Political Priest for Parish of St Clement’s and All Saints

The Church of England parish of St Clement’s and All Saints in the Old Town has a new priest-in-charge after a four-year period since the departure of the previous Rector.  The Reverend Paul Hunt, who acted as agent for Liberal Democrat party candidate Nick Perry at the last general election in the constituency of Hastings and Rye, has accepted an invitation from the Bishop of Chichester to take the role in a part-time capacity (two and a half days per week). His appointment was announced before morning service at St Clement’s on 27th September.

Rev. Hunt, 63, son of a Jamaican father and English mother, was brought up in North London but says he spent many childhood holidays in Hastings with his maternal grandparents. In a professional career combining ministry with teaching, he served as chaplain of a succession of independent schools – Aldenham, Brighton College, Mill Hill and Emanuel – and also officiated for seven years as vicar of the London parish of Southgate. However, he kept a fond regard for the town, living here during the 1980s when he was teaching at Bexhill High School, and getting involved in local Liberal politics at a time when the party shared power in the borough. His main home was on West Hill Road, St Leonards from 2006 until last August when he moved to Pevensey Road. He has now been persuaded back into clerical responsibilities in the Old Town.

Reverend Paul Hunt

It seems he will not be afraid to maintain his political interests in this role, though eschewing local party affiliation. “I’m pleased to say that there are committed Christians in all of the Hastings political parties,” he observes. “Christians believe that God is active in his creation, and so Christians should also be actively concerned about what is happening in the world about them.” He had intended to be in the United States this autumn, working for the Democrat party in the current presidential election. The travel restrictions arising from the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to that venture; his political concerns will instead be literally those of the parish pump.

Parish of deprivation

According to a recent Church of England survey, the population of the parish of St Clement’s and All Saints amounts to just under 4,000 souls and is well within the hardest pressed 20% on an index of social and economic deprivation. 

In numbers that’s a very low figure: by way of comparison, Christ Church, up the hill in Ore, encompasses 17,000. And it’s not practicable to keep both churches within the parish functioning at the same time. So a system of rotating four-month terms has been in operation since 1978.  This year St Clement’s was holding weekly services for worship on Sundays at 10am from June to the end of September (with required hygienic and social distancing arrangements); these transferred to All Saints from last Sunday, then will revert back to St Clement’s in February. An advantage of this system is that major festivals in the calendar like Christmas and Easter can be alternated between the two churches.

The average Sunday congregation at either church was numbering around 60 prior to the onset of the pandemic and has fallen to no more than 30 to 40 in the period since June. However, pre-Covid, they were still filling to capacity at Christmas and Easter, for Jack-in-the Green, and during Old Town week. Weddings, and funerals for well-known locals, may also attract full houses.

PICTURE: Dave Young

Up to March, a monthly Night Church at St Clement’s (starting at 9pm and running until around midnight), which included free refreshments and was lit with coloured illuminations, was reaching a wider congregation. Regular services were also being held in three local residential care homes, including Old Hastings House at the top of the High Street.

Pastoral care

As regards pastoral care, Rev. Hunt regards the institution of the Church of England, and his own work as priest, as being available to everyone in the parish, not just committed Christians. “The prime purpose of my pastoral work is not to get people into church. Most of my time in Southgate was spent with non-churchgoers”, he recalls. “On one occasion an escaped prisoner turned up at my door. He said he had come to me because I was C of E, and he assumed I could therefore help him.” 

Although neither of the churches currently provides accommodation, as part of the town’s Snowflake night shelter scheme, their congregations contribute with both money and staffing; they also make regular donations to the food bank at Kings Church on The Ridge. The parish priest and a number of churchwardens are ex officio trustees of local charity Magdalen and Lasher.

PICTURE: Dave Young

The church hall at the side of St Clement’s was sold last year, raising money for the organ fund as well as general diocesan investment. A similar hall adjacent to All Saints accommodates a variety of non-church community activities including yoga and tango classes, craft fairs and children’s birthday parties; following recent refurbishment including repair of the heating system, it is being made available to Snowflake again, as it has been before.

Of total parish income of nearly £82,000 in 2019, over £50,000 was raised by voluntary donations  –  mainly church collections. Rev. Hunt’s own stipend of £7,000 per year and the longer term viability of both churches depend on this flow of donations continuing, though he is hopeful of adding some tourism income to the church’s coffers – click here – once the pandemic is over.

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