CMS Link Visit @ South Hartismere, Suffolk ❤️

Visitors like me who come to South Hartismere Benefice, not far from the town of Eye in rural Suffolk, are awed by all the quaint pink buildings. I just love walking round these lovely Suffolk villages looking at them all ~ can’t get enough of ’em!

Pink ones, and white ones too…

And quirky telephone boxes..

And arty village signs…

And most beautiful of all, the thatched church of St. Mary’s, Thornham Parva, one of 8 churches in the benefice. Isn’t it gorgeous?!

Rev. Julia Lall, assisted by Lauren, NSM priest, and Debbie, brand new pioneer curate – who did her pioneer training with CMS, are blessed with a large and very talented lay leadership team and all are doing a great job of leading the benefice. Their 8 churches cover 11 communities, and all of the communities are small, but hey, small is beautiful, and they are all places humming with life and energy. The streets are filled with people jogging or walking their dogs, even in the rain and the fog. I was there this past weekend for my CMS (Church Mission Society) Link Church visit, warmly welcomed by everyone, and was very reluctant to leave the area on Monday morning! These are the 3 benefice clergy – selfies with Julia, Lauren and Debbie…

My link with S. Hartismere goes back to 1987-1996 when my father was rector of 4 of the parishes that now make up South Hartismere ~ Gislingham, Mellis, Thornham Magna and Thornham Parva. I made sure I visited each village in turn, including checking in at Mellis with another highly-esteemed member of the clergy…

Gislingham, a long winding village of pink and white cottages, lots of modern houses, a shop, primary school, a silver band, a variety club, and an interesting church with box pews, and which is definitely lop-sided when viewed from inside – which adds to its quirkiness…

Mellis, a large wide village built around a huge common (the largest area of unfenced common land in England) which stretches so far into the distance on both sides that you can hardly see the houses, with the main railway line to London passing through, marked with a level crossing, plus a primary school, care home, a lovely small church with beautifully displayed kneelers, and possibly a whole lot more – it certainly looks like a place with lots of secret buildings, hidden in the deepest areas of the common…

Thornham Magna village is mainly one road, ‘The Street’, and pink is the colour!

Thornham Magna is also home to the Thornham Estate, where Lord Henniker (1916-2004) did so much to open up the Thornham walks to the public and showed his support for the local community by converting his estate buildings to workspaces for small businesses. The estate also has a field centre, a campsite for disadvantaged children, a charity for those with learning disabilities running the walled garden, a cafe, and plenty more. He was such a great man, and his wife Lady Julia Henniker continued the work after his death. I was able to visit her, and it was wonderful to catch up. The car parks for the Thornham walks were packed out all weekend, it’s very popular!

Thornham Parva is also part of the Thornham estate, with its delightful thatched church, ancient wall paintings, a famous retable behind the altar, and Basil Spence’s grave in the churchyard, plus a new seat made for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee…

I stayed for the weekend in Gislingham with Ann, Gislingham churchwarden, her husband Peter and Daisy the cat, who all gave me such a warm welcome, and Ann also hosted a magnificent Sunday lunch for a whole group of us – Rita, Jean and Christine, all friends for years, it was so good to catch up. Christine is the benefice administrator and helped organise my visit, while Ann also keeps bees and gave me a jar of her honey, ah so delicious! Thank you!

Rev. Julia Lall, her black labrador and black cat also welcomed me to a yummy meal on my arrival on Saturday, and she also organized the benefice service on Sunday, in honour of Advent Sunday. We all gathered for the one service of the day, at 10:30 am at Thorndon Church…..

The Advent wreaths from the different churches were all brought along, and lit during the service, to be returned to their respective churches.

I preached the sermon and they kindly had a collection in my honour, and the service was followed by coffee when I also showed my powerpoint of Taiwan. It was great to see all my old friends again, and to meet new ones – including some visitors from the USA. Check out all these smiling people!

A few weeks ago on All Saints Day at St. Andrew’s Church, Tudhoe Grange, Spennymoor, Co. Durham, I had met Fr. Michael Thompson, who had recently retired to that area but had originally been rector in Suffolk, in the next-door North Hartismere benefice. On All Saints Day, he had said we must take a photo together to send to Betty Wells in South Hartismere, who he had known through Deanery Synod – so now, in return, this is me and Betty taking a photo for Fr. Michael!

And so to Monday, and the final event of the weekend was a school assembly at Mellis Primary School on Monday morning. The head had prepared a map, photos of Taiwan and a YouTube video to introduce Taiwan ~ and we had such a great time together. Check out the special welcome sign posted outside the school!

What a great weekend! A big thank you to Julia, Ann and everyone in South Hartismere for your amazing welcome and hospitality, it was all so lovely. Leaving with oh so many happy memories!

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