The civil parish of Ashburnham and Penhurst is located in the beautiful countryside of East Sussex and includes the villages of Ashburnham
and Penhurst. The villages are served by two Parish churches, Ashburnham St. Peter’s and St. Michael the Archangel, Penhurst which form the benefice. There is also a small independent Chapel in the centre of Ashburnham village.
The villages are very rural, yet within a 25 mile radius lie the seaside resorts of Bexhill-on-Sea, Hastings and Eastbourne and the historic towns of Battle, Hailsham and Tunbridge Wells, with London only 90 minutes away by train.
The electoral register for the villages of Ashburnham and Penhurst is approximately 350 and there are 64 names on the church roll for the
Parish Church of Ashburnham St Peter’s, with about 75% being non-resident and drawn to us from other local communities in East Sussex.
Ashburnham is a scattered village with a vibrant and active community. Many residents are involved with agriculture, and whilst there are a
high number of retired villagers, there are also a number of young families. Although there is no village school, with children travelling to avariety of neighbouring village schools, there is a private pre-school nursery, “The Farmyard”.
The Village Hall is home to the table tennis club, the local theatrical society, an after school club and other village events.
A well-loved country pub, The Ash Tree Inn, plays a key role in the village, hosting a number of community events, including a well attended
monthly pub quiz. Both the WI and MI (Men’s Institute) are well supported by villagers of all ages, including members of the local churches.
The Sports Pavilion hosts many activities including art and yoga groups, cricket and stool ball clubs and the Village Fete and Flower Show.
The village is currently seeking planning permission to build a new Village Hall adjacent to the Pavilion designed to accommodate all the
clubs and groups as well as to cater for the wider needs of a village community in the 21st century.
A significant part of the village remains part of the historic Ashburnham Estate, which provides private rented housing and includes a number of tenanted farms. The Ashburnham Estate is very supportive of church and village life, providing many of the amenities in the village.
In the middle of the village stands Ashburnham Place with attractive grounds and lakes. This is a large interdenominational Prayer and Conference Centre in the care of the Ashburnham Christian
Trust [ACT] who appointed joint General Directors Paul Wenham and Andy Proudfoot in September 2012. They are young and energetic and with their dynamic team have made a significant impact on the
around them and further afield into Hastings and beyond. The Trust provides its own informal services to which all are welcome. Similarly, the Ashburnham Place staff, volunteers and visitors are made welcome at St Peter’s church. Several of the staff team attend regularly and are a very supportive part of our church family. The Trustees of the ACT are the Patrons of the Parish Churches.
In Penhurst, there is a small, flourishing Christian Retreat Centre
which is open to all and offers a comprehensive programme of
retreats and quiet days as well as a prayerful space for guests to come and meet with God. The Centre also offers support to mission partners and those in full-time Christian work both nationally and globally.
The church has grown in the last ten years and we consider ourselves to be a very supportive church family. In line with the Diocesan Strategy the church has developed a Vision Statement with key objectives which are reviewed and updated regularly by the PCC.
Attendance has grown from below 20 to over 60 at the weekly Sunday service, which is currently held at 10.30 am.
At present there is an All Age service on the first Sunday of the month which is shorter and designed to attract families with young children, whilst being accessible for adults of all ages. Holy Communion is celebrated on the fourth Sunday, with Morning Praise on the second and
third Sundays. Private, confidential prayer and healing ministry is on offer after the communion service and is available on request at other times.
The musical worship includes a combination of traditional hymns and modern worship songs, with visiting pianists and members of congregation playing piano or guitar. The organ is used for special
services. Services include modern and creative liturgy,
and a time of sharing with each other.
All baptised members of other denominations are welcome to receive Communion and children who have not been confirmed may receive Communion, with family permission and after appropriate preparation.
Currently lay people lead the services, intercessions and read at most Sunday services. In 2016 there were three weddings, three funerals, and no baptisms.
