The Millenium Project and Independence

Archdeacon Mason was incumbent at St Luke’s on a half-time basis, allowing him time for his demanding archdeaconry duties. Given the small size of the Conventional District this was understandable. But the congregation of St Luke’s was drawn far more widely across the town than just from the few streets which made up the Conventional District. When, therefore, he retired in 1995, a welcome decision was taken which went against the usual trend in clergy numbers. The new incumbent would be full-time. Furthermore the last remaining links with St Mary, Kippington, would be cut and St Luke’s would become a wholly independent parish. Thus the Rev. Robert Chavner was on 17th July 1996 installed as minister of the Conventional District, like his three predecessors, and then a fortnight later the new parish came into existence and St Luke’s was raised to the status of a parish church. He was inducted as the first vicar on 18th October, the Feast of St Luke. During the interregnum, the church officers had been required to produce for the Bishop a statement of the needs of the parish, which would help them in choosing a new incumbent. In addition to finding an incumbent who would ‘give a lead when St Luke’s became a parish’, the parish representatives asked for ‘someone who would face the problem of needing to expand a small church building’, would ‘increase the number of young families in the congregation’ and would ‘encourage St Luke’s to serve the town as a whole in whatever ways seemed possible’. Thus a new chapter opened not only for the congregation of St Luke’s but for its buildings as well. For the efficient running of a modern parish there was need for an office; to cater for small group meetings a parish room was required; and to comply with new legislation the needs of the disabled had to be addressed. Richard Mason had foreseen something of these requirements and at his death in 1997, after a long illness, he bequeathed to the incumbent and churchwardens £10,000, which provided an encouraging foundation for fundraising. But the main impetus came from Robert Chavner’s determination that there should be a Millennium Project, to celebrate the opening of the third millennium after Christ’s birth. So in October 1998 the project was launched and an architect appointed. The architect chosen was Malcolm Green, of the partnership Malcolm and Linda Green of South Darenth, who had considerable experience of working on church development projects in Rochester diocese. The scheme which he presented to the parish in February 1999 was adopted and in due course executed with only minor modifications. Fundraising occupied much of the next two years, for it was necessary to raise over £300,000 to construct and equip the new building. Members of the congregation contributed nearly half that sum both directly and through more than ninety events, large and small. Over £40,000 came from charitable trusts and local and national businesses. In recognition of the benefit of the project to the wider community, and to fund facilities for the disabled, the Government and the local authority also contributed substantially, in particular £91,000 from the Community Fund, matching the total then raised by the parish. Further large contributions came under the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme and from Sevenoaks District Council. The builders, Epps Construction of Ashford, carried out the project in eight months. As in 1903, a ‘time-capsule’ was placed in the foundations, containing a newspaper, copies of the parish magazine and the brochure ‘Vision 2001’, a £2 coin and a set of stamps commemorating Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee. The completed building was dedicated by the Bishop of Rochester on the Sunday nearest to St Luke’s Day, October 2002. The new facilities consist of two parts, one at the front of the hall, the other at the back. The hall porch has been enlarged to provide a new parish office with direct access into both church and hall, and the porch is approached by both steps and a permanent brick-paved ramp for disabled access. The rear of the hall has been completely remodelled. Now at last direct access from church to hall has been achieved, by means of a spacious internal lobby. The former choir vestry has been enlarged into a parish room, where small church meetings can take place and which can also be hired to other organizations. The choir have a new upstairs vestry, accessible by stairs and lift for the disabled. The new toilets include one for the disabled and changing facilities for babies. Storage space has been increased and reorganized. Finally, the hall and kitchen have been redecorated and the stage removed to give more space in the hall.The Millennium was celebrated in one further way. The bell installed on the south-east gable of the church had long disappeared, so it was decided to replace it. A second-hand bell was acquired and hung in time to ring in the millennium. Like all bells, it was given a name: ‘Kelsey – Gordon’, combining the surname of the builder who hung it and the Christian name of the church member who master-minded its hanging. So in the 21st century everyone who lives in St. Luke’s parish can hear Kelsey-Gordon tolling daily, before every service said or sung in the church.