The Church of England Chase Benefice is situated across the Dorset Wiltshire border in part of the beautiful Cranborne Chase and was formed in 2001. It is currently made up from 12 churches in the 9 parishes of Chettle, Farnham, Gussage All Saints, Gussage St Michael, Tarrant Gunville, Tarrant Hinton, Tarrant Keynston, Tarrant Monkton with Launceston and Rushton, and Tollard Royal. The church in Tarrant Crawford is maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust and is open for one service a month from May to September each year. Tarrant Rawston church is privately owned.
What is happening to the Chase Benefice?
We were in the throes of Coronavirus lockdown when the Rector of the Chase Benefice, the Reverend Dr Michael Foster retired on 12 May 2020 after 20+ years as our Rector. At this point, all the churches in the Chase Benefice had been closed to prevent the spread of Covid-19, so, sadly, the Rector’s retirement wasn’t marked in the way that had been planned; we haven’t yet been able to hold a special service to bid Michael and Amanda farewell.
Normally when retiring, a priest would vacate the property supplied with the job but, due to the Coronavirus outbreak, Michael and Amanda had no opportunity to search for a property for their retirement. Therefore, Michael was granted permission to stay at the Rectory in Tarrant Hinton until such time as they could move to their new home. Fortunately, as the lockdown eased, a suitable property was found. On 6 September, the Reverend Dr Michael Foster celebrated Holy communion at Tarrant Hinton church and some of his former parishioners across the Chase Benefice were able to be there to bid him and Amanda farewell. Michael and Amanda moved on 10 September to their new home in Colehill and we wish then well as they make their house into a home.
When the Rector retired, the Chase Benefice moved into a period of ‘interregnum’, whilst it is decided how the parishes will be organised in the future. This means that the Chase Benefice doesn’t have a priest at the moment. During the interregnum, the Rural Dean, the Revd Justin Pottinger, has oversight of the activity of each church in the Benefice, whilst churchwardens and PCCs continue to look after our churches. All the churches in the benefice work closely together and the Benefice Council meets with the Rural Dean every 6 weeks to discuss the management of the benefice and to provide mutual support.
The Gussages have expressed a wish to join the Cranborne Benefice. The local consultation concluded on 21st September and no objections were lodged. The matter has now moved to the next stage and will follow the Church of England's legal process. All this will take time and, doubtless, will be slowed down by Covid. The move is likely to happen in 2021.
In common with a number of dioceses, the Diocese of Salisbury needs to cut down on its spending. Clergy vacancies in the Chase Benefice and Blandford Forum Benefices should help this process. A Deanery Pastoral Plan is now out for consultation and all the Parochial Church Councils in the Chase Benefice have been studying the proposals carefully, asking questions and feeding back. The plan indicates that what remains of the Chase Benefice, following the Gussages' departure, will be split up after many years of working together.
The plan proposes that the Tarrant Valley parishes will be part of a team ministry comprising the parishes of Blandford Forum, Blandford St Mary, Bryanston, Charlton Marshall, Durweston, Langton Long, Pimperne, Spetisbury, Stourpaine, Tarrant Gunville and Stubhampton, Tarrant Hinton, Tarrant Monkton with Tarrant Launceston and Tarrant Rushton with Tarrant Rawston, and Tarrant Keyneston with Tarrant Crawford. There will be 3 priests serving this team. It is proposed that the parishes of Tollard Royal, Chettle and Farnham will join with the Sixpenny Handley Benefice. The Deanery Working Party will respond to the feedback and make any amendments to the proposals. At some point (I am guessing probably not until after Christmas) the Deanery synod will vote on the proposals. If there is majority in favour, then, in due course, a timetable for the transition will be set and the process of working towards the agreed pastoral reorganisation will get underway.
As an interim measure, the Diocese will shortly be advertising a House for Duty post and the successful applicant will live in Tarrant Hinton Rectory for a period of up to 3 years. A House for Duty is a part-time post; the priest appointed will be on duty for Sundays and 1 or 2 weekdays and will not only have a role in the Chase Benefice but also across the Deanery in assisting with the transition, as the Deanery reorganisation takes shape.
Since churches have been allowed to reopen for worship, we are holding one service a month in each church. We are grateful to the Lay Ministers for taking these services and to retired priests for celebrating Holy Communion. In order to keep up to date with Covid guidance and regulations, we are planning our service schedules on a monthly basis. Regrettably, with the increase in Covid cases, the number of services is unlikely to increase at present but we are pointing people towards alternative forms of worship. You can find out about these and where the "in-church services" are being held in the parish magazines or by looking at the Chase Benefice website http://www.chasebeneficedorset.org.uk/index.php/benefice-services?showall=
If you have any questions about the day-to-day administration of the Chase Benefice or need support from the church, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
With kind regards
Chase Benefice Administrator