A history of St Simon's Church

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St Simon's Church

The Pilot 1981

The youngest of our parishes is St Simon's. When Jurat Charles Le Quesne, author of the Constitutional History of Jersey, died in 1856, he left a legacy of £700 to build a new church in the Great Union Road district, on condition that all seats should be free, his heirs being ordered to reclaim the money if a single seat should ever be appropriated.

Investment in sheep

In 1858 Philippe Filleul, Rector of St Helier, launched an ambitious scheme for dividing his unwieldy parish into ten separate incumbencies, all to be financed by an unusual investment trust. There was at this time a tremendous boom in sheep farming in New Zealand, and two of his sons had large sheep-run there. In An Earnest Appeal to the Stewards of the Lord's Goods he invited Jersey Church-people to buy sheep to be placed on his sons' farm, to be content with 5 per cent interest on their capital, and to allow everything over that amount to go to the new churches. For a time all went well. The first year's dividend was 18 per cent, the next 22 per cent. Prospects seemed rosy.

In 1860 he set apart one of his curates, S B Brasher, to visit the Great Union Road district, and gather a congregation with the aim of ultimately building a church as Le Quesne had suggested. From the start this was known as the St Simon's District though why they chose as patron so obscure an Apostle has not been discovered.

At first the only building in which services could be held was the Cannon Street Ragged School, which lay outside the district, and Brasher did not make much progress, and after a few months resigned. His successor was Josiah Mitchell, another of Filleul's curates, whose wife was a Lys, a granddaughter of the man who saved the Town from destruction, when the powder-magazine caught fire.

Mitchell, who was, so we are told, "full of youthful zeal", was the real founder of St Simon's. At his first service he had no instrument, but a few of the congregation did their best, and “though we sometimes made two or three attempts before we got into tune, we eventually succeeded". He was determined to have a full choral dervice, a thing at that time unknown in Jersey, where in every church the responses were said (often by the clerk alone), psalms and canticles were read, and only the hymns were sung.

With the help of a young man named Pirie, he formed a good choir, and at the end of six months the Ragged School could no longer hold his congregation.

They moved to an upper room in the Town Hall, which then stood in Don Street, for which they paid £62 a year, and fitted this up as a chapel. The singing was a great attraction. The services were the brightest in the Town, and on Sunday evenings large numbers had to be turned away.

But there can have been nothing yet advanced about the ritual, for part of Mitchell's stipend was provided by the Evangelical Church Pastoral Aid Society.

Wool trade slump

All went well for three years, but then came a slump in the New Zealand wool trade. The bottom fell out of Filleul's Sheep Fund, and most of Mitchell's stipend disappeared. But he had gathered round him a group of enthusiastic laymen, of whom the leader was his youthful Churchwarden, W L de Gruchy, the future Jurat, and they formed the St Simon's District Association, and guaranteed to raise enough to keep things going.

By 1865 they felt that the time had come for using Jurat Le Quesne's money, and building a church of their own. In April a well-attended meeting in the Prince of Wales Rooms carried unanimously the Dean's motion, that "the work in the district of St Simon's can only be continued by the erection of a church". An appeal for further funds was issued, which stressed strongly Le Quesne's resolve that the church should be free to all: "In St Simon's there will be no such abomination as the pew system".

Things then moved rapidly. The site was bought, and on 27 July the foundation stone was laid by Dr Jeune, who had been Rector of St Helier and was then Bishop of Peterborough. This was a great function, beginning with Holy Communion in the Town Hall at 10.30, a procession to the site, where stands had been erected for spectators, the laying of the stone, a public lunch in the Yacht Hotel with 150 guests, followed by much speechmaking, then a public tea in the Vegetable Market at a shilling a head, at which 650 people sat down. Thus the stone was well and truly laid.

The committee was fortunate enough to secure the services of G F Bodley, the greatest ecclesiastical architect of the time. He had built scores of beautiful churches in all parts of England, and for St Simon's he drew plans for a very enchanting church. But unfortunately, when the chancel, nave, and south aisle were finished, the money ran short; and the north aisle, for which the foundations had actually been laid, the two side chapels, and the campanile have never been completed. One surprising feature of the church is the fine old medieval piscina in the sanctuary. At the time when St Simon's was being built, the Town Church was being restored, and the architect there had vandalously thrown this piscina out to be carted away with the rubble, when St Simon's rescued it, and restored it to its ancient use.

A military funeral at St Simon's

Trouble brewing

The opening ceremony was fixed for St Andrew's Day, 1866; but trouble had for some time been brewing. The district was still part of St Helier's parish, and ecclesiastically Mitchell was only Filleul's assistant curate.

But the St Simon's Association, when the Sheep Fund collapsed and the financial responsibility fell on to their shoulders, seem to have gone ahead with little reference to the Rector. Filleul not unnaturally resented this. One cannot carve slices out of another man's parish without his consent.

Neither side was conciliatory, and a few weeks before the opening, Mitchell announced in a sermon that "certain painful circumstances" had compelled him to send in his resignation. At a farewell meeting on St Andrew's Eve to present him with a parting gift, both churchwardens were mysteriously absent. They were driving furiously about the island to find the Dean, because they had heard that the Rector meant to forbid the opening of the church on the morrow.

The service passed off peaceably, and lasted from 11 to two with the baptism of Mitchell's infant daughter after the second lesson.

The British Press reported: "A general impression prevailed that the opening would be objected to by the Rector, and that it was probable that physical force would be resorted to. But all passed off agreeably. The Rector was seen rambling about the place, evidently disturbed in mind, during the service, but he did not muster sufficient courage to enter the building."

