It's many years since every country estate had its own church. Now, Malshanger House, just West of Basingstoke, has opened the doors of its clubhouse for the Warham Trust, an Anglican fresh expression of church in rural England.
The idea has been that we should be a fully-fledged church in our own right, at the same time as many of our people belonging to their local churches,
explains Peter Irwin-Clark, the vicar of the Warham Trust.
For the vast majority of our 100 or so core members we are their first church, and about one third of those don't belong to another church at all.
Beyond that inner circle we have contact with another 200 or so who are infrequent attenders at our worship-services but may come to one of our small groups or a midweek teaching meeting.
Earlier in the autumn some of the members were confirmed by the Bishop of Basingstoke, reinforcing the clear connection with the established church.
On Sundays, Warham holds Liquid Church — everyone worships together for much of the service, but, in the middle, disperse across the estate to different sessions offering a variety of topics and styles (including a non-verbal Creative Workshop).
On Wednesday evenings, a daughter congregation meets in Padworth, where 40 to 50 people come together for worship and small groups. The more-than one-centre element is part of what makes Warham different.
This approach to Sunday worship seems to be attractive to all ages. The clubhouse is set out in café-style and provides easy access for people in wheelchairs. This (with the excellent bacon-butties!) encourages a relaxed atmosphere, and it is less disruptive if, for example, a young child wants to walk around.
It is natural for people to stay around after the service because the church is set out so informally – and in such a beautiful setting no one is in a hurry to leave anyway!
This story was originally published in expressions: the newspaper – issue 3 (spring 2007) and features on expressions: the dvd – 2: changing church in every place.