50 years of unity - the story of St Giles' LEP
St Giles in Desborough is a church actively engaged with its community, through initiatives such as toddler groups, messy church, youth work, a wellbeing café and work with the bereaved.
You may not realise it when first visiting, but St Giles is in fact a Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP) – one of almost 900 across England.
Fifty years ago, on 7th September 1969, the inauguration service for the Anglican Methodist Church of St Giles took place in the presence of the Bishop of Peterborough and the Chair of the Oxford and Leicester Methodist District.
As the church celebrates their 50th anniversary of becoming an LEP, CTE’s Lucy Olofinjana heard more about their journey of unity from their rector Rev Hannah Jeffery, as well as Rev Neil Clarke, an assistant priest who has been part of the church for 27 years….
Joining together as one
“The LEP at Desborough is not just a shared building, but a real joining together of the two traditions”, longstanding church member Neil explains, adding “Nearly all members of the church are joint members of both denominations.”
St Giles’ church services take place in the original Anglican building which dates back to the thirteenth century, and when their LEP was formed, the Methodist Church sold their chapel and purchased what is now St Giles’s community centre.
Explaining how their services and leadership operate, Neil adds: “We have a unique communion service called the "St. Giles Rite", which combines elements from both denominations and has been approved by both churches sponsoring bodies.
Sharing their church’s heart for unity, Neil adds: “Jesus said we should all be one. That means it is paramount and that is what we desire.”
“All the Anglican priests are also Associate Methodist Ministers, regularly taking services on the Methodist Circuit and playing a full part in its life. The church’s Anglican Incumbent and Methodist Minister are joint chairs of the church council, and we have our own constitution and practices.”
Rector of St Giles, Rev Hannah Jeffrey, explains that all services are done jointly, with the church having its own approved liturgy combining the two traditions, and confirmation services being led by both the Anglican bishop and the Methodist district minister, confirming the person into both churches.
“These confirmation services, where the ministers share things very publicly, are a great opportunity for people to see that we are different, but we’re working together.”
Being willing to compromise
In practice this means “there are certain things we have to compromise on”, as Hannah explains. This includes not using alcoholic wine in communion, to respect the Methodist position on this, which is a sacrifice for some.
“People’s general willingness to compromise is so important for the kingdom of God”.
Hannah adds, “I like to think that as members of our church we learn things from one another which we might not have learnt otherwise. And that our church has given people the courage not to hold quite so tightly onto their way of doing things, but to begin to learn to let go.
“There’s huge strength in our differences, and also huge challenge – it’s about learning how to work with those differences in a creative rather than a destructive way.”
Reflecting on the 27 years during which he’s been part of the church, Neil adds: “The church has learnt that we are stronger together.
“There is so much in common and any differences are slight and do not get in the way.
“We no longer call ourselves St Giles Anglican and Methodist Church, but simply St Giles Church, as denomination is no longer an issue (although our notice board states we are an Anglican and Methodist partnership for people who are unfamiliar with our church).
“We respect each other's traditions, but we have evolved to be a single entity.”
Hannah agrees, adding “God is bigger than our differences.”
Celebrating fifty years of partnership
In Hannah’s words, “unity within the church models the kingdom of God”, and St Giles is a church committed to reaching out to their community in many different ways.
For their fiftieth celebrations, the church hosted a special exhibition on 5th October 2019, showing the breadth of work they carry out as a church, as well as an historic exhibition of all they have done in the past.
Then on Sunday 6th October they gathered for special services presided over by the Bishop of Peterborough and the Chair of the Northampton District, bringing together past clergy and those who have played a part in the LEP over its 50 years. And in the evening the church hosted a circuit songs of praise.
They are also planning a range of monthly events to celebrate this special year, including an afternoon tea, a Christmas tree festival themed around their 50 years, and other social events for the community.
Unity for a purpose
“St Giles is a very inclusive church in so many ways” Hannah shares, adding “we’ve had to learn what it means to embrace difference.”
“I think that the way that church is going generally, certainly in terms of mission, more and more churches are going to be like LEPs – even if don’t call themselves that. People will come along to church because someone invited them, or to join in with something we’re doing, rather than because they’re attached to a particular tradition.”
“It’s all about loving each other and working together, as we see in the model of the Holy Trinity – being different but all being one. If we can’t be one, then what are we doing?”
"Jesus said ‘people will know me when they see the love they have for one another’. The more that people with differences can work together, the more it models God’s love and his kingdom.”
You can find out more about Local Ecumenical Partnerships in our Resources section.