of Lincoln.
Second, there was work to be done. He was aware that Summerstown was not going to be an easy parish in which he might do well by building on the good foundation work done by previous incumbents and then move on in a few years to something more prestigious. Summerstown was to be a long-term task.
Roger and Pauline moved into Summerstown vicarage in August 1988 with their three daughters, Sarah age 15, Vanessa 10 and Zoe 8, accompanied by their dog ‘Jess’, ‘Tigger’ the cat and two pet rabbits.
The aim from the beginning was to respect the church that the Reverend John Robinson and his congregation built in 1904. Roger admits that the church is big, but as he says:
What’s wrong with big? 'Big' implies awe and wonder. Big means dreaming big dreams and setting goals. We need to think big thoughts about God and be inspired about the prospect of participating in services of worship in a roomy church such as ours. However, I am well aware that ‘big’ implies maintenance and paying bills for insurance and heating. Lets get on with it.
Roger has always argued that with good management and a policy of thrift, there is no reason for the vicar or Parochial Church Council (PCC) members to be intimidated by the task in hand. St Mary’s church and hall would take ten years to put right.
This is the same historical task that is draw to the attention of those entrusted with the responsibility for church buildings, for example see 'An Homily for Repairing and Keeping Clean and Comely Adorning of Churches', in Certain Sermons or Homilies Appointed to be Read in Churches in the times of Queen Elizabeth of Famous Memory (London: SPCK, 1864), 284-290, and Marcus Binney and Peter Burman, Change and Decay: The Future of Our Churches (London: Studio Vista, 1977).
GETTING ON WITH WHAT NEEDED TO BE DONE
Our new vicar visited each member of the congregation and assured them that St Mary’s had a future and that we would all be a part of it.
Sadly, some members who had said they wanted the new vicar ‘to get things done’ and promised their support, thought it was all too much and left.
Between 1988 and 1992—when we met in the church hall for Sunday services during the winter because it was the only space that could be heated—the congregation generally numbered less than fifteen.
A dozen or so plastic washing-up bowls were placed on the hall floor to collect water from the leaking roof, heating was by the four calor-gas heaters and often there was no one available to play our old tuneless upright piano.
In the spring of 1989 Roger emptied the church of all debris, junk and rubbish which he took to Wandsworth tip in many trips in his car.
It is fortunate that our vicar is a practical hands-on type of clergyman. He dismantled the ugly metal and board partitions in the nave. Gordon, the part-time caretaker, cleaned and helped to repair the broken windows. Stored items were collected by their owners.
Roger says that he got the dirtiest that that he has ever been in his adult life. He used a crow-bar and hammer and brush and broom as much as he used his Bible and prayer book.
Roger is grateful to the few volunteers who worked with him.
The church was clean and tidy in time for Matthew’s baptism on Palm Sunday 1989 when Bishop Simon—who had been Roger’s Bishop in Lincoln Diocese and was then assistant Bishop in Southwark—led the congregation in the re-dedication of our church.
We could now see that we had a wonderful church with a sound roof. The PCC took the advice of their newly appointed architect, Brian Anderson of Purcell, Miller and Tritton, and made a substantial ‘shopping list’ of improvements for a conservation scheme which included:
- Miscellaneous roof lead and slate repairs.
- Rewiring and new lighting.
- New heating installation.
- Cleaning of all interior stone and some exterior stone.
- Nave floor sanded and sealed.
- The building of a central carpeted nave dais.
- A frontal for the Holy Communion table.
- Sound system with induction loop.
- New churchyard tarmac.
- Floodlighting and security lighting.
- New notice boards.
- Both vestries to be repaired, decorated and rewired with new lighting.
- Repairs and cleaning of the church bell to bring it into use.
- Cleaning and updating the list of past vicars of the parish sited in church.
- Improve and repair almost everything as required in the church hall.
The PCC took further advice and decided to keep the temporary wooden hall because, on inspection, the structure was sounder than previously thought.
With a practical vicar, church wardens Beryl Taylor and Bert Mansfield and small supportive work-parties, we got on with it. Jack Holloway, who had been church warden for over fifty years and was in his eighties, was sincere when he said that he would do all he could to help. Sadly Jack died in 1992 and his wife Betty died in 2003.
We are very pleased that the restoration is almost complete. Special works were done under faculties and architect’s instructions by two contractors in 1990 and 1994.
We benefited from the good practical support of church members, parishioners and friends of St Mary's who used their skills and gave their time. Arthur removed dangerous gas fittings. Lily cleaned the brass and almost everything else. Elsie cleaned and polished the church and painted the ladies' toilet.
Anthony Easterbrooke designed the church lighting. Electricians from Wimbledon Stadium (the dog track) rewired the church free of charge as 'an act of service to the community' which was partly funded by the Sunday Market Organization.
