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St Mary, Willand


When Anna Norman-Walker was appointed as Team Vicar in 2006, there was an established pattern of worship at St Mary’s church comprising a weekly Sunday service according to the Book of Common Prayer at 11am and by a monthly family service at 9.30am (which was followed by the usual 11am service). The Sunday school had closed in 1993 and St Mary’s offered no other children’s ministry. Attendees were largely elderly.

The village of Willand is made up of two parts – the old village which has a population of around 800 and a modern development to the west and north of the village which includes a primary school. Anna identified that the key issue facing St Mary’s was that its congregation was made up of those who lived in the old village and the church was functioning as though it existed to minister only to the ‘old village’. It was necessary to find ways of reaching out to the newer community whilst continuing to embrace the old village and the existing congregation. In setting about this, she says that the single most important strategic decision was not to alter the traditional 11am service put to introduce in parallel with it a new weekly family service which took place in the church hall.

Anna was keen to ensure that the new service was accessible to young children and newcomers but also that it had a strong Anglican identity. By the beginning of the second year, the numbers of children attending ‘Parish Praise’ had increased to the extent that a member of the congregation volunteered to run a Sunday school twice a month. The church also ran Alpha and START courses.

A high value was placed on lay ministry and a flourishing toddlers group was also part of the strategy. This had met in the hall but had little other connection to the church. Fresh links were made and this led to new families attending ‘Parish Praise’.

After 18 months a monthly combined Parish Communion was introduced ‘to keep the church members together as family’. The next stage in the life of St Mary’s Church was that it became a ‘mission community’ with neighbouring parishes under the diocese of Exeter’s ‘Moving on in Mission and Ministry programme’ to exploit opportunities for sharing gifts and mutual support. Whilst Sunday worship remains the responsibility of each parish, many other aspects of mission and ministry are now shared. Added to those changes, work was undertaken on the church and hall buildings in order to improve the facilities of both.