“The ragstone church is the heart of the village. In sunshine the church takes on, a little, the honey glow of cotswold stone. In rain, the ragstone is so saturated it weeps”.
So wrote Michael McNay in his delightful Portrait of a Kentish Village in which he describes East Malling through more than a thousand years.
Indeed, the Parish Church of St James the Great has stood as a witness to Christian truths throughout those centuries and continues, in many ways, to be the hub of the community.
We know that there was a church building here in 945AD. Originally much smaller than the present building, it nestled among the few cottages, farms and fields which surrounded it. In those early days it was called St Mary’s, but when Festivals and other things honouring the mother of Jesus were abolished at the Reformation, it became named ‘St James the Great’ after one of Jesus’ disciples. The building grew in size through the centuries, gaining a chancel, aisles, a porch and a taller tower.
Bells have rung from its tower for more than 300 years, the first five hung in 1695 and the sixth added in 1831, and for more than 200 years the blue and gold clock, made by a local blacksmith, has marked the passage of time which has seen the village develop and grow into the lively community which it is today.
It is part of the heritage which we have richly received and enjoy, and our responsibility is to help preserve it and hand it on for another thousand years and more.
The Friends of St James the Great was formed in 2003 in order to assist with the maintenance and preservation of the fabric of the church and churchyard, and to assist with any new projects for which the Parochial Church Council might ask for support.
There are hundreds of people within East Malling and much farther afield who have a deep affection for the village church and feel loyalty towards it, and that loyalty goes beyond church membership. There are very many who, for varying reasons, are not among those who worship regularly at St. James the Great or even come, as many do, for those special times in the church’s year – Christmas, Easter, Harvest – welcome though they are at any time. But still they have a love of the building and value its place, and what it stands for, within the community.
Here they have brought their children for baptism; here couples have come, surrounded by the love, support and prayers of family and friends, to commit themselves to each other in marriage; here they have come to mourn their dead and lay them to rest in the quiet and well-kept churchyard of St. James the Great.
Members of The Friends are kept regularly in touch through a Newsletter issued 3 or 4 times a year, and are given priority news about imaginative events which the Friends’ Committee organises.
Listed below are what The Friends have managed to do for the church in recent years, and there are other projects in hand, among them essential repairs to the stonework and renovation of mediaeval glass and the creation of a new glazed entrance to the church building. It’s all both exciting and essential, but it needs your help!
So what, since the formation of The Friends in 2003, have its members, who currently number just over 150, managed to achieve and provide for East Malling’s parish church?