The closure of St Leonards Parish Church for public worship.

Procedures have been completed for St Leonards Parish Church on Marina to be permanently closed, so a service was held on Saturday August 4th 2018.  The aim of the service was that it would be a farewell, a thanksgiving for the past and prayer for the future.

The original St Leonard’s parish church, part of Burton’s St Leonard’s, was destroyed by a V1 flying bomb in 1944.  The main part of the present building was opened in 1955 but the tower was a later addition.  

The rebuilt church was designed by the famous architect Adrian Gilbert Scott and the stained glass windows were the work of Patrick Reyntiens.  The unique features were inspired by Canon Cuthbert Griffiths, rector from 1929 to 1961.   Following a dream, he went to Israel and had the prow of a Galilean fishing boat constructed to form the pulpit.  The ship which brought it here was on its last voyage and the company donated the ship’s binnacle to become the lectern.  Among other special features is a depiction on marble flooring of the fish caught off the coast of Hastings.

From its opening until the mid-1990s the rebuilt church was seen as the flagship Anglican church of the borough, with the largest attendances.  In 1987 a serious landslip occurred to the west of the church but did not breach the church wall.  Then in 1994 a severe mudslide on the west side reached as high as the vestry windows.

Serious problems were also developing inside the building.  The stonework was crumbling because of its very close proximity to the sea.  The first threat of closure came in 1994 and proceedings were started to share the Methodist church in Norman Road (now a block of flats).  But the arrival of a new Bishop of Lewes led to a reprieve.  Funds were raised and grants obtained to carry out the most pressing repair work and the remaining members rallied round to give the church a new lease of life.

But the problems with the building persisted and the risk of further landslips continued, so sadly the life of the church could no longer continue based that building. The life of the church family had already merged with that St Ethelburga’s and continues to thrive there.

This is a report of the day of the service from Bernard Perkins:-

On a sunny Saturday afternoon on August 4th some 38 people met on the steps of St.Leonard’s church to offer prayers of thanks for all that had taken place on that site since the consecration of the original building in 1834. This was the prelude to a more formal Service of Thanksgiving which took place immediately thereafter in St.Ethelburga’s church. Led by the Rev Mike Coe and attended by 85+ people it afforded all an opportunity to say goodbye to this much loved building. Many people had travelled large distances to be there and we heard numerous accounts of how the church (and its people) had been a positive influence on individuals’ lives. Rev Coe read an extract from a letter written by Canon Griffiths at the time of the WWII bombing; it spoke of the need to focus on people as opposed to buildings and of seeking the fruits of the Spirit in our church communities. Words delivered at a time of great change and upheaval; words equally relevant to today’s community. The service concluded with tea, refreshments and a time of fellowship during which past friendships and acquaintances were renewed and I suspect a few new ones forged.’

Among those taking part in the service were Richard Harrison.  He and his wife Mary were married in the temporary church, in former swimming baths in West Hill Road, while the church was being rebuilt.  They have been involved in the church ever since. Ronald Brooks (sadly no longer with us) and his sister Jean were also still active church members.  As children they attended the church primary school, which was then in Mercatoria, and remember the VE Day celebration amid the ruins of the old church. 

Also at the service were representatives of the thriving youth group of the 1960s. Now in their seventies and widely scattered, more than 20 of them have held two reunions in recent years and contribute to a regular online newsletter.