THE newly refurbished Priory Church of St Mary has been blessed by the Anglican Bishop of Portsmouth.
In a service yesterday the Rt Rev Christopher Foster officially rededicated the Hayling Island Church, which reopened just before Christmas last year having undergone a six-month, £400,000 refit.
The medieval building now has underfloor heating, state-of-the-art lighting, wooden chairs to replace the old pews and restored stonework inside.
In front of more than 250 people, Bishop Christopher praised the efforts of everyone who had donated money or helped with the project.
He said: ‘They have done an astonishing job.
‘The church is now far more open and flexible that before, and the wonderful medieval touches which give it character have actually been enhanced through their work.
‘The Christian faith is not one which seeks to be exclusive, but inclusive and welcoming to all.
‘So it is fantastic to have buildings which also represent that. Now the transformed St Mary’s can be used for more activities, and can fit more people.’
The project manager who took on the task of refurbishing the church, Alan Hoad, said the ambition to give it a facelift had existed for more than 10 years.
‘The problem is that it had been refurbished in Victorian times,’ he said. ‘And they put in lots of big heavy pews that left no room for flexibility.
‘They also installed a heating system that no longer worked, so we had heavy metal grates on the floor which made a noise to walk on but had no purpose.’
Mr Hoad added that while installing new polythene pipes and gas boilers to give the church underfloor heating, he made an unexpected discovery.
‘There were two bodies buried down there,’ he said. ‘And we really had no idea where they came from, so we left them in place and I hope to discover their identities through a bit of research.’
Parish Vicar Paul Ginever added that even skeptics of the revamp had been won over.
He said: ‘There is always a worry when you meddle with something like this that you could mess it up, but it has been tremendous to see how much everyone likes it.’