The Church of Christ the Good Shepherd

The Church of Christ the Good Shepherd, affectionately known by many as The Little Stone Chapel, has the official address 16 Avenue Hotel de Ville, 79110, Chef-Boutonne. Finished in 1904, a stone plaque on the façade of the building shows that it was first used by the Eglise Réformée de France. Local residents can remember it being used later as a private dwelling and as a car mechanic’s workshop! Our chaplaincy’s association with this building began around 2010 when the congregation of St Léger de la Martinière, near Melle, began to hold services there in the winter months. The beautiful ancient church in St Léger had no heating – cool in summer but bitterly cold during the winter. Access was down five worn stone steps; the interior was damp with green algae making the uneven floor dangerous. Coffee was served after services in the Ancienne Mairie, about 150 metres walk from the church and the public toilet was opposite the salle des fêtes. Imagine the relief therefore when we were offered the use of a building with access via a smooth slope if needed, a smooth wooden floor, a kitchen and, importantly, an inside toilet accessible to wheelchairs. However, the only heating was provided by two portable gas heaters which were not very effective but we were certainly grateful for them. The chaplaincy’s use of the building ended after a few years when we were told by the owner to remove all our effects as he intended to sell it for a domestic conversion. Fast forward to June 2021: During the intervening years many changes had ocurred within the chaplaincy. The size of some congregations and the Ministry Team itself had diminished and we were in a period of interregnum. Council had frequently discussed the use of a generous legacy from Shorney Edwards. This had been held, with another large donation for several years. Whilst a sizeable sum, it was not sufficient to purchase a house for a chaplain, but possibly enough to buy a multi-purpose building for use as a worship centre, social/outreach activities, meetings and a central storage facility. The seed was sown. Council was actively planning to reopen worship centres after Covid. Positive discussions between the churchwardens led to the little church in Chef-Boutonne. It had been for sale for a number of years. The potential was evident: a large, light main hall which could seat 50, a mezzanine for additional seating or choir, kitchen facilities and toilet. It was accessible for those with mobility issues, had a cellar and small outhouse for storage, nearby parking and a rear garden for outdoor events in the summer months. A site visit was arranged and after lengthy, careful and prayerful discussions, the decision was made to go ahead. This was not a decision made lightly. Everyone on Council at that time was invited to share their thoughts and reservations. However once the motion was accepted there began a period of growing enthusiasm and optimism for the future. On22nd November 2021 the Stone Chapel was purchased. Nouveaux propriétaires: Now the real work began! The huge “Jobs To Do” liust was drawn up. There was a sense of urgency with the Inaugural Service planned for Sunday 19th December. A cleaning party was arranged and a team of cheerful volunteers disposed of rubbish and tackled years of dirt and cobwebs. Charlie Wilcock made a very thorough and detailed risk assessment. Despite the hard work, everyone was still smiling at the end of the day. As the Chapel is listed, a dossier was submitted to the departmental architect. We were advised as to what we could and couldn’t do to the exterior of the building. Bordeaux rouge was chosen for the exterior paintwork. It has recently been completed and looks stunning. The spiral staircase was altered to make it more easily accessible and handrails fitted. An efficient electric heating system new water heater, fire extinguishers and notices were all installed. A new altar was constructed from a dining table donated by Margaret and Don Mace when they returned to England. A concrete ramp has been constructed to provide an emergency exit for wheelchairs to the rear. The garden has recently been completely cleared to create a wonderful outdoor space. Planning has already begun for the planting of shrubs and perennial plants during the autumn. A Warm Welcome Over the last two years we have said goodbye to some members but we have also welcomed new people. Our congregation is growing. There are two services each month in the Stone Chapel with members from all corners of the chaplaincy attending. There has been a variety of events: meetings, choir practices, games afternoons, afternoon tea in the garden, bring and share lunches and recently a concert. The chaplaincy benefits from the high profile we now have in the community of Chef Boutonne. Local people support our events. They are intrigued interested in what is happening inside the Stone Chapel. Our chaplaincy is seen to be active and the Word is spreading. A very warm welcome awaits you. 

Wanda McKerchar Churchwarden (September 2023)