Newsletter Nov. 29th 2020

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Dear Friends,
This week we welcome Rev Keith Underhill to lead our on-line service. Keith was due to come to Alton this Sunday to mark the 10th Anniversary of the re-opening of the church building.

I have invited David Allan to share the story of that refurbishment.
Advent Sunday 2010 was a very important day for Alton Methodist Church. Why? Well, apart from it marking the start of the preparation for Christmas, it was also the day when the congregation returned to a refurbished church building following eight months of "exile".

We have to go back many more years for the background to this story. The first Methodist Church was built in 1846 on the High Street, about where the "Superdrug" store stands today. But by the 1970's the building structure had become unstable and the congregation had to move out. Worship was held in various places "borrowed" from other churches. Meanwhile, there was a comprehensive redevelopment of the whole area, with a new supermarket (Key Markets, then International, then Somerfield, for those with long memories — currently M+S Food hall) and, more significantly, a new building for the church.

That building was opened in September 1980, and served the congregation well for many years. But the 20th Century construction wasn't as long-lasting as its 19th Century predecessor, and by the early 2000s it was clear that something needed to be done. There were problems with leaking flat roofs, the heating system was temperamental, the windows needed to be replaced, the kitchen was wholly inadequate, doors and fittings were wearing out, and the toilets and passageways did not comply with disability discrimination legislation (with no obvious solution).

Jean Simmonds, our minister and Circuit Superintendent at the time, had asked each church to examine their mission and the suitability of their buildings for that mission. We concluded that our premises were no longer fit for purpose, and so fund raising was started. Architects were appointed, and came up with a proposal for complete demolition, with a new two-level replacement building. However it soon became clear that our fund-raising efforts would not be able to meet the projected £1.3M cost, and so it was "back to the drawing board".

A review concluded that it would be possible to retain the structure of the sanctuary and the outside walls, while completely reconfiguring the interior. The cost was now under £1M, and was felt to be achievable, so the fundraising effort intensified. By the time Keith Underhill was in post as our minister, it was clear that sufficient money had been raised or promised to allow the project to be started. But where would the congregation meet while the work was being done?
At this point it was noted that an office block across the road from the church — Oceanic House — had lain empty for several years.

An approach was made to the owners, the building examined, and the conclusion reached that, once a stair lift had been installed, the offices could be used as a temporary home for the church.

Minor building modifications and major redecoration were put in hand, with members of the congregation enthusiastically involved. A memorable highlight was a lady in her eighties on a ladder with a paint roller, enjoying herself immensely!
And so it was that, after the morning service on Easter Sunday 2010, the congregation carried all the church contents across the Pelican crossing to the offices opposite — yes, the building that's now Wetherspoons. It took much of the day, but soon all was in order, and all the church activities were able to continue without interruption in our temporary home. The only exception was Lunch Club, for which an invitation to use the kitchen of All Saints church hall was gratefully accepted.
Meanwhile, the contractors started work the following day. And despite some issues along the way, the new, completed building was ready to be handed back at the end of November.

And so on Advent Sunday 2010 — exactly ten years ago — the exiles returned to their home church for a packed thanksgiving service, and the building resounded to voices raised in Hymn 409: "Let us build a house where love can dwell . . . . Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter: All are welcome in this place."

Advent Ring
This year our Advent ring is going on tour to different homes! This week Rosalie Meers has lit the first candle and said the Advent prayer — Thank you for doing a great job!
We would also like to thank Gill Holmes for providing a beautiful and transportable Advent ring — but whose home will it visit next?

Action For Children — Carols & Fundraiser
'Starry Night'
Tuesday 8th December 6.30-7.30pm

Hosted by Channel 4 News' Jon Snow a virtual concert featuring live musical performances, carols, and special guests. £10 per household
You click on the website: www.starry-night.co.uk
When you have paid, you will then receive an email on the day of the concert — enjoy the event!

Local Food Support for Families
Alton Mutual Aid offers support for anyone having to isolate due to Covid-19. There is a team of local volunteers available to offer free support with shopping, food vouchers, collecting/delivering prescriptions, delivering post or simply a friendly voice to talk to. Call Freephone: 0800 066 3697 (Mon, Wed, Fri 10am-12pm) Email: altonmutualaid@protonmail.com
Also visit: www.alton.gov.uk for other means of support at this time.

On-Line Worship
The recorded on-line service this week is led by Rev. Keith Underhill. To access the service go to www.altonmethodist.org.uk
Pause for Thought also appears weekly on a Wednesday via the church web site.

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