The United Church Dorchester

United in faith, united in action

United Church Dorchester Annual Report 2015

The United Church Dorchester Annual Report for 2015 can be downloaded (pdf) by clicking on the download button: -


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United Church Dorchester

  Annual Report for January to December 2015

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Our purpose is to worship God and, helped by the Holy Spirit, to love each other, to care for those in need and to share the love of Jesus Christ with all those around us. 

The United Church Dorchester is a Christian Community welcoming everyone.  We value our diversity. Whatever our age, background, culture, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity, we each have something special to share with others.

 In Jesus Christ’s name, the United Church Dorchester

  • seeks personal and spiritual growth, together as a worshipping community and also individually, and encourages all in faith,
  • cares for and supports all within and beyond the church community,
  • works in partnership with other churches and local groups in Dorchester and district,
  • serves the community and the wider world by caring for the earth and striving for a just and peaceful world, combating poverty and disadvantage, and
  • fosters a deeper understanding of and respect for other cultures and faiths.


 1.     A year of Vision and Fruitfulness

1.1.  The year 2015 in the life of the United Church Dorchester has been characterised by prayerful reflection about our purpose and intent.  The Church has re-examined and redrafted its guiding principles.  These are expressed in the above Vision.  The golden thread is one of reaching out and sharing God’s love with our community and the wider world.

1.2.  However, a vision is of little value unless it can be translated into action. So, a rolling programme of practical changes has been initiated.   We have been following Robert Schnase’s ‘Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations’.  The first practice – Radical Hospitality – was examined in 2015 and as a congregation we focussed on how our Vision of inclusivity and welcoming might be lived out in our daily church life.  In 2016 we move on to the second practice, of Passionate Worship. The further practices will follow.

1.3.  A significant choice was placed before the Church in 2015. Following a period of consultation with individual congregations, the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church in June 2015 debated a substantive resolution responding to recent legislation on the marriage of same-sex couples. The General Assembly suggested that it was not possible for the denomination to express a single view on the issue of same-sex marriage. It proposed therefore that the decision on whether an individual URC congregation can host marriages of same-sex couples should lie wholly within each local church. Those churches who do not wish to offer marriage services of same-sex couples should not be compelled to do so. However, under a further procedural resolution, the Assembly agreed to refer back the substantive resolution to the denomination’s synods for a nine-month period of further consultation, at the end of which, if agreement was reached to do so, it would be brought back to the General Assembly in July 2016 for a final decision.

1.4.  The United Church Dorchester resolved in January 2015 not to allow same-sex marriages within this Church. The Church also voted separately on the Methodist Conference’s resolution that would allow Methodist ministers to conduct Blessings of same-sex marriage, should a minister be willing to preside. A proposal to allow this within the United Church Dorchester was also rejected.

1.5.  Initiatives and achievements in 2015 are detailed in the following sections of this report, but special attention in delivering our Vision may be drawn to:

  • A proactive re-examination of our celebration of worship, introducing new, more varied and more accessible forms of worship for both young and older congregants
  • Accepting full responsibility of our legal safeguarding obligations through a programme of education, training and physical changes to the premises, and the introduction of an appropriate management and recording regime
  • A significant expansion of our contribution to the valuable role of chaplaincy throughout the town
  • Continuous review and evaluation of our pastoral work, seeking new ways to make new members welcome and offer support to those of the existing church family
  • Seeking new ways to make available our facilities, located as we are in the heart of the town, to the benefit of the wider community and to specific groups, some of whom otherwise might not be able to come together
  • Providing support to other local, national and international charities which work in practical ways to deliver God’s Will of justice throughout the world.
  • Through our building improvements and maintenance programmes making the Church ever more accessible to all groups and users.
  • Strengthening our ecumenical links throughout the town and wider community.
  • Maintaining the highest levels of probity in our financial and management arrangements and ensuring compliance with our responsibilities as a registered charity.     


 2.     The role of the Council of Stewards

2.1.  The Council of Stewards (the Trustees) has the responsibility of administering and managing the Church in support of its Vision. It supports and advises the Ministers in promoting the whole mission of the United Church and the wider Church in its teaching of the Christian faith and in its pastoral, evangelistic, social, ecumenical and charitable work. The Council is also specifically responsible for the maintenance of the United Church building and the associated buildings at numbers 49 and 51 Charles Street, Dorchester.

