This Profile was produced in January 2021, prior to the appointment of Revd Gary Cregeen
St Peter’s Ashburnham is a very rural parish in the beautiful East Sussex countryside, close to the historic town of Battle. Our village has a strong sense of community and support, which the church contributes to. We are a gathered church with members coming from around the area to enjoy an open evangelical approach to worship and fellowship.
We are seeking a Priest in Charge who is a good communicator with strong pastoral skills. We would welcome someone who is willing to become involved with village life and draw people to faith, and who is comfortable leading formal and informal services.
We offer a supportive church family and PCC who contribute to all aspects of church life, along with a delightful family house in the village.
Our vision is to draw alongside those in our community to share our faith, both through church services and friendship. We aim to become more confident disciples through Bible teaching and the power of the Holy Spirit, as we support and encourage each other.
Within the Benefice there are two Parish churches, St Peter’s Ashburnham and St Michael the Archangel, Penhurst. There is also a small independent Chapel in the centre of Ashburnham village. St Peter’s church building is uniquely situated in the grounds of Ashburnham Place Christian Conference and Prayer Centre. The Benefice is within the Deanery of Bexhill and Battle.
The Benefice of Ashburnham with Penhurst is located in the beautiful countryside of East Sussex. The villages are very rural, with no public transport, 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 mins away by train. The electoral register for the villages of Ashburnham and Penhurst is approximately 355.
Ashburnham is a scattered village with a vibrant and active community. Many residents are involved with agriculture, and whilst there is a high number of retired villagers, there are also a number of young families. There is a wide range of social backgrounds and income levels. Although there is no village school, with children travelling to a variety 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, and other well-attended 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 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 also hosts many activities including a monthly coffee morning, an art group, cricket and stool ball clubs, and the Village Fete and Flower Show. The Parish Council is currently seeking 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 often through its charitable arm, The Ashburnham Thanksgiving Trust (“ATT”).
In the middle of the village stands Ashburnham Place with its 220 acres of “Capability” Brown landscaped grounds and lakes. This is now a large interdenominational Prayer and Conference Centre owned by a registered charity, the Ashburnham Christian Trust (“ACT”). The Orangery Tea Room, within Ashburnham Place, attracts many visitors who walk in the grounds and visit the church. In Penhurst there is a small and flourishing Christian Retreat Centre which offers retreats and quiet days, specialising in support to mission partners and those in full-time Christian work both nationally and globally.
We seek to keep Jesus at the centre, undergirding all that we do with prayer and in the power of the Holy Spirit, recognising the unique nature and needs of the church and parish. Members are friends supporting each other through difficulties, illness and setbacks. We mourn and rejoice together. Over recent years St Peter’s has been a haven for those who are hurting as well as a warm welcoming body of Christ to all who come.
The congregation is made up of a wide variety of members, from pre-school children to 80-year-olds with several 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.
In line with the Diocesan Strategy the church has developed a Vision Statement which is reviewed regularly by the PCC:
The current season of the pandemic has meant that many plans and intentions have, in various ways, inevitably been tested or suspended. We very much welcome new and creative ways to work together, to address the way forward and bring God’s vision into being.
Average attendance in 2019 was around 50 at the weekly 10.30am Sunday service and there are 60 names excluding children, on the church roll for St Peter’s, with about 75% being non-resident and drawn to us from other local communities.
Our service pattern is an All Age service on the first Sunday of the month which is usually lay led, shorter and designed to attract families, whilst being accessible for adults of all ages. Holy Communion is celebrated on the second and fourth Sundays, with Morning Praise on the third Sunday.. The musical worship combines traditional hymns and modern worship songs, with church members playing the piano. The organ is used for special services.
Services include formal, modern and creative liturgy, and a time of open 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. A range of lay people lead the services, intercessions and read at Sunday services, and guest preachers are also welcomed. In 2020 there was one wedding, one funeral, and no baptisms.
Pastoral and Prayer support
There is a prayer team who offer private, confidential prayer ministry after services. There are boxes for confidential prayer request cards inside and outside the church which are very well used (often by visitors to Ashburnham Place), and the team pray for these cards too.
There are two thriving house groups at St Peter’s, one based in Crowhurst and one in Battle. We value our house groups and encourage regular membership. A monthly “prayer hour” evening meeting also takes place.
Children and young people
Numbers in our Sunday School fluctuate as the children grow up! Prior to lockdown the children’s group has remained steady at around 6 with children ranging in age from 4 to 11 years. We offer weekly Sunday School for the 4 – 11 year olds and have run a Sunday Club for teenagers, other than at the All Age service. The Sunday School leaders follow published material from Scripture Union or similar sources, including singing, Bible stories and other activities. Children’s ministry is an area we are anxious to re-establish.
