Derby, Normanton – St Giles

On Thursday 16 June 2022, the Feast of Corpus Christi, Deanery Chapter was at St Giles, Normanton – a church of a very different tradition to mine (you won’t find baptisms, weddings or funerals on their website – http://stgiles-derby.org.uk/). This church building dates to 1862, with additions in 1902/3. It was designed by F.J. Robinson, and built on the site of a Saxon church.

In 2010 the pews were removed which gives a lovely flexible space, but what angered me was the focus of the church. The altar is blocked off behind noticeboards so we face a preacher, an overhead projector screen, and a pull up banner.

Nor will it surprise you that the font is off limits, the organ (1893 by Peter Conacher & Co of Huddersfield) disused behind the paraphernalia of the worship group, the alabaster behind what would have been a side altar is covered in children’s work, and don’t even think of entering the pulpit.

The South Side of the church is full of memorials to the Sherwood Foresters, as this was the garrison church for the nearby Normanton Barracks, their regimental HQ until 1963. One notice reminds us of the bravery of the 14th Battalion – formed on Markeaton Park in 1940 when there was a danger of German invasion. They served in various parts of this country, then left for Egypt in May 1942, taking part in the Battle of El Alamein. Later they saw service in Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia and Algeria. In February 1944 they landed at the Anzio beach head in Italy and experienced some of the most bitter fighting of the whole war. They continued their advance through Italy, fighting their way north, until finally in October 1944 at San Savino came their last battle. Casualties were so great that the Battalion disbanded and the survivors sent to other ones. Brave men.

Finally a memorial to a lady who no doubt worked and worshipped here in years’ past.

I’m sorry if I sound grumpy – the sad fact is that this is a church which, by almost any measurement, is more successful than mine. More people, more money, more commitment – I wish we had the children and youth groups that they have, or a ministry team with so many young faces, and I do not wish to rubbish the work they do. But I want churches were everyone feels welcome, where it doesn’t feel like a Jesus cult, where we can enjoy choral and organ music, and where the beauty of a building speaks to worshippers and to the community around. I hope those days have not gone.

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2 Responses to Derby, Normanton – St Giles

  1. Heather Farquharson says:

    You have my sympathy in everything that you write ( except that I do like fixed pews). The sight of pull-up or drop-down screens and massed percussion devices makes me want to about-turn and head for the nearest exit. Such arrangements really jar with older styles of architecture. I had a similar experience recently when the beautiful church where I grew up was eviscerated and filled with just the items you describe. A friend sent photos of the interior thinking I would like to see the modernisation. Never have I deleted something so quickly and tried to unsee the photos. However, as you say, this church is obviously meeting a local need, so as long as those of us who prefer the calm and order of a traditional building, with the uplifting sound of a well-played organ, are still able to find a suitable spiritual home then, as Tiny Tim said “God bless us everyone”.

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