Warfield Church: The First Thousand Years

“Historical research with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days.”  Winston Churchill

1Warfield Parish Church is a grade II* listed building. It is located on Church Lane, Warfield in Berkshire, England, ¾ of a mile north-east of the modern centre of the village. It is named after the archangel Michael. The area around the church has been designated a conservation area since 1974 primarily to protect the character and nature of this historical building.  Pevsner commented that, “Warfield is one of the most rewarding churches around”.  The building charts its origins back to 1016 when Queen Emma, the wife of King Æthelred the Unready decided to give “the vill and chapel” of Warfield to the See of Winchester.  Although it is likely that the location where Warfield Church now stands has been a place of worship from approximately 800AD when it was little more than a clearing in the middle of the Windsor Great Forest. “Warfelt” is mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086. In 1087 under the reign of William II, The Priory of Hurley was given patronage of Warfield, i.e., the right to appoint the Vicar. This patronage continued until 1535.

Contents

  • 2The early years
  • The monks of Hurley
  • The Protestant reformation
  • Memorials
  • The Oxford Movement
  • George Street
  • The 20th Century
  • Into the 21st century

The early years

The first stone church was constructed in Warfield c. 1135 under King Stephen. The church building would have been a simple timber construction before that. In 1156 Henry II signed an official charter giving the lands and church of Warfield to the Monks of Hurley.

In 1272 in the reign of Edward I a new chancel was built on the site of the present day St Katherine’s chapel and glass started to be used in windows. At this date the Eucharist was only taken three times a year and all services were in Latin. In 1349 the Black Death hit Warfield. Until that point the village of Warfield was in close proximity to the church. The Black Death caused people to leave homes close to the church and relocate further afield. This explains the church’s slightly isolated location today.

The Monks of Hurley

At the end of the 14th century the monks of Hurley moved to Warfield because the Thames flooded their priory in Hurley. The 14th century monks were formidable. They took over the Parish Church, probably using the Chancel, today’s St Katherine’s Chapel, as their Chapter House. They built a fine Chapel (today’s Chancel) as a scaled version of that at Hurley, the chalk having been brought from the Hurley chalk pits. The monks gathered for corporate worship six times a day. Following the repair of Hurley in 1401 the monks began to return to their home besides the Thames.

Several decades after the monks returned to their Priory on the Thames, the major part of the building at Warfield was constructed out of what the monks left behind. The Tower was built in the mid 15th century and the present bell tower was completed. In the 1500s the picture of the Church would have been one of priest with his helpers in the chancel, dressed in colourful robes, speaking hardly audible tones in Latin. Across the entrance to the Chancel was a large wooden screen with statutes on it. A restored version using some of the original carving is across the entrance to St Katherine’s Chapel today. The walls were highly painted with pictures and texts.

In 1523 Robert Geyn was appointed Vicar of Warfield. At the Bishop’s visitation of 1550 the people complained that Geyn was not performing his duties, had employed an untrained curate (Robert Mason) to care for the church, and was using the vicarage to care for horses and pigs.

The Protestant Reformation

In 1570 the Warfield Parish Rooms were built. It was known as the Wake House. People used to meet annually on the feast of the dedication of the church to St Michael. The building is possibly on the site of an older monastic building.

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The Vicars of Warfield

There is always some item of background controversy however, in 1674 the Warfield Wardens state that the present vicar had given up teaching and had become a farmer. In 1677 there was a yearlong lawsuit between John Brakes (a parishioner) and the Warfield Church Wardens as to the ownership of the pew by the pulpit.

The 16th and 17th centuries saw vast changes. Henry VIII’s break with Rome led to the destruction of the monasteries and priories. Local churches like Warfield were also cleansed of all things that could lead to ritual and superstition. The walls were whitewashed and screens and statues would have been removed. The stone altar was also removed and replaced by a simple wooden table. There was also a large two decker pulpit.