Over recent years we have developed a Pastoral Team offering a listening ear, prayer, home Holy Communion or hospital visiting to villagers and church family. Additionally there are boxes for confidential prayer request cards inside and outside the church which are very well used together with a church pastoral prayer book and email alerts to the pastoral team and church family so that prayer requests can be circulated more widely.
The congregation is made up of a wide variety of members, from pre-school children to 80-year-olds with several young families and many members in full-time employment. Our information board states "All Welcome" and that is how we genuinely feel. We are fortunate to have within the congregation many capable and gifted people who are committed team players, supporting each other, our church and community.
There are two thriving house groups, one based in Ashburnham and one in Battle. We value our house groups and encourage regular membership. We have a monthly evening prayer meeting for any members
of the congregation to attend, a weekly Monday morning church prayer meeting and a Christianity Explored group was run by our incumbent and his wife in the Autumn of 2016.
There is also a Supper Club, which meets monthly to give support and fellowship to the busy working members of our church family who find the commitment to regular weekly Bible Studies almost impossible.
CHILDREN AND YOUTH
The children’s group has expanded from a register of 5 to 20 in recent times with children ranging in age from 4 to 16. We offer Sunday School
for the 4 – 11 year olds and Sunday Club for the 11 – 16 year olds during all Sunday morning services other than the All Age service. Children join their parents in church at the end of the service for communion on the 4th Sunday. Sunday School leaders use material from Scripture Union orsimilar resources, including singing, Bible stories and other activities.
The Autumn 2016 programme for the Sunday Club has included an adapted version of ‘Alpha’ followed by a meal in The Orangery [the Café in the grounds of Ashburnham Place] on Sunday mornings and this has been enthusiastically attended. We have an experienced and committed Youth and Children's Co-ordinator together with a Safeguarding Co-ordinator and Deputies and there is a team of Youth and Children's Workers from within the congregation who run the Sunday groups on a rota system.
OUTREACH TO THE COMMUNITY
St Peter's is especially keen to encourage fellowship between the congregation and the village and wider community. Until recently a coffee morning attracting local villagers has met in the Church Hall twice monthly and in the local Chapel once a month. A lunch group with a speaker also met monthly.
The church funds and resources the publication of a monthly Parish Magazine circulated to all households in the village giving details of all events, activities and groups. The incumbent writes a letter to parishioners for each publication. A copy of a parish magazine accompanies this profile.
Over the last three years St. Peter’s Men’s Breakfast group has been meeting four times a year. The group attracts over 40 men who share fellowship over a ‘Full-English’ breakfast at Ashburnham Place followed by a Christian speaker. Members of the church also participate in all the groups and clubs that take place in the village. A Play Café supported by the church runs weekly during term time for parents and toddlers.
In 2016 our ‘Outdoor Church’ services celebrated the key events in the farming calendar - Plough Sunday, Rogation and Harvest as well as a service of thanksgiving in the marquee on the Sunday
after the Country Fair and Flower Show. Holding such services on local farms and the cricket field has widened our outreach and deepened relationships with our local community. Another notable annual
occasion in the village is a short Remembrance Sunday service held outside at the Village War Memorial with a considerable number of villagers attending and enjoying a social gathering afterwards.
The Christmas candlelit Carol Service and Christmas Eve Nativity Christingle Service have
also proved popular with local residents.
St. Peter’s Church is listed in the Domesday Book and dates from the Norman Conquest. Much of the present structure dates from the later Middle Ages, but it was extensively restored by the Ashburnham family in the 17th century as a thank offering to God.
The church is Grade 1 on the Statutory List of Buildings of Historic or Architectural Interest. The church central heating has recently been overhauled, the lighting circuit rewired and the sound and overhead projection systems updated. Currently there is a programme of work in place to undertake a full range of projects resulting from the recent Quinquennial inspection.
There is a Church Hall nearby, also within the grounds of Ashburnham Place, which hosts evening meetings, after church fellowship, Sunday children’s work, a Play Cafe for parents and toddlers and the local Gardening Club to mention a few. Full redecoration and electrical work has recently been completed in the hall together with new flooring throughout.
