An ancient religious practice was carried out at St Mary’s Church in Melton on Sunday before worshippers took part in a procession to the new temporary home for services at the borough council offices.
The historic church is undergoing its biggest makeover for 200 years with a £1.9 project to make it more user-friendly for the community and more accessible for visitors who have impaired mobility.
Members of the congregation gathered on Sunday morning outside the church, which will be closed for 10 months, to watch team rector, the Rev Kevin Ashby, bless the building for the coming year with a ‘chalking of the doors’ ceremony.
The ritual marked the Feast of Epiphany and involved Rev Ashby chalking the biblical message 20+C+M+B+17 on the wall of the church before those present were given chalk to do the same to their own homes.
Rev Ashby said: “It is a very ancient tradition and it was an idea my curate Catriona Cumming had for us to do but unfortunately she was ill and couldn’t attend.
“The idea was for us to say that St Mary’s is a beautiful building but the church is its people and this symbolised people moving from one building to another building for a few months.”
The congregation then sang the processional carol We Three Kings as they made their way to the council offices for the service, which was well attended and included a choir led on the organ by musical director James Gutteridge.
Rev Ashby said: “It was fantastic. The council chamber is a fairly large room but we filled it very near to capacity.
“Lots of people said it was nice to go into a warm building which, of course, is one of the reasons we are doing the work at St Mary’s to install underfloor heating.”
Church member Philip Balding said there were mixed emotions for many present when they realised they wouldn’t be able to attend services in the iconic church until November.
But he praised the way council officials had organised the move and said: “For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed the service and, as a bit of a sceptic, was pleasantly surprised at how well organised and comfortable everything was.
“To anyone who did not go to the service because they weren’t sure what things would be like with it not being in a church, I would urge you to go along and give it a try.
“The choir was in good voice, the seats were comfortable and the room was warm.
“Refreshments were easy to get to and the whole thing made for an enjoyable experience.”
Mr Balding added: “It was good to see that the room was almost full to capacity.
“I hope this continues to be the case and that everyone will offer the Rev Ashby, and everyone else who has worked so hard on the re-ordering project, their full support during the time we are away from St Mary’s.”
Aside from the Sunday services moving to the council offices during the period of the closure, other services will be at St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Welby Lane and the Samworth Centre on Burton Street.
Meanwhile workmen have begun the mammoth task of renovating St Mary’s, parts of which date back to 1170.
Aside from the heating being installed, there will also be state-of-the-art lighting put in and improvements made to the organ and sound system. The floor is also being levelled and toilets made more accessible to help disabled visitors to attend.
Other new features will be a Melton stained glass window, a single level entrance to aid those with impaired mobility and a draught lobby in the main West Porch so the doors can be kept open.
Workmen have been busy this week, in a sealed unit, removing asbestos from near the North Transept - some of it was discovered lagging pipes when flagstones were raised.
Chairs and other furniture have been taken out and the organ is being dismantled ahead of being refurbished.
The church is expected to get its asbestos-free certificate by tomorrow (Friday) so it can be handed over to the West Midlands-based contractor for the re-ordering work to begin on Monday.
Rev Ashby added: “The church is looking a little sad without the colour from the various pieces of cloth and the absence of the chairs.
“But there is a fair amount of work to be done and we are excited to see what it will look like when it is all finished.”