Memorials

5There are many memorials adorning the walls of St Michaels covering many centuries. The one shown to the left dates from the mid 18th century and is a memorial to a wife, husband and a child who died in infancy. It was only during the excavation work for the new floor in the 21st century that the nature of this memorial was realised. Almost directly beneath the memorial were found the coffins of two adults and a child. They remain unmoved – the new floor placed on top. The 1700s saw the building filled with private pews but this did not lead to high attendance. In the 1780s according to the parish records the average at Communion was less than 15 with just over double that at festivals.

The Oxford Movement

By the early 19th centurys there was an active Sunday School owing much to the model created by Robert Raikes the editor of the Gloucester Journal. In 1843 the Vicarage was burnt down, and the Vicar emigrated with the funds for the new vicarage.

In 1851 Warfield parish changed for the first time on record to create a Parish of Bracknell with its own church, Holy Trinity.  In 1860 William Cocks wrote an account of Warfield church. He describes box pews, whitewashed ceiling, and a gallery across the back with a barrel organ given by Lady Jane Walsh. There was a two-deck pulpit, and the farm workers sat at the back on benches. The west gallery later to be known as the “Ormathwaite gallery” was entered by a stairway from inside the church, where his Lordship sat with his servant.

Many were concerned that the Church of England had lost its way and in the 19th century two movements arose to remedy this. One of these was the Oxford Movement with its attempt to take the Church back to its medieval sense of mystery. The Warfield Church began a journey down a more Roman Catholic form of worship.

George Street

In keeping with this journey down a more Roman Catholic path, in 1874 George Street was invited by the then Vicar to redesign the building. Street’s plan would involve vast work.  The box pews were removed, as was the old wooden pulpit, as well as the large window above the main aisle. In went new stone work, the wooden screen across the Chapel entrance, new pews, and a new porch.

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St Michael’s circa 1900

The then Vicar had used the years since 1860 to collect funds for such a venture, but Lord Ormathwaite was upset that his gallery was to be removed.  A compromise was reached and the Ormathwaite pew was eventually placed at the front by the lectern. On acceptance of the plans, services moved to the Parish Rooms for the next three years. The majority of the restoration work was completed and the church reopened on Tuesday, September 26, 1876. Services on that day were 8:30 am Communion, 11:00am Morning Service, and 4:00pm Evening Service. The church was filled for all services with a very large number of visitors. The Bishop of Oxford presided over the day. The total cost for the work was £3,060 of which £2,250 had been raised locally.

The church was dedicated to St Michael and All Angels – although locally it continues to be called St Micahel the Archangel.  The work involved the removal of the ceiling, box pews, west gallery, the installing of new seating, stone pulpit, and stone font. These items remain in the building, all be it in new locations after the early 21st century renovation.

The Church of the Twentieth Century

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St Michaels circa 1950

Since World War II, Warfield Church has seen its most dramatic changes with each vicar building on the work of those before him.  Revd Harcourt-Trevor began the move to a more evangelical ministry and saw the importance of children. His successor Revd Norman Bedford started a work among young people and Revd Tony Wells developed Small Groups where people met in homes mid-week to study the Bible, pray together and support each other.  Throughout the post war years and on to today people began to attend Warfield from across the Bracknell and Ascot area and the changes have brought spiritual life to many coming into the area of Bracknell.

In 1982 Dr Brian Meardon was appointed vicar and early on it became clear that he was more ’Charismatic’ in worship style.  He controversially removed the choir and choir master and introduced band led worship.  The early 90s saw new development come to Warfield in the form of major housing estates. In February 1994 the Church responded by starting a new church to be called All Saints that would meet in the then new Warfield Church of England Primary School.  Bob Nicholls (warden) was the first leader of All Saints.  It would see a range of leaders over the following years, some employed, some volunteers, some ordained, some not.