Links with other local Christian centres
Rogation Service on local farm
The Ashburnham Christian Trust provides its own informal services for the resident community, but the staff, volunteers (who come from around the world) and guests are always welcome at St Peter’s, attend regularly and are a very supportive part of our church family. We have jointly produced a Christmas outdoor drama event which proved popular with young families. The Trustees of the ACT are the Patrons of the Parish Churches.
In Ashburnham village there is the small independent Ashburnham Chapel which holds Sunday evening services, with which St Peter’s has a very good relationship. Many attend each other’s services and social events and work closely together on joint activities, including community services throughout the year.
Outreach to the community
St Peter's is especially keen to encourage fellowship between the congregation and the village and wider community. The church funds and resources the publication of a monthly Parish Magazine circulated to all households in the parish giving details of all events, activities and groups within the villages. The incumbent writes a letter to parishioners for each publication. A copy of a parish magazine accompanies this profile. In addition a weekly email newsletter (“The Post”) is sent to members of St Peter’s and the Chapel with details of services and other notices.
Plough Sunday lunch in the Village Hall
St. Peter's holds “church in the village” during the year to which many visitors come including key events in the farming calendar - Plough Sunday, Rogation and Harvest. Also a service in the village hall on Mothering Sunday and another in the summer held in a marquee after the Village Fete and Flower Show. Holding such services on local farms, the village hall and the cricket field, often with a meal or refreshments, has widened our outreach and deepened relationships with our local community. For example we have been asked to pray for a new cheese making business on a village farm, and bless the cheese mould as part of a Plough Sunday service. The Christmas candlelit Carol Service and outdoor drama event have also proved popular with local residents filling the church to overflowing. A notable annual occasion in the village is a Remembrance Sunday service held outside at the Village War Memorial with a considerable number of villagers attending and enjoying a social gathering afterwards.
A Men’s Breakfast group is well established which regularly attracts over 40 men from the village and beyond to share fellowship over a Full-English breakfast at Ashburnham Place followed by a Christian speaker. This meets four times a year. Members of the church participate in all the groups and clubs that take place in the village.
A Play Café supported by the church (and provided free of charge) meets weekly in the Church Hall during term time for parents/carers with babies and toddlers. This has proved so popular that numbers had to be limited. We have been looking at ways to draw this group into the life of the church
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 a member of the Ashburnham family in the 17th century and was absorbed within the grounds of the family home. The church is Grade 1 on the Statutory List of Buildings of Historic or Architectural Interest.
There is a separate single storey Church Hall nearby, also within the grounds of Ashburnham Place, which hosts evening meetings, after-church fellowship, Sunday children’s groups and the weekly Play Café, as well as being available for hire. Full internal and external redecoration and electrical work has recently been completed in the hall together with new flooring throughout.
In recent times in the Church itself, we have carried out significant repair work to the windows, rewired the lighting circuit, as well as updating our sound and overhead projection systems. Following the 2019 Quinquennial inspection we have a programme of work to undertake, including uprating the heating system. There is disabled access into the Church and the Church Hall but improvements still need to be made in order to fully accommodate those with limited mobility inside the Church building. As both buildings are situated within the grounds of Ashburnham Place we work very closely with the ACT regarding maintenance and access, and share the use of our buildings as required.
A group of bell ringers has re-formed in the last few years who practise on Thursday evenings and ring on Sunday mornings.
St Peter’s helps to support several mission partners both overseas and local, including LAMA House in the Philippines, CAP Bexhill and FSW (working with families in Sussex). At Harvest and Rogation we support the work of RABI and FCN amongst agricultural workers, at Christmas we send boxes via Samaritan’s Purse, and throughout the year church members make contributions to the local Food Bank.
The generosity of the church family has enabled us to pay all of the Parish Ministry Cost that is requested of us by the Diocese. About 20% of our electoral roll give monthly. Our approach has been to tithe at least 10% for missionary support each year which has been divided amongst six recipients. Donations to the PCC have broadly covered running costs, although recently some committed members have moved away from the area so income has dropped. As expected there are challenges of the cost of repair and maintenance to a historical church building but reserves built up in the past have been of benefit.
St. Peter’s also pays all the expenses of the Priest in Charge, including the rental of a delightful 4 bedroomed house within the parish which is kindly provided by the Ashburnham Thanksgiving Trust. Brief details of the house are included in the pack.
Support for the Priest in Charge
The incumbent will be supported by a Churchwarden and an enthusiastic PCC currently consisting of eight members. The PCC will at all times seek to proactively support the new incumbent in every possible way. They are seeking to share many of the duties involved in running the church during the interregnum between themselves and church members as one united team. Our PSO ensures that all safeguarding arrangements are up to date.
Ashburnham Place, in the middle of the village, is a prayer and conference centere owned by the Ashburnham Christian Trust
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.