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Gravesend churches on the battle to keep congregations full at Christmas

PUBLISHED: 16:20 18 December 2013 | UPDATED: 16:21 18 December 2013

Worshippers at Gravesend Methodist Church

Worshippers at Gravesend Methodist Church

Archant

Christmas congregation sizes have been dwindling for a number of years despite the efforts of those within the church to restore them to what they once were.

Two Gravesend churches – St Mary’s Gravesend in Wrotham Road, and Gravesend Methodist Church in Milton Road – are fully aware of the task that lies ahead to remain an integral part of the town’s community.

Vic Twine, the reader at St Mary’s, believes the public have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas.

Mr Twine, whose church is without a vicar, says: “It has been up and down but, like a lot of churches, you are carrying on with what you’ve got.

“But all churches are leaning towards a message that people do not want to hear. They prefer a secular message.”

Sheila Allison, 70, the senior steward at Gravesend Methodist Church, which is also without a vicar, agrees.

“Everyone has such a busy life these days,” she says. “Unfortunately, people outside the church have forgotten the reason for Christmas.

“People care more about the material things of Christmas these days – the food and the presents.”

Both, however, feel there needs to be more done to retain the worshippers who do turn up during the festive period.

“At Christmas you do see people coming in for a one-off service,”says Mr Twine. “You have to come up with different ideas to try to encourage them to come back.

“We have a toddler group, for instance, on Wednesday mornings. It is a long-term process. The church is there to serve and look after families.”

Mr Twine, 59, of Painters Ash Lane, feels the public sees their local church as a club or a “gimmick” rather than a pillar of the community to help others.

Mrs Allison reports that her church opens its doors to the Lithuanian community to ensure that the facilities remain used.

“The Lithuanian congregation is thriving,” she says. “A lot of them on Sunday go to services in London and then come back down to St Mary’s in the afternoon.

“One of the reasons we are not thriving is that we do not have a minister.”

The methodist church has suffered in recent years after losing the Rev Alan Thorpe, who was forced to retire after suffering from ill health.

And Jonathan Pike, the church’s youth worker, unexpectedly died. The double loss has hit the church hard.

Mrs Allison explains this is why her church’s congregation size has largely remained the same.

The church is still applying for a new vicar to replace Mr Thorpe.

Church-goers insist there is a spike in attendance levels during Christmas, but it is clear that pews are not certainly not brimming quite like they once were.

But after speaking to Mr Twine and Mrs Allison, it appears there is an understanding among those within the Church of how they must tackle this.

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