A year later Mark Meardon, the Vicar’s son, was employed as Youth Pastor.  Mark pioneered Eternity Youth Church, a Warfield Church outreach to young people that at its peak saw up to 450 teenagers at its gatherings and thousands of young people reached in local schools.  It’s impact across the nation was considerable.

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Eternity Youth Church

In 1999 another new Church is added – eventually to be called St Peters and make its permanent home at Whitegrove School.  This congregation grew and developed under the leadership of Revd Chris Hill.

Into the 21st Century

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St Michael’s at the start of the 21st century under Brian Meardon

In 2005 many of the older members of Eternity Youth Church left to form Eternity Bullbrook the third of the new Warfield churches under the leadership of Richard and Scilla Summers.

On the whole the twentieth century had been a time of growth and advancement for the Warfield Church.  The need for youth and children’s work had been stressed by Revd Norman Bedford, and Small Groups and congregational plants by Revd Tony Wells.  These areas were built on by Revd Brian Meardon and by the time Brian left, the Warfield Electoral Roll had reached nearly 500 adults.

But the addition of new churches without the establishment of a strong central core had left Warfield Church looking and feeling fragmented.  Its various churches acted more like autonomous, independent churches, than as part of one Warfield Church.  What was also clear is none of the twentieth century Vicars had thought in terms of a Warfield Church team.  They still continued to operate on a standalone, one vicar, one parish, paradigm that had defined English clergy for a thousand years. This had began to change under Brian Meardon who at various times had various employed people alongside him, for example, Andrew Bagwell (Office Manager), Revd Ben Beecroft (Associate), Revd Ann Bush (Associate), Mark Meardon (Youth Minister), Trevor Meardon (Youth Minister), Gary Shirley (Church Army), Revd Merrick Smith (Associate), Revd Margaret Thirlwell (Pastoral Assistant) and Lucy Ward (Administrator).  It was the beginning of the concept of a ministry team, rather than a single individual minister and quite a radical shift for the Church of England.

Revd Canon Dr Brian Meardon retired in 2009 and a year later Revd Dr Mark Griffiths JP was appointed.   At the end of 2010 Mark Griffiths made his first appointment and Hannah Jenkinson became part of the Warfield Church team, soon taking up the post of Community Pastor based out of the thriving Bullbrook congregation.

In January 2012 Revd Chris Hill took a team of 40 people from St Peters to plant a new church into Garth Hill College to be known as Mosaic Bracknell.  Warfield’s fourth church plant.  The attendance registers for 2012 record that by October there were 93 (adults and children combined) attending.  In early 2013 Mosaic moved to the Royal British Legion in Bracknell Town Centre and became officially part of the neighbouring parish of Holy Trinity. Later in 2013 Revd Chris Hill moved to become Vicar of Ely, Cambridgeshire.  In 2015 Mosaic moved to the newly opened community centre on the Parks Estate.

102013 also saw a considerable reordering taking place at the Parish Church of St Michaels (with Ted Auld & David Milnthorpe spearheading the initiative).  The floor was completely removed, (revealing many lead coffins – these were left as they were found) underfloor heating was installed along with a new Purbeck Stone floor.  The pulpit was moved from near the South Transept to a position in front of St Katherine’s Chapel.  The font was moved from the back of the nave to a position besides the north door.  The balcony installed to replace the organ loft was removed as was the narthex.  Pews were taken out and replaced with chairs – increasing both capacity and flexibility.  The overall cost of the project was close to £500,000.  Through the generosity of the membership the whole project was paid for.

During the period of the reordering the St Michael’s congregations met at St Andrew’s Priestwood.  St Andrews was part of the parish of Holy Trinity Bracknell but its numbers had reduced significantly over the past decade.

