Almost a year after it was closed for its biggest renovation in 200 years, the congregation gathered at Melton’s historic St Mary’s Church for a grand reopening service attended by some very special guests.
Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Rev Martyn Snow, was there to give a sermon, along with the Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, Jennifer, Lady Gretton, patron of the Re-Ordering Project, which has seen upgrading work costing £1.9 million.
Melton Mowbray Team Parish Rector, the Rev Kevin Ashby, welcomed many other clergymen and women, as well as Jason Graham, MD of Midland Conservation, the firm which has carried out the work on the building, and architect Michael Bagot.
Rev Ashby said: “The bishop was very much bowled over by the changes in the church and he is very pleased that we have a building which will take us into the 21st century.
“The point of his sermon was to challenge us to improve the use of the church as a community building.”
Also present at the opening were Derek Hunt, who designed and made a new stained glass window, which was unveiled during the service of praise and thanksgiving, Alex Carrington, a local conservator who restored the Royal coat of arms in the church, and many others who contributed to the renovation project.
The new window was installed in memory of church member John Plumb, who was a major benefactor towards the scheme. James Berresford said a few words about Mr Plumb before Joy Burgin unveiled the window. Readings were made by the Rev Dr Mary Barr and by Peter Roffey.
Rev Ashby said: “I’m sure people will come to the church just to see our new Melton Mowbray window.
“It’s very much representative of Melton with references to pork pies, Stilton cheese and foxhunting and it is very impressive.”
The floor of the church has been levelled off, to help the acess of disabled and elderly people and those with mobility issues, and new lighting and heating has been installed, along with toilets and a kitchen servery, among many other features.
“I would have to say the toilets are one of best things about the renovation,” said Rev Ashby.
“Having loos in the place are a real benefit, especially when it comes to holding weddings and funerals next year.
“From a personal point of view, the new amplification is superb - the last one was quite dodgy and didn’t always work but the sound now is very good.”
The first weddings in the new-look church have been booked for next month and the first baptism will be on New Year’s Eve.
Sunday services began last weekend and this week schoolchildren have visited to sing Christmas carols.
The only feature still to be completed is the installation of the refurbished organ, which is due to take place in January although it won’t be ready to play until the summer. In the meantime, a digital organ is being used.
Rev Ashby added: “We are learning how to use the lighting because it has several settings but the underfloor heating has been very good.
“The youngsters have been singing their carols in their shirt sleeves this week because it has been so nice and warm in church.”
At the end of the reopening event, a cheque for £2,500 was presented to Rev Ashby towards the cost of the Re-Ordering Project by representatives of The Melton Building Society.
Local dignitaries have sent messages of support to St Mary’s. including Mayor of Melton, Councillor Tejpal Bains, who said: “The project’s completion will bring new and exciting opportunities for both the church and the local community and I am delighted to lend my personal support.”
Melton MP, the Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan commented: “Judging from the enormous amount of materials stored in and around the church, the extent of the renovation has been monumental.
“I am full of admiration for all the hard work done to raise the money which has gone into making the renovation possible.”