J J Balleine, whom the Rector now put in charge, was naturally received with suspicion; but he soon won his way. As a Naval chaplain for nearly 20 years he had served in the Crimean and Chinese Wars and in all parts of the world, and was definitely what is called 'a man's man'. In his early days there was nothing alarming about his ritual or doctrine. He announced: "Now that we have a church of our own the Holy Communion will be administered fortnightly instead of monthly."

When a newspaper called St Simon's 'high,' his churchwarden protested: "We have no graven images, no gorgeously decked altar, no ecclesiastical millinery changing colour with feast or fast, no candles blazing at noonday." But he more than maintained the church's musical reputation.

He secured as organist the gigantic Edwin Lott, who gathered at St Simon's a choir of 35 highly trained singers, 15 trebles, 6 altos, 6 tenors, and 8 basses, dressed them in scarlet cassocks, and drew all the music-lovers in the Town to the services.

Consecration

On 4 September 1869, the church was consecrated by Bishop Ryan, who had been Bishop of Mauritius, and on 6 May 1872, the district legally became a parish, and Balleine, who had been Curate-in-charge, now became Vicar.

Whereas all the other new parishes in the Town were described in official documents as 'Ecclesiastical Districts', St Simon's was created a 'Particular District'.

For 27 years Balleine was not only a faithful parish priest. It was said at his death that he was on terms of personal friendship with every man, woman, and child in his parish - but he threw himself vigorously into the public life of the island, the long controversies over the harbour works, the struggle for compulsory education. The Early Closing Movement owed much to his advocacy. And more than once influential deputations tried to persuade him to stand for election as Deputy.

But love of music and love of ceremonial often go together; and in his later years the ritual of his church grew definitely `higher'. Under his successors this process continued, until it was unkindly said that the favourite hymn at St Simon's was "We nightly pitch our moving tent a day's march nearer Rome."

Today at St Simon's most of the Pre-Reformation ritual and customs have been restored; and no one protests.

But now, in 1981, the future of St Simon's Church is in the balance. It is understood that the somewhat derelict and abandoned Vicarage is on the point of being sold, and whereas there is no possibility, under Diocesan regulations, of its ever having a resident priest, what is to become of it?

Admittedly, on High Days and Holy Days, there appears to be no lack of priests from other churches to celebrate High Mass for an eclectic congregation. But one must ask in fairness what purpose does this serve? Ought this Church to be preserved as a fine piece of architectural church building, devouring money and valuable space in an over-crowded Town, or would it be better to substitute the whole edifice for a high-rise block of dwelling units, to house the hundreds of young couples in Jersey who are crying out for low-priced accommodation? No doubt, our ‘’Pilot’’ readers will express their views in our correspondence pages.

Letter to the Pilot

It was with much satisfaction and profound interest to read the historical narrative of St Simon's Church. On at least three points it is inaccurate.

The foundations of the north aisle were never laid, as an old house stood in the way, and was demolished a few years ago. The south aisle Chapel of the Incarnation was installed long before GR's article. The ancient mediaeval piscina did not come from St Helier's Parish Church, and it is not a piscina, but a benitier. St Jude was not included in the title as there was already a chapel of that name in Union Street and, a cause of great bitterness between themselves and Dean Filleul, it was eventually closed.

When St Simon's was created a ‘particular district’ the church building was also to be known as the Parish Church of St Simon, at all times.

But now, in 1981, although like every other church, we have a eclectic congregation. After much discussion with the Bishop, an assistant priest is to be appointed with special responsibility for St Simon's. We, for our part, have given certain assurances to the Bishop. We are indeed fortunate and grateful to the many people who come to the high masses, the purpose of which is to provide an opportunity for Christians to come together to worship God.

For what other purpose are churches built, or indeed why has God created Man if it is not for worship? Supposing a block of flats was built where the church stands, would it create a worshipping community? Of course not.

In addition to paying our way, all the money given at collections is given to missions. Is there any other church in Jersey which does this? Supposing a lot of money is raised and spent on restoring the building, keeping it in good order, what has that got to do with anybody? Our Lord has to reprimand his followers when they tried to prevent a woman from washing his feet with costly ointments. They thought it a great waste.

Yet other churches can spend fortunes on stained glass windows, new organs, etc, including specially constructed burglar-proof cabinets to hold hoards of gold and silver trinkets which are never used or unusable; and no one bats an eyelid. We cannot be accused of squandering the church's money for the simple reason that we get not a penny from any official source.

Those of us, and there were many from several churches, who attended St Paul's Church for the induction of their new incumbent, heard the Dean say that "there were two churches in Jersey, one very low, much lower than he himself would wish to be, the other very high, much higher than he himself wished to be, and both are necessary for the life of the Church in this Island, and must be kept".

It stands to reason that if anyone is so desirous of closing down churches, then they better look elsewhere at those churches whose services are conducted more or less uniformly, and see whether they cannot be pruned. Currently we are looking at possible courses of action to ensure that Anglicans are not to be deprived of a centre of worship to which they feel drawn.

It could mean rebuilding St Simon's on the same site with flats as well, but until our investigations are complete we remain in use as we are. It could become a centre for ecumenical work, which already takes place with other Christians. It could become a centre for a religious community, and surely, there could be no better place. We have no intention whatever of preserving it merely as a museum of Victorian architecture.

Churchwarden, St Simon's - John S Hitchcock

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