Fernilee Methodist Church celebrates chapel's 150th anniversary with very special guests

A High Peak church marked its 150th anniversary last week with a day of events which showed why it is still a vital part of community life.

By Ed Dingwall
Tuesday, 14th December 2021, 10:39 am

Fernilee Methodist Chapel, on Taxal View, held two celebratory services for its sesquicentenary on Sunday, December 5, attended by special guests and virtual visitors from neighbouring congregations who logged in via Zoom.

The occasion was especially significant in light of a four-year campaign to save the building by raising £150,000 for critical repairs, expected to begin next year.

Church council secretary Donna Hodgson, who has been a part of the congregation for 32 years, said: “It’s a huge achievement for a church of this size to be in active use for so long, but the outpouring of support we’ve seen since 2017 makes it extra special.

Reverend Keith Sandow with some of the invited guests at Fernilee Methodist Church.

“When we held our first public meeting for the campaign, the average weekly congregation was about eight people. We weren’t sure if anyone else would care, but that sense of community spirit is alive and kicking 150 years down the line.”

She added: “The chapel was originally built using community donations and at the opening ceremony the minister said, ‘Every person in the village is a brick in this church’. That is still true now.”

The first service of the anniversary was led by Reverend Keith Sandow, who was joined by Reverend Andrew Lunn, the chair of Manchester and Stockport Methodist District, other local church leaders, and High Peak MP Robert Largan.

Afterwards, they toured the Old Sunday School, which reopened as holiday accommodation this summer and is already bringing in income for the restoration project.

The tiny chapel opened in 1871 with funds raised by village residents and is still standing thanks to the support of subsequent generations.

The afternoon sermon was led by Reverend Rod Hill, and was attended by a congregation whose links to the church stretch back many years, including Buxton resident John Clayton who was baptised there in 1926. Joining online were members of the Cooper family in Canada, who for three generations served as the chapel organist.

Donna said: “The church engenders a real love in everyone who has grown up around it. You can move away but never really leave.”

The day’s guests were presented with gifts including a specially commissioned print by Whaley artist Rebecca Clitheroe, whose Hidden Histories drawings illuminate the stories of landmark buildings.

There was also a birthday cake made by Beryl Hall. Now in her 80s, Beryl has been baking the church’s harvest cake every year since she was 14 after taking over the responsibility from her mother.

County councillor Ruth George and local resident Audrey Thornhill with the Hidden Histories print by Rebecca Clitheroe.

Celebrations will continue next year when the Sunday School turns 150, and the church council is preparing a time capsule to be buried in the grounds. Recent archive research suggests that another was buried beneath the corner stone when the church was built, and may remain inaccessible there for many years to come.

In the meantime, members of the church and their supporters continue to make fundraising plans, with the campaign still around £35,000 short of its goal. People can sponsor a virtual brick for £5 via www.stewardship.org.uk/pages/fernilee.

Donna said: “We already have enough money to complete phase one. I’m absolutely confident the chapel will be part of the village for another 150 years.”

The church is inviting all comers to a service starting at 11.30pm on Christmas Eve. For more information on all activities at the chapel, contact [email protected]

The anniversary cake made by Beryl Hall.

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