Eight centuries on, St Mary’s Standon is still being adapted to reach out
It’s not a problem that most churches have, but a raked church floor rising from west door to altar meant for St Mary’s Church, Standon, that there were eight steep stone chancel steps (with no handrail) to negotiate to get to the toilet. Those days have now gone.
St Mary’s is a processional church, rising all the way from the west to the east, with the 8 steps up to the chancel and another 5 to the sanctuary.
The latest of the many later additions to the building have just been completed after 14 years, incuding years occupied with obtaining the necessary permissions for works to a Grade 1 Listed building.
Among the changes now made was the removal of the north aisle pews to make way for coffee tables and chairs and for the fitting of a small kitchen and disabled access toilet in the north west corner, (ending that long journey uphill), still leaving space for chairs to be added to restore the seating capacity for times such as Remembrance and Christmas.
Additionally, the Lady Chapel in the north east corner of the nave has been restored; with chairs arranged around the table to provide an intimate space or private prayer and a venue for the mid-week communion service. The new nave platform opens up the front of the church, and creates a focal point for services plus the ability to plug in equipment, from projector to keyboard, without trailing wires across the tiles. and the west doors are centrally placed.
Glass doors have now been added at the west end, so that when the big wooden doors are open there is a view right up the central aisle (with its new red carpet) and then up the steps to the high altar at the east end. The eye is drawn to the cross in the distance.
The building is Saxon (and probably contains the original Saxon font) plus many later additions. A very unusual part of its history is that in the twelfth century it was bequeathed to the Knights of St John, aka The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, whose present day successors are responsible, among other things, for the St John Ambulance. A sloping interior has been associated with churches connected to the Order of St John.
A 12th century building has not stoppped Standon or the other churches in the united benefice at The Mundens and at Sacombe from offering worship in many different forms and reaching out to new people. There are Common Worship Services of the Word, CW Holy Communion and informal Family Services in rotation. A combined choir leads Choral Evensong monthly. Each Sunday afternoon the local school hosts ‘St Mary’s at the School’, a contemporary service with worship songs and interactive talk, and Messy Church activities for children. At the same time there is a free, faith based village youth 6 club (the VYC) for children in year 6 and above. This is a beautiful, lively and welcoming church.
This article was adapted with thanks from Jill Beardwood’s article in ‘The Window,’ the magazine of All Saints Hockerill. Local information in the original article courtesy of Caroline Franks.