Wellwishers pile in to church under threat

Happy couple Tom Baker and Natalie Hughes, who chose Saint Bartholomews in Eastoft, their small village church to get married in because it is underused and threatened with closure. Picture: Paul Drabble
Happy couple Tom Baker and Natalie Hughes, who chose Saint Bartholomews in Eastoft, their small village church to get married in because it is underused and threatened with closure. Picture: Paul Drabble
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A village church threatened with closure was crammed to the rafters for the wedding of Tom Baker to Natalie Hughes on Saturday.

But the couple chose their small church at Eastoft for the ceremony, knowing it could not possibly seat the number of guests invited.

“They wanted to highlight the need to use St Bartholomew’s church as much as possible to keep it open,” said Karon Baker, mother of the groom.

“We 300 or so villagers have been told by the clergy that if we don’t use it we’ll lose it. Tom and Natalie were aware 30 plus people would be standing for the ceremony. It was beautiful. We had flowers everywhere.”

The current ‘clergy’ who married the Eastoft couple is 83-year old volunteer Ken Sergeantson, who conducts services at two of four village churches he serves each Sunday.

The churches form the Marshland Benefice within the Diocese of Sheffield, and Mr Sergeantson has served dwindling congregations for four years, because, he said, no one wants to take on the benefice.

“A letter was sent to parishioners asking for their support as we need ways to cover costs and ensure the future of the churches,” he said.

“It’s great that Tom and Natalie chose to marry at Eastoft as there are few ceremonies in villages. I hope the upcoming Harvest Festival will be well supported too.”

Saturdays’s wedding was enjoyed by the entire village, as the party walked from the church to a marquee reception at the home of Natalie’s parents.

“It was fantastic from start to finish,” said Mrs Barker. “Those who stood for the service were quite happy, and afterwards older residents in Eastoft said how lovely it was to see such a village celebration. We hope it’s encouraged others to use the church which is one of the few community facilities we have left.”

She added: “The minister was wonderful too. He was very funny and there was a terrific atmosphere.”

The traditional white wedding for London-based bank manager Tom, 27, and property developer Natalie, 31, of High Street, Eastoft, included six bridesmaids, and the couple stunned guests by choosing a 20s style theme for their first dance, said Mrs Baker.

“It would be sad if the church at Eastoft became unused,” said Tom. “It is picturesque . It meant a lot to us to get married there, even if it was a tight squeeze..”

St Bartholomew’s Church is lucky in that a local benefactor bequeathed some money towards its upkeep.

But its future, along with churches at Adlingfleet, Swinefleet and Whitgift remains uncertain without a paid minister in post and with Sunday services held on a monthly basis. “We got little response to an appeal, but still want to know how people would like to see the church develop,” said Mr Sergeantson.