From the Brickworks to Living Stones

By John Ellis

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St John’s United Reformed Church, Marsh Green

If you stand in the porch of St John’s United Reformed Church, Marsh Green, you look out on The Green of the small Kentish hamlet but see no other buildings. However this morning the adjoining lane was heaving with cars and inside extra chairs had to be found and the gallery brought into use to accommodate a packed congregation of all ages. St John’s was celebrating its 131st birthday.

We gave thanks for Robert Morton who in 1882 gave the land, paid for the building and underwrote the early ministers’ stipends to the substantial tune of £205 per annum. Nearby was the Greybury brickworks and the workers there made the bricks for their church building and formed the core of its congregation: a good example of integrating daily work with Sunday worship. Despite its isolated setting and distance from other Presbyterian churches, the church was never inward looking. It reached out to the hop-pickers who flocked to Kent every Autumn – in 1907 church members distributed religious tracts and lavender bags to 3,000 families – and supported their minister’s son when he was called to be a missionary in China.

The buildings were improved and extended to mark the centenary in 1982 but in the 1990s the story was the sadly familiar one of declining numbers and concerns about viability. But the next bit of the story is not at all sad. The Elders saw no reason to accept decline as inevitable, reassessed their church life, worked and prayed hard and now this village church has a membership of 47 plus a lively Junior Church and another extension to their premises. So there is much to celebrate; and St John’s is a beacon of hope for other smaller churches.

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Derek Richmond is presented with a Diamond Jubilee certificate, watched by David Skitt

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Derek and Elizabeth Richmond study the book of local tributes

Between our worship and the Anniversary Lunch, we turned the spotlight on the Revd Derek Richmond to mark the Diamond Jubilee of his ordination. He served several of the larger churches in southern England, starting at the aptly named Richmond Hill Congregational Church in Bournemouth. In the first twenty years of his ministry he also had pastorates at Havant and Caterham. The second twenty years were as minister of Emmanuel URC, West Wickham, and it was very good that several members from there were able to be with us today. Derek’s “retirement” was to a house a mile from Marsh Green and for the third 20 years of his ministry he has been an integral part of St John’s, including a period as Associate Minister, and he is still regularly on the preaching plan. The affection and respect in which he is held was evident today. As the current minister of St John’s, David Skitt, said in his tribute, Derek lives the Gospel that he has for so long proclaimed.

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Derek cuts the “60 – THANKS DEREK” cake

It was a wonderful day for giving God thanks for faithful, gifted, humble ministers whose influence for good is so much more than they know.

3 thoughts on “From the Brickworks to Living Stones

  1. Frank E. Garrett

    I joined the Army in early 1944 and was posted in Infantry to Italy. I lived with my Parents in Caterham. I was demobbed in1948 having been posted in 1945 to Greece. It was about then I met Derek and Mavis for the first time. We have been in touch since then. He conducted the funeral of my first wife and the weddings of my two daughters. A more gracious and lovely man I have yet to meet now in my 88th year.
    I have not had the pleasure of meeting Elizabeth but I send her my condolences and am sure she gave Derek love and support during their marriage and comfort at the end of his life. I remarried and hope to celebrate our 25th anniversary in 2 years.

  2. John Ellis Post author

    Frank

    Thank you. I have just returned from a packed Memorial Service which Derek had asked us to consider as A Celebration of the Gospel.

  3. Susan Wheeler (nee Garrett)

    As one of Frank Garrett’s daughters I wanted to add my condolences to Derek Richmond’s wife Elizabeth. My husband Ray and I remember with great fondness the wonderful depth of Christian teaching we received from both Derek and his first wife, Mavis. As my Dad has mentioned, Derek officiated at our wedding in 1984, which made the local newspaper because during the service we celebrated an anglican Eucharist (by permission of the then Bishop of Croydon) at Emmanuel URC church. We were very sorry to hear of Derek’s passing. My sister Carol, who lives in Holland with her husband Joop, has also asked that I pass on their happy memories of Derek who not only celebrated their marriage but baptized two of their children. He was indeed a very special person to have known.

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