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The renovated St Michael’s ready for the demands of the 21stCentury

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Mark Griffiths had a passion for child evangelism and church growth and he had learnt in his previous churches that successful children’s work was a key to growing large churches. He had spent his early twenties working as a Children’s Pastor and had published several books on the subject, and while leading Warfield Church he also continued as Head of Children’s Ministry for an organisation called New Wine (a network of local churches). From his arrival he had made it a priority to build good relationships with local schools.  It would be no surprise therefore that the reordered St Michaels would soon become a venue for a range of exciting youth and children’s initiatives. All Starz was launched to communicate Jesus to primary school aged children—and of course be a place of great fun – it would soon see over 150 children attending every week under the leadership of Children’s Pastor Jo Foster (appointed in 2014).

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Matt Davies Reinvents Warfield’s Youth Work

Matt Davies, the Warfield Church youth pastor (appointed 2014) soon developed a range of exciting youth initiatives and with Jo Foster’s passion for seeing good transitions from children to youth, the Friday night youth programmes began to grow and develop once again with over 100 young people on occasion.

15In 2014 Warfield Church was asked to take on the oversight of St Andrew’s Priestwood, the church they had met in during the renovation of St Michael’s.  It became in effect Warfield Church’s fifth church plant, but its first into an existing church building.  Andy and Becky Medlicott became the first leaders of this new church plant.

In 2014 further redevelopment plans were revealed for Warfield.  The Berkshire Village continues to grow.  Brian Meardon had managed to persuade the council to base a Church of England Primary School in Warfield.  Mark Griffiths (along with the chair of governors Emma Barnard and Headteachers Anna Kennedy and Anne Binding) followed his example and negotiated another one as part of the new development – technically it remained one school but with an extra site taking the capacity from 210 to 630.  The first part of the new development was called Woodhurst Park.

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Jackie Faerber stats Little Starz showing the flexibility of the renovated building

Mark Griffiths went on Sabbatical in Spring 2016, primarily to spend some time with the Australian Church and to consider a role as a theological educator, but as the Bishop indicated at the time, it was his opinion that Mark was also fast approaching burnout – unsurprising considering the large number of changes and additions that had been made in the previous seven years) and during that sabbatical made a decision to step down as Priest-in-Charge of the Warfield Church, officially resigning in September 2016.  Mark used the time between posts to write two more books (one with Jo Foster the Warfield Children’s Pastor) and run a national parenting course for New Wine.  He had led the church through a period of church planting and growth and had significantly increased Warfield’s community engagement, particularly through his emphasis on the church’s need to focus on children and families.  But it had also become clear that he could not maintain that pace indefinitely.

2016 marked the thousand-year anniversary of Warfield Church. When Brian Meardon was appointed it was still a parish of hundreds.  By 2016 it was approaching tens of thousands.  The 2016 Annual Meeting recorded that Warfield Church had more members than at any other point in its thousand-year journey and twelve employed staff engaged in a range of outward focused activities; Revd Mark Griffiths (Vicar / Senior Minister), Revd Janet Taft (Associate Minister), Revd Paul Collins (Associate Minister), Hannah Jenkinson (Community Pastor), Jo Foster (Children and Family Pastor), Matt Davies (Youth Pastor), David Ritchie (Under 30s Minister), Lucy Vitale (PA to Mark and Special Projects Coordinator), Rhian Griffiths (wedding and funeral administrator), Michelle Wilson (Financial Administration), Bev Rees (Administrator),  Dennis Wildman (Verger),  but all working to empower and equip others.  Mark Griffiths appointed all but 2 of the team over the previous six years.

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Carols by Candlelight 2015

It had been quite a journey for Warfield Church.  From its humble beginnings as a clearing in the middle of the Windsor Great Park it has become a significant church.  New community engagement and outreach projects mean that the Warfield Parish Church is full of people of all ages nearly every day—as it was built to be.  A fitting birthday present.  During his six years in Warfield Revd Dr Mark Griffiths ministered in various parts of the world, and with Warfield Mission partners located in Bulgaria, Kenya, Nepal, Philippines, South Africa, South Sudan and Vancouver the Church was beginning to make a significant impact on the world stage.  The Warfield population is growing, it has long ago stopped being the small Berkshire Village.  Society is changing, the role of faith and belief is constantly being challenged, and a church that makes a difference will need to be a church that changes and adapts.  Who will be Warfield’s next leader and what the next 1,000 years will look like nobody really knows.

