Bob Wayne, Churchwarden of St Margaret’s Church, Thimbleby, reflects on the work of a local community in restoring their church and the new opportunities for mission and service that have arisen...

When on Saturday, 22nd September 2018 the Rt Revd Dr David Court, Bishop of Grimsby, joined villagers and their guests for the rededication of St Margaret’s Church in Thimbleby, they were celebrating far more than the new stonework in the tower, belfry and spire, and far more than the repairs to the clock and the installation of the new heating and lighting. They were rejoicing that the church they so nearly lost had been saved and centuries of church life based on the site could continue. The holy place where generations of villagers have worshipped and been baptised, married and been laid to rest will now still be there to serve the community.

The story of St Margaret’s in recent years tells of how the courage and determination of the small church’s congregation and many friends, led by the Revd John Parkin, a retired non-stipendiary minister (pictured below), brought the church back from almost certain closure and demolition. In 2012 the group PCC applied with great reluctance to close the church as it was no longer structurally safe. One hundred and thirty years ago the well-known Louth architect James Fowler had been commissioned to reorder and upgrade the small 18th-century green sandstone church by attaching a new chancel, vestry and a fine new tower with an Ancaster stone belfry and spire. Sadly Fowler’s specification included his favourite ‘Dog Kennel lime’; technology at the time presumably did not detect that this lime in the mortar had a high magnesium content. Sulphur in the atmosphere combined with the magnesium to form magnesium sulphate crystals. The highly destructive salts leached through the damp building, spalling off the surface of the stonework.

It is no small irony that this deficiency in the architect’s specifications resulted in the building having a life of little over a century, whereas the village’s iconic basic thatched mud and stud homes are still safe and comfortable after three times that timespan. Standing in a raised position at the end of the main street of the Conservation Area and facing the oncoming traffic, St Margaret’s must surely be one of the best-sited churches in the diocese.

Faced with the possibility of losing their church the community rallied round, a Friends’ Group was formed, short-term repairs were carried out and serious fundraising commenced. Sadly the first contract was to remove and cap off the dangerous stone spire, but that did at least allow services to be held again in the church. A major breakthrough came when the Heritage Lottery Fund made a substantial grant which was followed by grants from East Lindsey District Council, Marshall’s Charity, Lincolnshire Churches Trust and major private donations.

With substantial funding on the horizon no time was lost and money already received from generous individuals enabled the congregation to install new drainage and wiring with a combined heating and lighting system. Work on the main project commenced early in 2018, and in spite of the almost inevitable holdups and unforeseen snags, the scaffolding finally came down, revealing the magnificent new spire and belfry just 48 hours before the bishop arrived.

This project could never have been simply about ‘bricks and mortar’. The church has to be more than a fine building; it has to find its place in the community and the Horncastle Group of Churches. Since the project commenced a new church choir has been formed and various heritage-related events have taken place, as have social events. An outreach group has also begun to think about how the church can best serve the community and share Christ’s love. Perhaps most significantly, new building development has left only a 100m strip between the village and Horncastle, with a whole new congregation now on St Margaret’s doorstep.

Bishop David finished his inspiring address with these words: “In this church of St Margaret, I hope that others might come to discover for themselves the God in whose name this building is here and has been restored.” This is our prayer for the people of Thimbleby.

Further information on the church, including details of services, may be found here.