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300 year old National Trust gem in need of new 'friends'

A tiny yet historically significant Baptist chapel in Lincolnshire has been lovingly cared for by 'Friends of Monksthorpe' and The National Trust for over 20 years. But what does the future hold? Frances and Harry Godden explain why Monksthorpe is so special and what you can do to get involvedMonksthorpe

In November 1990 an article appeared in the Baptist Times entitled ‘The little Church which time forgot’. The church was Monksthorpe, situated some seven miles inland from Skegness, Lincolnshire, and in danger of falling down. As a result of the article in the Baptist Times, ‘Friends of Monksthorpe’ was established with a view to saving this unique place of Baptist worship. 

In 2014, these ‘Friends of Monksthopre’ published a 60-page booklet, An Anthology of Monksthorpe Memories to bring together a wide variety of memories of folk who have had association with Monksthorpe over the last 70 years as well as summarising the preceding 200 years.

What makes Monksthorpe special is its historical significance and hidden, beautiful setting, some distance from the nearest road. The chapel is approached by an avenue of mature trees. The whole site including buildings, an open baptistry used for over 250 years, and an attractive graveyard, is surrounded by more trees and hedges with a small wood at the far end. The chapel was built in 1701 ‘to look like a barn’ when Baptists were still in danger of persecution. There had been a Baptist group meeting in secret in the area for some 30 years before this date. The chapel, linked to Burgh le Marsh, with a lively evangelical membership who gathered from miles around, was in continual use till 1976 when a large tree caused subsidence and rendered the building unsafe.

Restoring the Chapel, and the quaint chapel keeper’s cottage and stable block alongside it, has been a very long and expensive task, beyond the reach of a geographically-scattered group of concerned people. Early on The National Trust was approached to consider taking over responsibility. After lengthy negotiations this was completed in 2000 and the full restoration has progressed slowly since.  A National Trust official commented that it was her favourite property in the East Midlands.

Since 1993 services have been held at Monksthorpe on a monthly basis, on the third Saturday afternoon in the months from April to October, the year concluding with a candle light carol service in December. The congregation travels from across the East Midlands and is joined by more local folk from Baptist and other denominations; some only attend Monksthorpe, regarding it as their church.  With no electricity and an old harmonium, the services are simple with a relaxed formality and cup of tea afterwards. Most who attend take time to wander in the peace of the setting to the far end of the graveyard with views out across large adjacent fields that were a wartime aerodrome.

The regular services leave their own ambience, unwritten but almost tangible to those who visit at other times, similar to the ‘feel’ of a house when the occupants are not at home. Comments in the visitor’s book reflect this. Visitors can borrow the key from Gunby Hall, a nearby National Trust property. Folk mention the simplicity of the chapel and what it stands for, and the peace and spirituality of the whole site.  Understandably The National Trust, while maintaining the buildings and site, is not in a position to organise the services which are a blessing to those who come.  However the Trust is very enthusiastic that the story of the church and what Baptists stand for are made clear.  It has been possible on the Interpretation Boards displayed in the restored cottage, and in the recent publication mentioned below, to tell the story of the chapel and outline something of the Christian message as Baptists understand it.

The church has no membership and no real community. Those who have been responsible through Friends of Monksthorpe for the last 25 years are inevitably getting older. Monksthorpe is a gem for The National Trust, but also a unique opening for witness for the Baptist family. It is important that the Baptist input into Monksthorpe continues, but how this will happen has yet to be decided.         

How you and your church can be involved

• Simply attend a monthly Saturday afternoon service

• Be blessed by worshipping in the beautiful, peaceful setting; give yourself space; feel the legacy of centuries of faithful witness

• Why not have a day out and include Gunby Hall or Skegness; bring a packed lunch; perhaps make it a church outing!

• Visit anytime; wander around the site and find its special spots. For access to the building you need the key from Gunby Hall.
Help maintain the witness which touches visitors

• Friends of Monksthorpe arrange services in keeping with the historic setting; ongoing help is needed. National Trust is eager for the services to continue, but this needs Baptist commitment.

• There are opportunities for light hands on help with the upkeep.                                    
If you are interested or want to know more, visit www.monksthorpe.org.uk 
An Anthology of Monksthorpe Memories, and two other booklets about the history of Monksthorpe, are available to buy from Harry and Frances Godden. Call 01636 708 055 or email harryandfrances@care4free.net or contact Bryan Keyworth on 01773 713 044, email: bh.keyworth@ntlworld.com

Baptist Times, 18/03/2015
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