The new Rector of Uckfield, the Rev John Wall, comes to the town with a reputation as a community champion.
Paul Watson reports
Fr Wall will move later this year from the Moulsecoomb area of east Brighton, where he was instrumental in establishing a community pub, The Bevendean, known as The Bevy.
Coming to Uckfield will be a complete change of scene for the priest.
He revealed how some people regarded his current parish when writing for a church website in Utrecht, the Netherlands
“I’m Team Rector of a somewhat notorious Parish in Brighton (I once got a postcard addressed to “The Reverend John Wall, the Vicarage, the Dodgy Bit of Brighton, England” and it got to me, which is indicative of our reputation!”
The Bevendean pub was closed for some time before coming back to life as a community-owned pub.
Fr Wall led the campaign to re-open what became the first urban co-operative pub in the South of England.
The building was gutted and transformed to provide bespoke community spaces including a bar, café, meeting areas and – to come – a training kitchen.
Knocked over pint of beer
He was also hands-on in the renovation of the property, spending seven hours sanding down the bar.
“I said, ‘if anybody spilt beer on the bar there would be hell to play’; and I was the one who knocked the first pint over it,” he said.
Embedded in a vibrant community
His current parish has a population of around 18,000, similar to Uckfield where the Ministry comprises Holy Cross Church with St Saviours, Uckfield, St Michael’s, Little Horsted, and St Margaret’s, Isfield.
Fr Wall said it had been “hugely great fun” being in Moulsecoomb for the last ten years.
“It is a vibrant community and I have been embedded. I think there is almost a sense of bereavement that I am going,” he said.
He is a school governor, runs a networking local community leaders’ lunch, and has interests including entertaining, theatre, films and art.
Looking forward to Civic life in Uckfield
He added: “I’ve also done a lot in Brighton in the wider City as chaplain to three of the recent Mayors, and I’m looking forward to being involved in the Civic life in Uckfield.”
One resident of his present parish told UckfieldNews.com: “You are very lucky to be getting him.”
Warren Carter, chairman of the Bevy Pub committee, told me:
“He has put his heart and soul into transforming our community.
Without Father John and the church’s support I doubt the Bevy community pub would have opened.
“Not many vicars would have spent their days off sanding down the bar or vacuuming before an event.
He has brought people together and always has time for anyone.
“Our loss is Uckfield’s massive gain”
Fr Wall said that after ten years he felt he needed a new challenge and looked forward to being a “focal Christian presence in a town like Uckfield”.
“I am extremely looking forward to it,” he said.
Tribute to Fr ‘Mitch’
He paid tribute to the Holy Cross curate, Christian Mitchell (known as Fr Mitch) who he said had “done amazingly well”.
Fr Wall has been ordained for nearly 27 years and has served in Crawley, central Brighton, Newbury, Berkshire, and for the last ten years as Team Rector of Moulsecoomb.
Columnist for Church Times
Fr Wall is also an art historian and has an MA in Medieval Art and Iconography. He is a columnist for the Church Times newspaper.
He is aged 55, single, and has a Labrador dog called Sophie.
No date has been arranged for his start in Uckfield.
After Easter he begins a previously arranged four-month long sabbatical to Italy and will come to Uckfield after that.
Fr Wall takes over as Rector of Uckfield from Canon Martin Onions who died suddenly last year.