Church warden Bert Mansfield decorated the vestries and the hall inside and out. Others helped out from time to time.
We are particularly grateful to have had the help over the years of the part-time church caretakers Gordon, Alan and Peter, who have kept the church and hall clean, cut the grass and did the fetching and carrying. Roger says he is grateful for their support and friendship.
You may wonder what our vicar did. Roger was ‘project manager’, he drove the works forward, wrote letters, made telephone calls, attended meetings, begged and scrounged for funds and fittings and made tea. As he says, ‘I ducked and dived and tried to make things happen’.
Generous grants came from Wandsworth Borough Council, the Ninds Wandsworth Church Trust, the Millennium Commission (towards floodlighting), and Marshals Charity and kind donations from individuals. We did thousands of pounds of work ourselves on a volunteer basis.
In 1991 we published our parish audit appropriately entitled The Lord is Here and we were grateful for the support of Captain Ken Ashby of the Church Army who worked with us for a month. Staff from The Arts Business typed the manuscript.
The Right Reverend Peter Selby, the Bishop of Kingston, said that he was ‘immensely impressed’ with the audit which he said shows that ‘some of the difficulties that the church has had in the past are rooted in the kind of area that Summerstown is’, and added, ‘it seems to me to release one from the sense of failure or the search for someone to blame’. The vicar and churchwardens were grateful for those comments.
The Archdeacon of Wandsworth thought the audit to be ‘one of the best’ he had seen.
A previous Area Dean of Tooting, the Reverend Ian Kitteringham, encouraged us when he said that our audit was beautifully produced and revealed ‘the strengths of a small committed community’. Ian’s letter (January 22, 1992) contained wise advice and he concluded with the hope that not too much depended on the vicar and his family for the future. Ian was an encourager and his comments were perceptive.
A popular article appeared in the London Evening Standard and the South London Press (August 30, 1996) with the headline It’s Marry-ing Monroe! Above Roger’s photograph with warm air from the church floor heating grill raising his cassock. We were much amused by how the article opened:
He may not be as sexy as Marilyn Monroe posing on top of a draughty drain but the Reverend Roger Ryan is causing quite a flutter.
A headline in the Wandsworth Borough News (September 20, 1996) read 'Challenge Roger' helps resurrect crumbling church to its former glory. We particularly appreciated the caption beneath a photograph of the church which read:
The pride and joy of Rev Roger Ryan who lovingly restored his church from its derelict mess that he found it in eight years ago to its original 1904 architectural style.
WORKING WITH A VISION
A scheme like ours cannot be done without vision, leadership and motivation.
At times this has felt like a single handed task; sometimes Roger has felt very alone. He says that it would have been easy to have been intimidated by the problems, to grumble and to leave feeling a failure. He has often felt isolated which he admits may be due to a combination of his own way of working and because he has not wanted to burden parishioners with dangerous and heavy work on the church and hall because they all have their own work and responsibilities.
Sadly there are those in church life who promise much but prove unreliable.
Roger says further that some of the errors of the more distant past at St Mary’s have been made due to the congregation thinking that nothing in church life happens without prayer.
In the past, there have been many lengthy devout prayer meetings but little has changed as a result.
Those who have been faithful in prayer have told of feeling confused and disheartened when prayer has been offered but problems were not addressed. Roger’s approach has been different.
He says that prayer is designed to be an empowering and practical experience which drives petitioners forward.
What we pray for, we work at. His aim has been to give attention to what needs to be done. Roger believes in prayer and has regularly led us in prayer about our problems and projects; sometimes he has been robust with God (Psalm 44) and asked God where he has been and what is he doing!
Our vicar has also been willing to take risks and to make mistakes. He has seen what needed to be done and has got on with it. It has been our policy to work positively with our vicar rather than to negatively bemoan the problems.
BERT MANSFIELD AND BERYL TAYLOR
Sadly church warden Beryl Taylor died in 1997. The PCC was grateful for her friendship and support and for her ‘hands-on’ approach to her responsibilities.
We were also very sad and felt lost as a congregation when church warden Bert Mansfield died in 2003. Bert had been in office for about twelve years and he is remembered with affection for being a solid reassuring presence.
Today St Mary’s has a Sunday attendance of about 40 plus children and we generally welcome visitors.
Church services are accessible and easy to follow. Preaching is expository and popular in style.
A tea rota of helpers and a sides-person’s rota ensure that the church is a hospitable and comfortable place on a Sunday morning.
The church bell is rung to time for ten minutes before the service.
It is our policy to welcome and include children in our Sunday worship; our children are 'the church of today'.