2.2.  The Stewards Council is committed to enabling as many people as possible to worship at our Church and to become part of it. It maintains an over-view of worship and makes suggestions on how services can involve the many groups that live within Dorchester and its surroundings. Our services and worship put faith into practice through prayer and scripture, music and sacrament.


3.     Adherence to Charity Commission guidance

3.1.  When planning our activities for the year, the Ministers and the Stewards Council adhere to the Charity Commission’s guidance on public benefit and, in particular, the specific guidance on charities for the advancement of religion. In particular, we try to enable ordinary people to live out their faith as part of our Church community through:

a)      the celebration of public worship;

b)     the teaching of the Christian faith;

c)      mission and evangelism;

d)     pastoral work, including visiting the sick and the bereaved;

e)      the provision of facilities with a Christian ethos for the local community, including, but not restricted to, the elderly, the young and other groups with special needs; and the support of other charities in the UK and overseas.

f)       maintaining the fabric of the United Church and associated buildings in order to facilitate all these activities.


4.     The celebration of public worship

4.1.  The Church provides a variety of worship styles at different times throughout the week. The 10.30am Sunday morning services have been led by our Ministers, incumbent or retired, or by accredited lay preachers. The average weekly congregation, based on the October Count figures, has been about 150 worshippers. The format for Sunday mornings is flexible, although there is always the opportunity for children and young people to take part in worship both with the adult congregation and in their own Junior Church worship. Occasionally on Sunday mornings we hold ‘All-Age Worship’ services and ‘Church with Choices’. In the latter, activities such as music, drama and craft are offered as alternatives to a sermon as part of the morning service.

4.2.  The choir practises weekly to support congregational singing in worship and performs anthems and other items, and an informal singing group offers the opportunity for anyone to learn new worship material.

4.3.  Sunday evenings tend to follow a more traditional format with a smaller, but faithful congregation of between 25 and 35 worshippers. Following a survey asking the views of the evening congregation, worshippers now have a variety of services such as reflective (Taize) or Celtic style, traditional healing and wholeness and songs of praise added to the future plans.

4.4.  On the second Sunday in the month, an early morning communion service is held at 9.00am. The monthly Alive@5 services took a short break in 2015 but are now being relaunched under a range of different names, each time depending upon their content, for example Arty Party or Bible Banter.   These services last thirty minutes and are always followed by a bring-and-share tea. They replace the 6.30pm service on that day.

4.5.  A short, twenty minute service is held on Wednesday morning to coincide with the town’s Market Day and is accompanied with coffee and stalls in the Hall. Typically about 30 people attend the service and, although most are regular Church goers – though not necessarily from the United Church - a few who would see themselves as non-church goers regularly attend.

4.6.  As well as offering regular services during the main festive periods at Easter and Christmas, we continue to have additional and special services, celebrations and activities during these celebrations.

4.7.  Dementia-friendly services were held during July and December this year and the intention is to make these a regular feature in our worship calendar. These services were also taken out to residential homes.

4.8.  As part of our pastoral support to the local community we provide comfort and support to the bereaved.  The Ministers were involved in eleven funerals during the year, not all of Church members. Monthly communion services continue to be held at two residential homes and one sheltered housing complex and, through our Pastoral Visitor and Ministers, we hold occasional services at three other locations in the town.

4.9.  Two church groups meet regularly for reflective prayer and meditation.


5.     Teaching the Christian faith

5.1.  The Church has a number of house groups that meet regularly and, through discussion and conversation, explore the Word as expressed in the Bible. During Lent 2015, the Tom Wright course ‘Lent for Everyone – Mark – Year B’ was followed by both regular and additional groups.

5.2.  A key objective of our Junior Church is to educate our young people in the basis of our Faith. Most Sunday mornings they share in part of the main service before leaving for their own sessions but once a month meet separately as First Steps for their own worship and activity time with their parents and carers.


6.     Mission and evangelism

6.1.  In addition to its regular and established activities, the United Church has arranged a number of additional events this year. In the lead up to Easter, the ‘Festival of Crosses’ was organised again with a wealth of home-made and special crosses on display. Many visitors were welcomed, including children from local schools.