The months after Mark Griffiths’ resignation proved difficult for Warfield.  When there is no vicar in an Anglican church, the Church Wardens become the leaders and they began to take the church in a different direction.  Before the end of 2016, Matt Davies, Jackie Faerber, Jo Foster, Rhian Griffiths, Hannah Jenkinson and Michelle Wilson had all resigned stating that it was because Mark was no longer leader.  Janet Taft retired and Paul Collins moved to the Chichester Diocese.  By the end of 2016, nearly a year after Mark had gone on sabbatical and not returned, attendance had declined as the emphasis on children and young families was replaced by a return to a more traditional church.  As 2016 came to a close and the thousand year birthday of Warfield Church concluded, there was clearly a need to appoint a new vicar as soon as possible.

The spiritual landscape of the area had changed throughout the early years of the 21st century.  New churches have arrived in the area in the shape of Latimer Minster Winkfield and Ascot, Ascot Life Church and Bracknell Vineyard Church.  Older churches have renewed energy with Kerith Community Church approaching a membership of 1,000 with church plants in Sandhurst and another planned for Windsor.  Warfield Church is no longer the vibrant church in the area.  The Warfield community is now highly mobile, so will Warfield Church recover its large attendance and strong influence into the rest of the century?  Only time will tell.  But the St Michael’s building that existed before the Battle of Hastings will undoubtedly be here to serve many generations to come.

UPDATE

By the Summer of 2018 a new vicar had been appointed, Revd Catharine Morris.  But from her licensing service she made it clear that her next priority was her upcoming wedding and she soon became Revd Catharine Mabuza.  The only remaining staff member from Mark Griffiths’s era was the ‘associate minister’.  Early in 2018 he went to a Selection Conference to see if the Anglican Church would allow him to become a priest – an ordained minister.  The conclusion of those days at selection was the selectors recommended to the bishop that he was not suitable to be an Anglican Minister, the bishop agreed.  Curiously, he still calls himself an ‘associate minister’ despite having no right to the title.  Several annual meetings have now now come and gone and all tried to justify the continued decline in attendance, despite the ‘associate minister’ starting a new church in Woodhurst School.  And the annual accounts presented were stated as an increase in giving, but the clear reality is the sale of the church house – the church’s final capital asset – masked the reduction in income caused by key contributors relocating to other churches in the area.

It is uncertain of what happens next.  Warfield Church seems intent on spreading itself more thinly with numerous church plants, but smaller and smaller congregations, when it really ought to give attention to what was there, and if anything regroup.  The spark and dynamism seemed to go with the old team and despite a few new people joining, primarily in the older age bracket, the exodus is showing no let up.

Unfortunately, this must be our last blog post.  We are joining the exodus and although we will continue to live in Warfield we will be exploring other options.  Many of our friends have relocated to Ascot Life Church or Kerith Community Church, but the new Hillsong Church has began to gather people in Reading so we will likely explore that option first.  We will leave many good friends behind and the history of this remarkable building will continue to inspire us, but for us, it is time to move on.

Much of the early paragraphs came from an original blog by Mark Griffiths which itself is based on Brian Meardon’s writing.  Both vicars compiled information from their then congregation.  The rest is compiled from various photographs and articles by Andrew Bagwell, Ian Camp, John Elliot, Brian Meardon, Mark Meardon, Brian Meyock, Nikolaus Pevsner, John Pritchard, Mark Summers, Michael Wood, NADFAS, Berkshire Churches Trust, and many many good friends.    

It was originally written to celebrate a thousand years of Warfield Church.

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A sample of the wonderful windows at St Michaels
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