This slide show includes just a few of the photographs taken by Dee Robinson during construction.
Eight years after the project’s launch, the Bishop of Dorchester celebrated the opening of our new extension on March 3rd 2020. He congratulated the craftsmen, church members and local supporters who’d worked so hard to provide modern kitchen and toilet facilities for St Leonard’s. It marked the completion of stage one in a project to equip the church to meet the varied needs of its neighbours.
Learning from the past
The craftsmanship is superb. Visitors or passers-by won’t notice joins between the old and the new. Everything – stonework, woodwork, plastering and flintwork – are to standards of which our church’s medieval builders would be very proud. 800 years ago, they created a beautiful place not just for worship and prayer, but also for local celebration and enjoyment. Each generation has helped the building to evolve and meet new needs.
We share their vision that St Leonard’s must be part of all our lives, not just of those who worship there. It has already hosted concerts, ceilidhs, open mic nights, film shows, dramas, operas, public meetings, lectures, exhibitions and family celebrations. But it lacked two essentials for 21st century use: a modern kitchen, and accessible toilets with baby-changing facilities.
The project builds on a major renovation in 2002 to improve lighting, heating and flooring, and later the provision of flexible seating, up-to-date audio-visual facilities, and a grand piano. If funding allows, the next step is to create a sound-proof meeting room. In all these changes St Leonard’s loses nothing of its historic atmosphere. Its doors will open seven days a week to welcome everyone, whatever their beliefs, to share its beauty and serenity.
Watlington is rapidly expanding, and we want our church to serve as a community hub, meeting the social and cultural needs of our town and surrounding villages. One long-standing member of the congregation put it like this: “It’s our duty to make sure this wonderful building serves all the people of 21st-century Watlington, just as it did hundreds of years ago. To preserve it just for the minority who worship here – that simply can’t be right.”
A confident, inclusive vision
We want St Leonard’s to be at the heart of the spiritual and cultural life of our area 800 years from now. Times change, and community needs evolve with them. Renewal also allows flexibility for new patterns of worship and prayer to inspire people of all ages.
Church decline is not inevitable. This is a place where people meditate in silence. Take toddlers for messy play. Sing hymns, receive communion. Bring babies for baptism. Feast and dance. Get married. Watch opera, drama or cinema. Hear great music. Celebrate family milestones. Say goodbye to loved ones. Show off their talents. Debate big issues. Sit and think in peace. Feel part of something bigger.
Our renewal project is about much more than bricks and mortar. It’s a vision of a lively, inclusive future for a building which has meant so much to generations who’ve lived, like us, in this quiet corner of Oxfordshire.