6.2.  In September, a small team took a stand at the Dorset County Show where they provided refreshments, baby changing and feeding facilities, games and information. This is now becoming an established and regular event and form of outreach for the Church. Other popular events have included a concert at the Church in October by Paul Field, the international singer/songwriter.

6.3.  Prior to Christmas we repeated the ‘Journey to the Stable’ which was visited by an increased number of school children and members of the public. Also at this time of year the Church doors were opened to join in the traditional Annual Christmas Cracker late night shopping carnival in Dorchester. The Church formed an important focus because of its position in the town centre, offering free coffee and mince pies with an opportunity to listen to Christmas music and join in singing carols led by the United Church Brass.

6.4.  The after-school drop-in for children to attend between school and home during term-time continued successfully this year.  A paid leader was in place to organise things until the summer 2015 and up to this time the drop-in was ‘open’ every week day. From September the drop-in has continued on three days a week basis, staffed entirely by church volunteers. The number of students attending has dropped and this provision will be reviewed in 2016.

6.5.  The ‘Story-Tots’ group which meets once a week during term time continues to welcome babies and pre-school children and their carers to share a time of play together.

6.6.  Members of the Church continue to be involved in the management and running of the Quiet Space in Poundbury.

6.7.  Chaplaincy work in Dorchester has expanded considerably during the year. A Chaplain was appointed by Dorset Fire and Rescue to the Dorchester Fire Station and he is now very much part of the team. In addition six Chaplains were trained and commissioned for retail work. The response amongst the South Street businesses and the arcades has been so positive (over 90%) that more Chaplains are now being recruited to expand the work. As the team members are from several churches an ecumenical Management Group has now taken responsibility.

6.8.  The Church’s window onto South Street continues to show to passers-by something of the life and concerns of the Church with a frequently changing display.


7.     Pastoral work

7.1.  The United Church maintains a system by which all members and adherents are assigned to a pastoral visitor, who tries to keep in touch with them and appreciate their concerns. As well as each member or adherent being assigned a visitor, the visitors themselves are grouped under a number of coordinators, who look after the visitors’ pastoral welfare. Training for pastoral visitors this year has included the topics of bereavement and lone working.

7.2.  A special welcome was given to recent new members at a well-attended meeting.  To help provide them with information, the welcome leaflet was revised, the church directory updated and a new groups booklet is being planned for 2016.  Also more information has been put on the church website about our pastoral care.

7.3.  The Church employs a Lay Pastoral Visitor who continues to support the Ministers in regular pastoral visiting and responding to needs as they arise.  One of these perceived needs was around keeping older brains active. This has led to planning a monthly games afternoon, which is being launched in January 2016.

7.4.  Another component of our pastoral care is the ‘Prayer Chain’, where those in need are remembered in prayer by a number of Church members, including those who are housebound. The Tuesday prayer group also keeps a list of people for whom prayer has been requested.

7.5.  The Coffee Shop continues to be a hub of social activity, offering a listening ear and a friendly welcome to all. It now has a regular clientele, some of whom are either physically or mentally frail. They are well known to the staff and use the facilities as a place to come and feel at home. A further opportunity for friendship is provided by a regular lunch-time club called ‘Picnic People’ which has successfully taken off this year. The Quiet Room and the Church itself are open daily for all to use for quiet prayer and reflection, and as a place for a quiet conversation.


8.     Serving the local community

8.1.  With its central location in the town, the United Church is ideally placed to offer itself as a reasonably priced venue for many events. The Regional Blood Transfusion Service runs well attended donor sessions regularly on our premises.  The Dorchester Learning Centre occupies the Chelselbourne room on the top floor.  This is to be extended to include the Charminster room. Occasionally the Centre provides a collection of their art work for display in the Coffee Shop.

8.2.  A number of local charities receive advantageous rates for the use of rooms. In specific instances accommodation is provided free-of-charge.  One such group is the bi-monthly Contact Centre where children can come to meet their non-resident parents, often under potentially confrontational circumstances.

8.3.  The Church is used for a number of choirs for rehearsals and occasional concerts. Grateful mention is given to Peter Mann who has managed all the bookings for many years and ensures rooms are ready for use for both regular and occasional users.

