A PUBLIC meeting has been called to decide the fate of a ‘deteriorating’ 250-year-old church in Chelford which was left a whopping £330,000 for its upkeep by a parishioner.

St John the Evangelist Church was left the tidy sum ‘for its general purposes’ by Hugh Roy Hamnett, who died in August 2019.  

But between Mr Hamnett’s death and the time probate was finally granted in February 2022, St John’s had effectively shut up shop.  

Services stopped in winter 2021 when a leak was found in its central heating oil tank, and parishioners were told the Church of England’s environmental policies meant it couldn’t be fixed. 

Then in winter 2022, a burst water pipe damaged the fabric of the building, as well as baptismal rolls, which are important public documents.

Concerned the building was going downhill fast, a group of parishioners formed the Friends of Chelford Church in July 2023, and have been fundraising to fix the heating and lobbying the diocese to decide the church’s fate soon.

They also want Mr Hamnett’s money to be used the way he wanted it to be, but to date, the group has had no reassurance from the diocese about this.

The grade-II* listed church turns 250 this yearThe grade-II* listed church turns 250 this year (Image: Adrian Barber)

The Friends say they welcome the upcoming public meeting, which takes place on Wednesday, July 3, at Chelford Primary School.

But, should St John's formally close as a place of worship, the group wants the building to be handed to the Church Conservation Trust, a charity charged with preserving more than 300 historic churches across the country.   

Friends member, Adrian Barber, said: “Delayed decisions mean the building goes on deteriorating. This has been going on over the last couple winters while the heating hasn’t been on.

“At the very least, we need to preserve the building so we don’t end up with a crumbling ruin like Fountain’s Abbey in the middle of the village.

“Our primary interest is to retain the church as an asset for the local community. We don’t want it to be sold off for private use.

“In an ideal world, we would like to keep it open for worship as a festival church for weddings, funerals, and other services, as well as other events to help fund the upkeep of the building.

“We recognise this might be a challenge, and we can’t prove it would be sustainable. But it hasn’t been shown to be unsustainable either.

“We believe if the diocese gave the building to the Church Conservation Trust, it could help deliver what we want.

The Friends would like to see the building handed over the Churches Conservation Trust The Friends would like to see the building handed over the Churches Conservation Trust (Image: Adrian Barber)

The Friends says they’ve been experiencing ‘serious communication difficulties’ with the diocese when trying to engage over the future of the St John’s.

He added: “We’ve been fundraising to repair the heating to stop the damage getting any worse, which involves asking people to dip into their own pockets to help preserve the building.

“What’s quite upsetting is the fact there’s potentially money there which could pay for it, which we can’t locate.”

A spokesman for the Diocese of Chester said: “We acknowledge the concerns expressed by some members of the public regarding the future of Chelford Church.

“Ongoing discussions are taking place between the public, the parochial church council, the congregation, and the Diocese of Chester.

“We have scheduled a public meeting for July 3 at 7.30pm which will be held at Chelford Church of England Primary School where individuals can participate in conversations about the church’s future.”