TWO churches based 200 metres apart on the Gloucester Road are taking part in a unique swap.
From this month Bishopston and St Andrews (B&A) Church is moving out of its chapel building at number 160A, and into the much larger Baptist Church across the road at number 279.
At the same time Horfield Baptist Church will leave Grade 2 Listed number 279, where they have been worshiping for over 100 years, and move down Pigsty Hill to number 160A.
Both churches say the move answers a prayer for them.
B&A vicar James Stevenson said his church had been facing a £3million repair bill for its two existing buildings, the church at 160A Gloucester Road and St Bartholomew’s church on Maurice Road, next to St Andrews Park.
He said: “We had a split site that just was not working well for us, and faced a large bill to make them fit for purpose. So we decided we needed to find one building that served our strategy for our work.
“Just about that time we heard that Horfield Baptist Church were also looking for somewhere. Their building also needed repairs, and was too big for them.”
The two churches brought in experts to assess the two properties’ values, and how much renovation work was needed on each – and then agreed a deal that allowed B&A to use reserve funds to pay for the swap to the larger building at 279.
The funding is partly from another church sale – last year B&A, sold the Church of the Good Shepherd, in Bishop Road, to Emmanuel Bishopston, which is also Church of England.
Sarah Phillpot, Minister at Horfield Baptist Church, said of the latest move: “This is an almost unprecedented move between denominations and an answer to prayer for both congregations. It will also enable both churches to better serve the local community.”
She said the move would allow the church to move from a period of maintenance, to becoming more focussed on the community once again, whilst maintaining their focus on Sunday morning worship.
The legal exchange was due to take place on 31st March, with Horfield Baptist Church immediately moving to 160A.
Mr Stevenson said: “We are excited to have found a solution that will enable both churches to continue to be based in the heart of the community they serve and to thrive and grow in the long-term. I have seen the sadness on the faces of some members of the Baptist Church because of the move – but I have also seen their hope, and excitement. It is impressive to see people who have had a home for decades give it up graciously in the cause.”
The B&A team will move community activities including the Ukraine Welcome Hub, free weekly soul food meals, hot meals for Warm Spaces, and the Sixty-One Hub for ex-offenders to 279.
Restoration work is planned on the building, including changes to the access at the front, improved disabled access, and alterations to the layout of the main worship space inside.
The church hopes to have spaces ready for community venue hire by the autumn.
Services will continue at the B&A church by St Andrews Park – but when developments at number 279 are completed, worship will also move there.
Mr Stevenson said they welcomed the future plan to bring together community activities and worship into one place. And he said the church’s intention was that any buyer of the St Andrews church and hall would continue to use it for community use.
The churches say the swap has been met with approval by both congregations and has been through a process of evaluation by a series of professionals and leaders from both the Diocese of Bristol and the Baptist Union.