The churches that make us: Chapel on the Hill, Sedlescombe
In the first of a new series covering the breadth of churches in the URC, Reform visits Sedlescombe, East Sussex
It’s all been God-led,’ says Marie Jackson. ‘We didn’t plan to do it at all.’ She and her husband Peter came to the village of Sedlescombe near Hastings to retire, but instead have been involved in a remarkable transformation.
The Chapel on the Hill was built in Sedlescombe in 1879, for a congregation of 400 who had been using an outhouse without heating or a door. Six years later, a group separated and built their own Congregational church next door, but after 20 years it closed and became a police station. In our own century, with a shrinking congregation, the church had been kept open through the efforts, especially, of Doreen Meredith, the chapel’s elder.
Marie and Peter first came to a service here on a December’s afternoon in 2015. ‘It was cold and dark, the church was surrounded by hedges and we couldn’t see any lights,’ says Peter. ‘We opened the big wooden door and I put my foot inside and I’ve never felt a feeling like it in my life. I felt: This is it. This is the place that God wants us to be.’
Doreen welcomed them with a beautiful smile. ‘We later found out’, says Marie, ‘they’d been praying for years for a couple to join them.’
Marie and Peter asked how they could be useful, and threw themselves into renovating the church building and the manse, which had been empty for 17 years. The project received unexpected help: a huge ash tree fell through the church roof during Storm Angus in 2016, and a local charity offered their building for Sunday services; after that, the church was reopened in four months. Marie and Peter moved into the manse and renovated the garden as a community space….
Stephen Tomkins is Editor of Reform
This is an extract from an article published in the February 2022 edition of Reform