There is disabled access into the Church and the Church Hall but internal improvements still need to be made to the Church in order to fully accommodate those with limited mobility.
Bell ringers – an active group has re-formed in the last two years who practise on Thursday evenings and ring every Sunday morning. They are also availablefor weddings and special services.
St Peter’s helps to support several mission partners and in 2016 we were able to maintain the amount we tithe at almost £5000. In 2016 we gave to Lama House in the Philippines, Grassroots Suicide Prevention, Romance Academy, Penhurst Retreat Centre bursary fund, Ashburnham Christian Trust Volunteers and Hastings Street Pastors.
The generosity of the church family has enabled us to pay all of the Parish Share that is requested of us by the Diocese. St. Peter’s also pays all the costs of the House for Duty Incumbent, including the rental of a delightful 4 bedroom house within the parish which is kindly provided by the Ashburnham Estate.
The incumbent will be supported by two Churchwardens, two Deputy Churchwardens and an enthusiastic PCC currently consisting of eleven members in total. The PCC will at all times seek to proactively support the new incumbent in every possible way. They are currently seeking to share many of the duties involved between themselves and church members as one united team.
Born in South London, Peter went to the local CofE Primary school, where he says: ‘the seeds were sown for my Christian life and future calling’.
The family moved to Sussex when Peter was 12 years of age and attended a CofE Grammar school. Upon leaving school he began his career with a well known High Street bank. Even before then he felt God’s calling on his life.
After six years with the bank, completing some banker’s examinations, Peter travelled to Australia where he joined the Society of the Sacred Mission in Adelaide. The Society had its Mother House in Kelham, Nottinghamshire, but had moved some of its work to South Australia at the invitation of the local Archbishop. Their mission was to train young men for ordination.
Four years later and after rigorous examinations and a lot of domestic work (he always said that he could get a job as a domestic if he never was ordained) Peter began his ministry in the State of Tasmania. He had barely been made a priest when the Bishop asked him to care for eight churches in the North East of the Island along a valley of 45 miles. Later he served two churches in the North West of Tasmania.
Returning to England and having found his Australian wife Diana, Peter was appointed to a group of rural parishes in the Diocese of Lincoln. After seven years he moved to Somerset to the Diocese of Bath & Wells where he was based in the delightful National Trust village of Selworthy and caring for four parish churches and two chapels-of-ease. After this he moved out to Spain and served in the biggest Diocese in the world – Europe – as a chaplain to ex-pats. Of the three and a half years there he says that ‘it was one of the more challenging, yet exciting times of my ministry’. Returning once more to England he went to the Diocese of Rochester where he cared for five rural/semi-rural parishes.
Having completed seven years there he moved to East Devon to look after another five rural parishes close to the market town of Honiton. Looking forward to retirement he read an advert in the ‘Church Times’ advertising Ashburnham and Penhurst. For some reason both he and Diana felt that God was saying ‘not quite time for retirement’. Besides which they had both been to Ashburnham Place before at day meetings and conferences.
Peter is a great lover of cricket and trained as an umpire at the County ground, Taunton, and has umpired many ‘Church Times Cup’ matches as well as local league cricket. Peter also has sung in choirs over the years, singing the Bass line. Whilst in Somerset he sang in a male voice quintet.
Whilst in his Devon parishes he took part in a number of Amateur productions. He says his favourite was ‘Allo Allo’ in which he played a particularly nasty German SS Officer!
Peter has a love of the Church’s Healing Ministry and anticipates sharing this with others. Peter and Diana look forward to the next stage of their pilgrimage as they move South East once again. Of the move, Peter says: ‘It’s amazing how God has led me to so many varied and challenging places over my years of ministry and how I have seen God working. It’s an exciting time of discovery, and I look forward to sharing this continuing pilgrimage with all my new parishioners and ‘loving people to Holiness’.