The Revd Canon Chris Lilley has a long connection with the Lincolnshire coast. His faith journey is rooted in the county’s sandy beaches when, aged 18 he came to faith through the Scripture Union beach mission at Sutton-on-Sea. Two years later he became a team member,  progressing to leading the mission throughout the 1980’s.

He is currently associate priest in the Mablethorpe and Sutton Groups of Parishes where he has worked as a full time Non-stipendiary Minister for the last ten years. 

“We love living here and being so close to our fabulous beach but this does not blind us to the fact that Mablethorpe is one of the most deprived communities in the country” said Chris.

The town has distinct areas, each reaching a different part of the holiday market. Mablethorpe is the place for amusement arcades and the funfair, Sutton is a family resort and Sandilands has the golf course now being transitioned into a nature reserve.

Chris explained: “Most of our residents are incomers, like me, from the Midlands and beyond. They are often people who enjoyed holidays here and wanted to settle on the coast on retirement. Most are happy to be here - housing is inexpensive, the cost of living is low and there are no hills! However when one partner dies the remaining person can often end up lonely, miles away from family, often without a car and unable to afford to move back.”

He added: “There are many issues in the area. There is a high proportion of elderly people with complex medical needs and the health service struggles to cope; many other people are suffering with loneliness, depression or other mental health concerns which have been made much worse by the pandemic and the closure of nearly all social and leisure activities. And, for those in work, wages are low, even by Lincolnshire standards, and many are on zero hours contracts and have only seasonal work.”

The Anglican churches in Mablethorpe and Sutton work closely with the other denominations through Churches Together which has sponsored some important mission initiatives to help the most vulnerable. Hope House Church operates two properties housing homeless men. Furnichurch is a Christian charity recycling furniture and it also operates the Mablethorpe Food Larder.

Another Churches Together project is the local “Good Neighbours Scheme” which Chris is chairing and which was due to start in April. Offering practical help to those unable to help themselves, it crashed into action at the start of the first lockdown and has carried out over 1,000 acts of help together with numerous phone calls to support some of the neediest people in the town.

The churches have put on free fun days attracting hundreds of locals and holiday makers. One of Chris’ particular interests is drama and he has produced Passion Plays on the Prom in both Mablethorpe and Sutton and three outdoor Nativity Plays complete with horses for the wise men, sheep, donkeys and an actual baby Jesus (whose real name is Theo). There are also two teams going into schools to perform ”Open the Book” assemblies.

On behalf of Churches Together, Chris is their 'Chaplain to Business' and he tries (but usually fails) to visit all the 600+ businesses in the area each year. Due to Covid19, this year he replaced face-to-face visits with phone calls during both lockdowns and also mid-season. He was able to point people in the direction of expert free advice on business and benefits that is being funded by the Coastal Community Challenge from the National Lottery. Chris is a member of the local team which was given £1 million pounds to improve the lives of local residents.

He said: ”Many traders appreciated the fact that somebody cared enough to ask them how they were and to ask how I could help. A combination of prayer and practical advice went down well!” 

Despite losing the first three months of the season, July and August were very busy and overall some businesses had a good year. But some did not and have closed never to reopen. It will be a very difficult winter for many in seasonal trades and they will be desperate to reopen fully next March.

There is hope for a better future. Tesco is planning to open a store  here and that is seen a sign of confidence in the town. There is also the possibility of a £25 million investment of government money through the Towns Fund to improve the infrastructure and community facilities.

Chris concludes: ”I love this place and its people. I will be seventy next year but, God willing, hope to serve God and our community for some years to come.”