Over 400 people packed into Saint Mary's Southampton to see the revitalisation of this historic church, which has been a site of worship since AD 634. Jon and Hannah Finch, who are leading the revitalisation, were supported by the Bishop of Southampton and church leaders across the city and Diocese of Winchester to celebrate this new city centre resource church in the heart of Southampton.
There was only standing room left on Sunday 30th September as Saint Mary’s Southampton was relaunched as a city centre resource church in Southampton. Over 400 people attended the launch, including students, local church leaders and a longstanding member of the existing congregation, who’d once taken part in an open air service at Saint Mary’s when its roof was destroyed during World War II.
The Revd Jon Finch, who is leading the revitalisation with his wife Hannah, drew on the heritage of Saint Mary’s as he set out the vision for this new venture. Since AD 634, when St Birinus came to England as a missionary, there has been a faithful worshipping community on this site. Jon spoke about continuing St Birinus’ mission to “see Jesus glorified and society transformed”. The current church building was bombed during the Blitz, yet the congregation of Saint Mary’s were determined to worship God on the site and rebuild the church. Now the church has embarked on the next stage of its ministry as it becomes a city centre resource church in partnership with HTB and the Diocese of Winchester.
Southampton has a diverse and growing younger population, with many students and young people working across the city. Saint Mary’s iconic building and central location means it is well positioned to reach out to younger generations and the 98% of Southampton’s population that don’t attend a church. Speaking about his heart to reach the unchurched, Jon said:
“We are not here just to build a church, we are here to transform a city… Our vision is to see every young person and student in this city discover their true identity as a child of God; to see healthy, stable families who love each other deeply; to see those caught in the cycle of addiction set free; to see churches planted and revitalised from this church throughout Southampton and beyond; to see every single citizen in our city, young and old, rich and poor, coming to know the love of Jesus.”
Jon also shared how this revitalisation plays a part in the wider work that God is doing across Southampton. The Bishop of Southampton, the Rt Revd Dr Jonathan Frost, has been greatly supportive of the new project and attended the launch of Saint Mary’s. Bishop Jonathan commented:
“I’m delighted to be here for the launch of Saint Mary’s Southampton. It’s wonderful to have new life in this building and see Saint Mary’s thriving. The team at Saint Mary’s have been supported by Christians from churches across the city and I’m excited that these churches will be working together to reach out and share the love of Jesus in our city.”
Jon spoke of the joy of working with different churches in the city and Diocese, mentioning the hugely warm welcome the team have received from local church leaders, as well as support from the Diocese of Winchester, who have a vision to see their area renewed by the love of Jesus. Before the launch, Jon and Hannah were officially welcomed and prayed for at a Southampton Christian Network meeting. The Revd Paul Finn, who is the Chair of the Southampton Christian Network and led Riverside Family Church in Southampton for 40 years, said:
“Southampton Christian Network is delighted to welcome Jon and Hannah Finch and the team revitalising Saint Mary’s Southampton in partnership with HTB and the Diocese of Winchester. Our mission is to build strong and sustaining relationships between leaders and churches so that our unity, through prayer and fellowship, creates an effective partnership for the gospel to flourish in Southampton. We therefore warmly affirm the new team as we work together to bring the transforming love of Christ to the people of this great city.”
Mark Lowman, Head of Strategic Development for the Diocese of Winchester, added:
“Saint Mary’s is an iconic church for the city and region and its revitalisation is an important part of a wider growth strategy, Winchester Mission Action, which includes church planting, fresh expressions of church, rural ministry and student engagement. The established church community has shown great faith in working with the Diocese, the National Church and our partners from HTB in order to achieve this vision for revitalisation of Saint Mary’s. It has been a collaborative effort with many challenges and answers to prayer along the way. What a joy to see so many here today celebrating this new beginning.”
Saint Mary’s Southampton is part of the HTB network of churches. St Nicholas’ Bristol, led by Toby and Gill Flint, reopened the same weekend after similarly being bombed in the World War II and, unlike Saint Mary’s, closed to worship for 65 years. Both churches are looking to play their part in seeing society transformed through sharing the love of Jesus.
Saint Mary’s also has a personal connection for the new vicar. Unknown to Jon until recently, his grandparents were married in the church in 1948 and his great-grandfather was the church warden. Being able to continue their legacy emphasised to Jon how the new work at Saint Mary’s is “just the next chapter in the same book”.
Article by Philippa Guy