Stebbing, Essex – St Mary the Virgin

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We drove through the village of Stebbing and found the church of St Mary the Virgin – TL664240. I opened the door and found a mum and a couple of youngsters who had just enjoyed a messy church morning. It was lovely finding the place open, and the welcome was great – not many other Essex churches, I suspect, would have a lively group of mums and toddlers on a Tuesday morning. Reading their website – http://www.smvstebbing.com – it says “St Mary’s is a lively evangelical charismatic church. We have a variety of services ranging from 1662 prayer book to informal New Wine style celebrations. We are aiming to be an all-age congregation and we are blessed with members from every age group, from toddlers to teenagers to the retired.”

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The most amazing thing in the church is the stone screen. The listing website – it is Grade 1 – http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-122749-church-of-st-mary-the-virgin-stebbing-es/ – says “The arch is filled with a stone screen, of which only two others exist, one at Great Bardfield in Essex and one in Trondheim Norway. It is of three bays, divided by clustered shafts which have moulded bases and capitals and continue up to form three pointed sub-arches, which are trefoiled and sub-cusped, crocketted and ball-flowered etc. There are grotesques to the centre sub-arch stops. Above the centre sub-arch in the middle bay is a transom supporting the Rood. The head of the main arch is filled with elaborately enriched tracery. The base of the side bays is filled with fleuron panelling with a moulded coping. C15 roof is of braced collar beam type. The wall plates are crenellated, all timbers are moulded and the purlins and wall plates are foliated. The curved braces have traceried spandrels.” It is a wonderful piece of work – I loved the figures.

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What a wonderful heritage of faith. Men and women have cared for this church for hundreds of years, they are people who have had faith, have knelt before their Lord, have had a personal relationship with him, and have sought to welcome others. They have not always succeeded, but they have tried.

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The Altar Rails are C18 “with fluted and twisted balusters” – they would certainly keep the dogs out – with a rather nice wooden reredos and other furniture. The odd block is apparently a pulley for the Lenten veil – used to veil the altar during Lent. I have never seen one of these before.

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I had a wander round outside – lovely house next door (“The Chantry”) but I bet it gets a bit noisy when the worship band is in full swing. I made a donation, said “goodbye” to a hard-working mum and two kids who were obviously at home here, and wish them well. The Kingdom of Heaven is big enough for all of us!

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