8.4.  The Church Shop still opens six mornings a week from 10.00am to 12.30pm providing a wide range of Christian books, gifts and cards, and fairly traded goods, including food from Traidcraft. Its customers come from a wide radius around Dorchester. As a FairTrade Church and eco-congregation, good practice is actively promoted within the Church and more widely in our locality.


9.     Support of other charities in the UK and overseas

9.1.  The United Church has a continuing commitment to local, national and international charities through members working as volunteers and by donations of goods and money.

9.2.  Locally the Church and individual members have supported:

  • The Dorchester Poverty Action Group which held an open meeting this year looking at the issues around personal debt as well as continuing to offer grants to people in emergencies.
  • the local food bank, for which the Church continues to be a collection point
  • Age UK Dorchester
  • Dorset Nightstop

9.3.  Fundraising supported Action for Children through collection boxes, a quiz and the traditional carol singing. A special collection was held for Methodist Homes for the Aged.

9.4.  Internationally, the Church is committed to relieving poverty and disaster and to funding development through the work of Christian Aid. Regular awareness events and fundraising took place throughout the year but, as might be expected, the main activity took place during Christian Aid Week, with the annual house-to-house collection and the Christian Aid Market. Other fund raising events this year have included a barn dance and quiz, and through Christmas activities.  Christian Aid representatives have also lobbied their local MPs on issues of climate change and tax justice. One World Week in October provided yet further opportunities to reflect on the role of the Church in fighting injustice and in bringing hope to the poorest and most powerless people of the world.

9.5.  The Church supports The Bible Society and world mission through the World Mission fund of the Methodist Church and CWM in the United Reformed Church. In 2015, the chosen World Mission Project for the Church was Hope Now, a charity working in the Ukraine (registered Charity no.1072038).

9.6.  During the course of the year the Coffee Shop has handed over to the Church some £10,000.  As in previous years, charitable donations have been made by the Coffee Shop by contributing from the regular ‘tips’ box.  This year’s chosen charity was Home Start West Dorset.

9.7.  The weekly market day stalls in the Hall have again distributed their proceeds to a number of different charities and most of the Church social groups made donations towards Church expenses or another nominated charity.


10.      Maintaining the Church building

10.1.     During 2015 property work has been varied, as ever. Some works have taken place with very visible outcomes but, on the other hand, other changes and improvements have not been so obvious. For instance, in the latter case, defects occurred and were repaired in the control equipment in the two air handling units that heat the Church and the Hall.

10.2.     Some tiles on the south side of the Church roof were replaced and the spire was examined internally and externally by a Structural Engineer and Building Surveyor. To assist the Church to comply with Safeguarding legislation, the locks on the external doors and key cupboards were replaced. The lighting in the Church foyer and the Tolpuddle Room were improved by the installation of LED panel lights. Another project completed this year was the installation of a double door entrance to the Hall.

10.3.     A major project put forward for investigation this year is the installation of a lift which if implemented would start from the ground floor near the main entrance to the Hall, and then serve the Shop, the 1st  floor of No 49 (the Cerne Abbas room etc.), the 1st floor of No 51 (Tolpuddle room etc.) and the 2nd floor of No 49. The loft of No 51 could be made accessable from the 2nd floor of No 49 via a short staircase.

10.4.     The electricity and gas supply contracts were market tested and the supply companies in both cases were changed.


11.    Ecumenical Relationships

11.1.     The United Church Dorchester has good relationships, both working and through worship, with other churches in the town. We are a member of Churches Together where one of our congregation was nominated as Vice Chair this year.

11.2.     Additionally, through the Quiet Space on Poundbury where our Minister is a trustee and several members of our congregation are volunteers, the Church actively contributes to and supports an ecumenical Christian presence in Dorchester. At the Quiet Space our minister joined with another minister to re-resource the area with reflective posters, books and other items.

11.3.     This year the Church participated in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We celebrated the Good Friday Walk of Witness, ending at the Church with a service and hospitality.  Further ecumenical events supported by the Church included Peace Day and Cracker Night in December. Other denominations joined us at our Sunrise service on Easter Sunday. During the year a new vicar and Catholic priest were welcomed into the town and opportunities will continue to be sought out to work with all churches.


