A statement was issued on 20th December 2019 from the Archdiocese of Southwark to the Catholic Community of West Malling, and it states:-
"The decision has been taken to make the whole site (The Hermitage, St. Thomas More Church and the nursery) available for sale in the Spring 2020. Offering the whole site for sale will ensure maximum flexibility in any potential transfer",
I would like to register my strongest objection and huge disappointment at the decision as announced just before Christmas. There has been a distinct lack of proper discussion and insufficient detail made available at a local level, when decisions affecting us, such as this, are taken in seeming isolation.
By offering the whole site for sale, the church building will effectively be closed.
I understand that in Canon Law, there needs to be a "grave cause" to close a church building. The decision to close the church seems to be based on the cost of repairs and subsequent sale of the site for The Hermitage. I accept that The Hermitage, which comprises the Bishop's house, the Priest's accommodation and the parish office, requires considerable work and that this is not considered financially viable for the Archdiocese in its current state.
St Thomas More Church however is structurally in good order, and financially viable with a strong community and therefore there is nothing to constitute a "grave cause" to close it. Our church is not a deconsecrated defunct building, therefore, the need to sell the whole site appears to be for the financial benefit of the Archdiocese and ultimately for commercial gain of developers.
The church is the hub of a thriving local Catholic community. It is not only used to celebrate Mass, but also for baptisms, first communions, marriages and funerals. It has been the heart of our parish for 50 years and is closely linked to More Park Catholic Primary School, which is on the same site. The school and church have always depended on each other. Parishioners send their children to the pre-school, [which was created in a converted stable block and largely financed by Parishioner donations relatively recently] and the Primary School, and these children, in turn, will be the next generation of parishioners. Without the church on this site, the cycle will be broken.
Our mission has been to share in the Church's mission by working as educators in the faith through the heart and minds of our children. When many parishes have no young people, our parish has an active youth group, both Junior and Senior. The purpose of these groups is to continue the journey from School to adulthood and in addition maintaining the bonds of friendship when moving through various stages of education. It allows them to move forward with their faith, grow within themselves and share their life experiences. They are an important part of the Parish. They take an active role in Liturgy, workshops and are closely involved in Parish life, taking part in regular meetings, outings, Lent and Advent Penitentials, Youth Masses, and Good Friday Passion plays.
In the past few years there have been a number of funding appeals for developments and improvements; the most major of these was for the renovation of the stable block to house the pre-school, which was largely financed by parishioners. Other regular requests for monies to support Church charities both at home and abroad, Retirement funds for Priests and general maintenance issues on the buildings take place. The most recent of these has been for improvements to the communal driveway, a necessity for continued use by both the School and the Church, not to mention the Hermitage itself.
In the Financial Report and Accounts for the Year ending 2019 (Charity Number 1173050) for the Archdiocese of Southwark, I question whether the charitable objectives as stated below are being followed and acted upon.
"TO ESTABLISH, MAINTAIN OR ADVANCE THE ROMAN CATHOLIC RELIGION IN THE DIOCESE BY ANY ONE OR MORE OF THE CHARITABLE OBJECTS PROMOTED OR SERVED BY THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH WITHIN THE DIOCESE"
Also, on page 21 of the Financial Report it states:-
"Over the recent years, the Trustees have taken several initiatives to protect the value in the large number of buildings owned by the Charity. These include a points scoring system of assessing the condition of the fabric of the churches. Our initial impression is that most buildings are in a reasonable state of repair and the parishes are playing their full part in looking after them. Parishes tend to accumulate funds over a number of years before commencing building works, and often have large balances of money at the bank as a result".
So, my question is - how many points have been awarded to St. Thomas More Church and how does this contribute to the closure decision?
The Church is a gift from God, founded by Jesus Christ, and He continues to teach us through His Church. Our job is to spread the Good News - how can this be accomplished if our church, is closed down. Our thriving faith community will surely dissipate if this decision is upheld? Faith is more important than money.
I therefore request that you seriously consider a reversal of the decision to close St Thomas More Church, and to this end I would certainly suggest a meeting with parishioners to meet and discuss the issue.
Archdiocese of Southwark statement on Parish of St Thomas More, West Malling - www.indcatholicnews.com/news/38714
Kent parish fight to save their church from closure - www.indcatholicnews.com/news/38632
Kent online video report - www.kentonline.co.uk/malling/news/church-and-pre-school-go-up-for-sale-219198/
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