We hold a thriving Sunday School on the first, third and fifth Sundays and present imaginative episodes of Biblical Storytelling during Morning Service on the second and fourth Sundays.
We are a friendly multi-racial congregation and we all get on very well together.
However, we do not want to remain the same and we look for the blessing of new people. We are willing and ready to cope with growth.
Generally there is a lot of laughter at PCC meetings, we conclude business before 9pm and we are not afraid to make decisions or to spend money when necessary.
This website is proving to be a unique tool for local information, evangelism and national and international communication.
Jean Shults serves as a Southwark Pastoral Auxiliary and does well to visit the elderly, lead the intercessions, lead the new Sunday School jointly with Pauline Ryan and quietly get on with things behind the scenes.
We are fortunate to have two fine churchwardens in Winston Belgrave and newly elected Eustace Jeffrey.
John Newbigin is PCC secretary. We also consider ourselves fortunate to have the services of talented musicians.
Gregory plays the piano on the second and fourth Sundays and Anna on the third Sunday. We are looking out for the participation of other musicians.
In 2004 we celebrated the Church Centennial. Centenary years do not come round very often, when they do it is important that they are celebrated.
We marked the centennial with a Confirmation Service during which our candidates were presented to Bishop Richard.
We also purchased two presents for ourselves: a baby grand piano (in memory of Jack and Betty Holloway) and the installation of a new kitchen in the church hall. We have much to celebrate and for which to be thankful.
You matter! was our recent two-year mission project (2007-2009) that had a title and theme which spoke into the harsh and raw times in which we live.
MR DESMOND SIMPSON
We are very sad to announce the death of Desmond our churchwarden who died peacefully at home after a long illness. His Funeral Service took place in church on Thursday, 14 April 2011.
Desmond was fine Christian gentleman who took his duties at St Mary's very seriously. He had a ready smile of friendly welcome for members of the congregation and for visitors. Desmond was our 'greeter' and we miss him.
Desmond is now at peace and in the company of the Lord Jesus he loved and served. We send our love and sympathy to Linda at this sad time.
Our vicar often comments that it is a delight to work with a supportive PCC and a friendly congregation in what has become a good parish in which to live and work despite the occasional problem and setback. As a congregation we are committed to Summerstown.
Our architect for the church and church hall is Keith Garner who recently completed health and safety renovation of the lych gate in the church yard. Keith has also recently assisted us to make urgent repairs to the church hall roof/ceiling in order to meet health and safety requirements.
The Montessori Nursery School, that leases the church hall on week days during school terms, is in the capable hands of new owner Liz Maitland. We wish her every success.
Even though Tuesday, 9th August 2011 was a bad day for London and for other cities in England, it was a good day for St Mary's. The last of the remaining junk, rubbish and debris, that was uncovered in the church in the early days, was collected with the two broken upright pianos and disposed of. Both church and hall and rooms are finally clean and tidy. Alleluia!
There was a good conclusion to 2013 with the Remembrance Sunday Service when Sadiq Khan Tooting MP was our guest, the visit of the Bishop of Southwark and the Confirmation of ten candidates, and the church was full for the annual visit of children, staff and parents for Smallwood School Christmas Service, scroll Our Picture Gallery.
Preparations to mark the centenary of World War 1 are well under way.
Local historian and Keeper of the Church War Memorial, Mr Geoff Simmons has researched those who have come to be locally known as The Summerstown Sunday School Three. They were three Sunday School teachers who were killed in World War 1 and whose names appear on a dedicated stone plaque recently rediscovered by Roger under a compost heap in the vicarage back garden!
The plaque was originally erected in a church hall in the 1930s and was mislaid when the hall was demolished. The 'three' are also named on St Mary's Church War Memorial among 182 others living in Summerstown, who volunteered and were robbed of their lives.
World War 1 will be marked at St Mary's by services in August and November and by Geoff's dedicated website: www.summerstown182.wordpress.com
I am sorry that much has been left out by not including the events of recent years but even historians have their limitations.
During the past three years Roger and Pauline have been looking for retirement accommodation in London with limited recourses during a 'housing crisis'. Thankfully a flat came up in Carshalton in December last year. Roger says it was an anxious time and 'a near run thing'.
Their last day, after 30 years in Summerstown, will be Sunday, 19th November which is also Roger's 70th birthday. Everyone invited.
It seems that the Church of England is ageist and vicar's have to go at 70!
Let's say thank you to Roger and Pauline, congratulate them on their retirement and give them a good send off!
Our three parish priorities are simply these:
to offer praise and thanksgiving to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
to keep the church, hall and grounds clean, tidy and safe for all users,
to continue to be available to the people of Summerstown parish.
Roy Garner (The Summerstown Historian)
© St Mary's PCC 2010 (revised 2014)