“This is the first step of a growth strategy – we have a small, beautiful, rural church and our focus is to re-connect it with the community and the village,” says Vicar of Derwent Ings, the Revd Jackie Doyle Brett, about the 29 August launch of St Mary & the Holy Cross, East Cottingwith, as a ‘Festival Church.’

The Church of England uses the term Festival Church for a church building which is not used for weekly worship, but is valued and used by the community for local events, for Festivals of the Church (Christmas, Easter, Harvest Festival, local festivals, Saints’ days, Mothers’ Day, Remembrance Sunday, Rogation Days, etc) and for Rites of Passage (Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals).

St Mary’s dates from the late 18th Century and serves a parish of about 350 souls but has seen little use in recent years; incoming Vicar Jackie sees it as full of potential for the church to reach out into the life of a community no longer dedicated only to farming, but including people of different professions and none, commuters to York and beyond, grandchildren and their parents and grandparents.

“We are working to get St Mary’s open every day again, to be part of the village as a space to visit, reflect and pray, and we will celebrate the presence of God and his people here through those festivals, life events and more.”

A recent and popular concert in St Mary’s has opened the way to a new and growing role for the building as a community asset as well as a sacred space; for some even long-time residents who aren’t churchgoers it was a rare opportunity to visit the gem in their midst.

At the launch service of prayers, readings and favourite hymns (beginning appropriately for the rural setting with ‘We Plough the Fields and Scatter the Good Seed on the Land’) Jackie invited those present to revisit and share memories of the festivals and celebrations of the past, and to challenge organist Graeme Urwin to accompany choices of favourite hymns on the spot.

The plan for St Mary’s is to open it and use it as much as possible for the next two years before reviewing the next steps, which it is hoped could include re-introducing regular services there if the time is right.

PCC Secretary Steve Ashton added, “I hadn’t heard of a Festival Church before Jackie mentioned it as a possible way forward in the medium term and we all see this as a golden opportunity. Being a rural community Harvest, Remembrance, Christmas are always well attended so why not focus more on festival events, make them even more attractive and... pray to see what the effect will be!”

Archdeacon of York Sam Rushton said, “St Mary’s is a real gift to East Cottingwith and by launching it as a Festival Church, we hope to restore its role as an asset for the whole community there – a place to celebrate and to belong, where God meets his people coming together and blesses them in all they do.”