12.     Membership, Staffing and Other Issues

12.1.     During the year seven people have been welcomed to the Church through transferred membership. One baby and his older brother were baptised, and two teenagers from our congregation were confirmed. We have also said goodbye to eighteen members through death and moving away.

12.2.     During 2015, our URC Minister, Revd Peter Clark, took a sabbatical leave of three months and shared some of his experiences and learning on his return. He continues to give about a third of his time to the United Church Dorchester, leading worship, sharing leadership of one of our Fellowship groups and serving on the Council of Stewards. He also comes regularly to our Coffee Shop and makes himself available to church members and visitors alike.

12.3.     Our Methodist Minister, Revd Stephanie Jenner, gives approximately two-thirds of her time to the United Church, as she has three other small churches in her care, and also is Superintendent of the Bridport and Dorchester Methodist Circuit, and has District roles. She takes the lead in the planning of worship, in pastoral activity, in developing local networks such as Churches Together, and contributes to both business and other committees and groups. We continue to benefit greatly from the ministries of retired Ministers and lay leaders of both traditions.

12.4.     Our employed pastoral visitor continues to work closely with the Ministers and pastoral team.

12.5.     The youth worker, who was funded from the Methodist Connexion to lead the after-school drop-in, came to the end of her contract in August 2015.

12.6.     During the latter part of 2015 plans were put in place to employ a part time administrator for the Church. An appointment was made in November to commence in January 2016.


13.       Financial Review

13.1.     The Finance committee has met four times during the year to review quarterly the actual income and expenditure against the 2015 budget in order that the Church finances remain on target and are managed well, and to give support to the Treasurer in the management of all the transactions and financial affairs of the United Church. In the 4th quarter the budget was planned for 2016; this planned budget was then taken to Stewards Council and finally the Church Meeting for approval.

13.2.     At times it is necessary to divert from the planned budgetary spend, as was the case this year, with emergency repairs on two occasions to the heating system. Such extra spending has to come from our reserves, which are in a very healthy state.


14.       Reserves policy

14.1.     The Church Finance team has a Reserves Policy in place, this is to secure the future in case of unexpected or exceptional need, and is a requirement of the Charity Commission.

14.2.     Our reserves are held as unrestricted funds which are kept available once our commitments and planned expenditure are covered. The only portion of Church funds which are included as reserves are those which are freely available. Restricted funds and endowments are not included in the reserves; for example, the Florence Fare Trust is an endowment, and the Youth and Family fund is a restricted fund and therefore these are excluded from the list of reserves.

14.3.     Of our funds and investments, there are three, which at the present time, fall into the category of reserve funds. These are the Emergency fund, the Memorial fund and the General fund. The total of these makes up our available reserves.

14.4.     The Charity Commission suggests that we consider certain factors, namely forecasts of future planning and expenditure, and possible risks and contingencies, including the possibility of reduction in income of the Church. We have tried to strike a balance by taking their recommended figure which is equivalent to six months’ worth of our working capital to be held as reserves. Therefore it is necessary for us to hold an amount of at least 50% of the annual expenditure of the United Church as a sufficient reserve. The three funds held have been adequate to cover this requirement and meet the recommendations of the Charity Commission throughout this last year, and the exact figures will be published with the Annual statement of the Accounts at the Annual Church Meeting. It is our policy to invest our fund balances between the CBF Church of England Deposit Fund and the Trustees for the Methodist Church Purposes.


15.      Structure, governance and management

15.1.     The procedures for the appointment of elected officials and Stewards are set out in the United Church’s Constitution. The membership of the Council of Stewards (Trustees) consists of the Ministers and the Stewards, from whom the Secretary and the Treasurer are elected. All the Stewards except the Ministers are elected by a combination of United Church members and retired Methodist Ministers who choose to make the United Church their main place of worship. All those who attend our Church are encouraged to become members, if they feel called to do so.

15.2.     The Stewards’ Council met for business eight times during the year with an average level of attendance of nearly 90%. It has the task of giving leadership to the Church as well as having an overview of its life. In February, the Stewards held a second additional meeting to focus solely on the Church’s Vision and to look at ways of developing how we live the Vision in our actions.

