Archbishop John has praised the “remarkable hard work and vision” which has transformed Brecon’s St Mary’s Church, as it begins the latest chapter in its long history.
At a special evensong last night to celebrate the church’s reopening after £360,000 works, he said St Mary’s is now “warm, welcoming and open to all”.
The town centre church – which houses a cafe and children’s play area – had been closed for 13 months while major repairs to its roof, and improvements including better disabled access, were carried out.
Among the congregation were the Lord Lieutenant of Powys, Dame Shân Legge-Bourke, deputy lord lieutenant Mike Lewis, and mayor of Brecon Ieuan Williams.
Archbishop John said: “It’s a little over 17 years since I arrived at Brecon as dean of the cathedral. At that time this building was open for an hour and half a week – an hour on a Sunday and half an hour on a Tuesday.
“I visited Hereford some time after coming to Brecon, and was struck by All Saints’ church in Hereford. It had been radically reordered, to be a place of great welcome and a place which houses opportunities for reflection and worship but also opportunities for people to be refreshed in its cafe, and I began to think ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have something like that in the middle of Brecon?’
“I contacted the person who had been parish priest at All Saints until he set up a company called Ecclesiastical Property Solutions, which began to help other places to become reordered. When I spoke to him on the telephone, one of the first things he said me was ‘please tell me you’re ringing about St Mary’s, Brecon’.
“He told me his partner has relatives here, and she had said what a tragedy it was that the church that is bang in the middle of town is locked for most of its life. That was the beginning of what we now see.
“Others saw the project through, through remarkable hard work and remarkable vision, so this place is now warm, welcoming and open to all who want to come through its doors, for worship, refreshment or just peace and quiet and reflection in their daily lives.”
As well as fundraising by church members and the local community, the cost of the project was met by £95,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and grants from Cadw, Brecon Beacons National Park and other smaller bodies.
Parish priest Father Steven Griffith said: “About four years ago we had a structural survey done of the church by our architect Bonnie Kitchen and she found, along with the structural engineer, that the valley between one of our three roofs had been attacked by death watch beetle, dry rot and wet rot. Effectively that valley needed completely replacing and various other parts of that roof needed fixing.
“As part of getting the grant, we have put in place improved disabled access – a new ramp and automatic doors on the south entrance of the church – and we’ve also improved our heritage story with various boards and leaflets around the church.”