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Restructure on the cards for churches on Romney Marsh

By Molly Mileham-Chappell

Churches on the Marsh could be set for a restructure to 'better serve' the area, according to a senior clergyman.

Archdeacon of Ashford, the Ven Darren Miller, has revealed that religious officials are considering combining the Romney Marsh benefice and Western Marsh benefice.

A benefice in the Church of England describes any ecclesiastical parish, or group of parishes, under a single paid minister.

The Ven Darren Miller, Archdeacon of Ashford
The Ven Darren Miller, Archdeacon of Ashford

But an option on the table could mean two full-time ordained members serving the whole of the Marsh.

It comes four months after the resignation of the first woman priest-in-charge of Romney Marsh, Rev. Julie Coleman.

The Archdeacon said: "With the Romney Marsh benefice now in a vacancy, there is an opportunity to look at the structures that we have and see if re-organisation could help the parishes serve the Marsh better going forward.

"For this reason, I have asked the parishes of both benefices to consider some possibilities which we can then put in place before recruiting a new priest."

The Romney Marsh benefice went into an interregnum following Rev. Coleman's resignation while the eight parochial church councils, along with the Archdeacon and area Dean, considered the next steps.

It is currently made up of eight parishes, stretching from Burmarsh to New Romney, while the Western Marsh benefice incorporates six churches in three parishes, from Fairfield to Lydd.

He said one possibility is a ‘team ministry’ arrangement: "This would unite the two benefices into one for all of the Marsh and the two full-time clergy would then minister to the whole area and support each other in their roles.

"Both of these clergy would continue to be based at New Romney and Lydd."

The Rev Julie Coleman at her last service. Picture: Paul Amos
The Rev Julie Coleman at her last service. Picture: Paul Amos

He believes creating a single benefice would align the Marsh 'more closely to how most people perceive it' - as one area rather than two: "If the parishes agree to form a team ministry for Marsh, then the legislation to allow that to happen can also make other changes to help the parishes and churches better serve their communities.

"This is an opportunity to create change for better ministry in the life of our parishes – and the decision is in the hands of the churches.

"Any changes will be those that the churches feel are right for them and my prayers are with all who are making these crucial decisions.”

More than 500 well-wishers gathered at St Nicholas Church in New Romney in October to say goodbye to Rev. Coleman after four years at the helm, when she accepted a new post as a vicar outside of the Marsh.

Rev. Coleman previously hit headlines in 2017 when she vowed to wear her full uniform - a black cassock - every day until the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing.

It was also reported last year that human ashes had mysteriously appeared inside the church of St Mary in the Marsh. Alongside church warden Bill Caudwell, she launched an appeal through this newspaper to help identify the woman who died, which successfully resulted in a family member coming forward.

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