15.3.     Given its wide responsibilities, the Stewards’ Council delegates co-ordination of aspects of the Church’s life to a number of committees.  This brings about the active involvement of a larger number of people in the day-to-day running of the Church. These committees, which include Worship, Pastoral and Fellowship, Youth and Family, Community Service Home and World Mission, Property, Finance and Administration, are all responsible to the Stewards’ Council and report back to it regularly through their linked Steward. A process of reviewing the remits of these committees, together with the Council of Stewards, Treasurer and Secretary, was completed during 2015.

15.4.     In addition, the Outreach Group also reports directly to the Council of Stewards.


16.       Administration Information

16.1.     The United Church Dorchester has an entrance on both South Street and Charles Street in the centre of Dorchester. As a ‘Local Ecumenical Partnership’ between the former South Street Methodist Church and the former South Street United Reformed Church, Dorchester, the United Church retains its links to both parent bodies through the Wessex Synod of the United Reformed Church and the Southampton District of the Methodist Church and is an integral part of the Bridport and Dorchester Circuit of the Methodist Church.

16.2.     The Church is registered with the Charity Commission, number 1137996.

16.3.     The correspondence address is The United Church Dorchester, 49 – 51 Charles Street, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1EE.

16.4.     The website address is



The Council of Stewards (Trustees) who served during 2015 comprised:

Our Ministers


  • Revd Stephanie Jenner
  • Revd Peter Clark


Steward who stood down in January 2015


  • Janice Young

Steward who stood down at the AGM in March 2015


  • Margaret Knighton (who had also served as Church Secretary since 2010


Stewards who served all year (committee served on shown in brackets)


  • Wendy Hilton – Senior Steward and chair of Council of Stewards (Pastoral/Fellowship Committee)
  • Colin Gannaway - Treasurer (Finance Committee)
  • Malcolm Lewis - Assistant Secretary (Administration)
  • Paul Smith (Property)
  • Penny Fennell (CSHOM)
  • Paul Wallis (Worship)


New Stewards elected at AGM in March 2015


  • Alexandra Reed (Youth and Family)
  • Elizabeth Martin (Administration)


New Steward co-opted during 2015


  • Janet Kennewell



17.       Looking forward to 2016

17.1.     While this annual report relates to the calendar year January to December 2015, the life of the Church moves forward in a continuum and many things started in 2015 are being progressed as we move into 2016.

17.2.     Most prominent perhaps is the continued commitment to making the Church more ‘fruitful’ in its practices.  In 2015 the first practice of a fruitful congregation – Radical Hospitality – was examined and a number of practical changes were agreed, achievable in the short, medium and long term.  The second practice of Passionate Worship was touched on at the end of 2015 and is now being discussed within the Church.  The further practices of Intentional Faith Development; of Risk-taking Mission and Service; and of Extravagant Generosity, will all be pursued during 2016 and beyond.

17.3.     With the growing catastrophe of more and more displaced persons escaping war, poverty and persecution, it is no surprise that the Church has adopted Refugees as its World Mission Project for 2016.  Not being confined by a tight definition of the issue itself will permit a range of actions and avenues of support to be pursued in response to this fast evolving tragedy.  

17.4.     Much consideration has been given during 2015 to the style and content of worship within the Church.  The outcome of these changes will become evident during 2016 and, no doubt, further changes will be introduced.

17.5.     Those who have been a part of the Church family for many years will recall the excitement and expectation associated with the Building the Vision initiative and programme of works associated with the purchase of the neighbouring No 51 property (some may still have the mugs !) and the energising effect that it had on the life of the Church.  The boldness that underpinned that initiative feels to be abroad again in the proposal of a lift to make accessible all storeys within the building.  Plans have been drawn-up, discussed and costed in 2015, but a final decision remains to be taken whether or not to proceed to implementation.


Thank you to all who have contributed to the life of the Church during 2015 and continue to do so; and thanks also to those who have contributed to the production of this Annual Report.


Previous Years Reports

Previous Years reports can be viewed by clicking on the relevant link below: -

Annual Report for January to December 2014
Annual Report for January to December 2013

Annual Report for January to December 2012


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