Richard Hancock and family say farewell
It doesn’t seem like yesterday that Kate, Alex, Ben, and I arrived at Handley Vicarage in August 2018 and began our new life and ministry here in Dorset within the Salisbury Diocese. I was very excited to be the new Priest in Charge of the Sixpenny Handley Benefice and the new Rural Field Officer for Dorset. This was going to be a key part of the new four-year Rural Hope Project in the diocese which was being funded by a two-million-pound grant from the Church Commissioners. I would be part of a team of four Rural Field Officers and other rural mission practitioners looking at how to reimagine and reinvigorate rural parishes in the Diocese including Handley and Pentridge. It was great that Salisbury Diocese was taking rural ministry and mission seriously, when so many other Diocese were focusing their resources on urban centres even though most parishes in the CofE are rural. We were all made very welcomed, and it didn’t take long for 6dH to feel like home.
2019 got off to a flying start with new projects being developed across the Diocese and in the Handley Benefice. Working with the PCCs and church teams we developed a new 10-year mission plan, which included the launch of a pop-up café, Magnificafé along with developing new services aimed at young families including Family Service and Breakfast Church, led by the Young Church Team. Special events were developed including, Father’s Day at the TAP, Plough Sunday with the blessing of ploughs, a Palm Sunday Procession, and of course The Woozel Hunt. An Alpha course was also run during Lent. A new Finance Team was set up and a five-year financial plan develop. The church also began to reach out into the community offering support to other organisations. Four of us became Scout Leaders which helped in expanding the work of 1st Woodcutts while developing community relationships. Mrs Vicarage aka Kate developed the church choir which not only added to our worship but was sociable and fun, lubricated with home-made sloe gin. New services were also developed in St Andrew’s and at St Rumbold’s Pentridge which celebrated rural life, including a St Hubert’s Day service in November. As we moved into 2020, we were all filled with hope and anticipation for the new year and decade and growing the life of our churches and communities. As we all know life changed for us all as the worldwide COVID pandemic started to take hold and on the 17th of March 2020 we were told to lock our church doors and stay at home.
Despite this huge life changing event, not seen since the outbreak of war in the 1930s, the church and community rose to the challenge. The COVID community support group was set up and I began my daily online broadcasts offering some hope, cheer, and spiritual reflection in these uncertain times. Services moved online and we were getting viewing congregations of 160 each Sunday, something rural churches only saw at Christmas. Even the Scouts got in on the act with a Virtual Scout Camp and online activities. Thankfully Handley and the surrounding area was spared the worse of the infection in the early days of the pandemic, when vaccines and treatments had not been developed. My work as Rural Field Officer also shifted online with the Rural Hope Team offering online webinars and support to rural churches dealing with the pandemic and new ways of worshiping. We also developed outside worship and walking church as restrictions were eased.
However, the pandemic has taken its toll in other ways. In 2019 the Salisbury Diocese was running an annual deficit of around one million pounds. Plans were in place to rectify this over the course of 2020 and 2021 but like many organisations and charities the pandemic hit them hard. By the beginning of 2022 the diocese was running a nearly two-million-pound deficit. It had been hoped to extend the Rule Hope project to a fifth year, but funding could not be secured. In December last year I was told that sadly I would have to look for a new post in 2022 as current funding could not guarantee a full-time vicar at Handley once the Rural Hope Project had ended, even though work had begun to create a larger benefice of six parishes which would include Tollard Royal, Chettle and Farnham. Discussions are underway as to what the future ministry provision will be in Handley and there is another article explaining this in more detail from the PCC. I hope and pray a practical solution is found before too long so all the good work can continue as I’m sure God has a purpose for Handley. I’m pleased that the Rev Dr David Miell and his wife Henriet who is also ordained, who have been offering support to the Chase Benefice, will also be overseeing Handley Benefice while plans are developed for the future of the Deanery.
I have been lucky enough to secure a new post as Rector of Spire Hill Benefice in West Dorset and Rural Mission Enabler based in Stalbridge and I’m grateful to Bishop Karen and the Archdeacon of Sherborne for finding me this post. This is a permanent post which has also meant that Kate can keep her job at Semley School which she loves. We’re glad we are not moving too far away so it will be easy to keep in touch with people. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we have loved our time here, the village community and people have been lovely, and we have had a lot of fun and made some lasting friendships. I have even qualified as a Scout Leader “Rick the Vic” and will be getting involved with the Scouts at Stalbridge. We will be moving at the end of May and my last service here will be on Sunday 22nd May which I hope you will all come too. I will begin my new role as Rector of Spire Hill on the 29th June though my role as Rural Field Officer for Dorset continues until the 31st of December after which I will become the new Rural Mission Enabler for Sherborne Archdeaconry.
Kate, Alex, Ben, and I would like to thank everyone for their friendship, kindness, and support over the past three years as well as a lot of fun. Even though we have been with you for just a short time, Handley will have a very special place in our hearts and we hope to keep in touch.
Blessings, Canon Richard Hancock