Airport Church Takes Off in UK

editorial assistant, Adventist News Network

t Gatwick-Horley Seventh-day Adventist Church members worship each week to the muffled sound of airplanes flying overhead. The reason? Gatwick-Horley is a scant 300 yards from Britain's second largest airport.

St. Michael and All Angels Church, where the Gatwick-Horley congregation meets, stands out among the nearby runways and businesses. The church, located in the south England county of West Sussex, is roughly 150 years old. The historic structure has always attracted visitors with its architecture and stained glass windows, and visitors have continued to pour in since Gatwick-Horley members moved in last May. The neighboring airport has 90 airlines serving 32 million passengers a year, a number of which pay St. Michael's a visit.

The church's head elder, Paul Hersey, says people waiting for flights often ask to tour the historic building. "In a week, about 30 or 40 people come for a look," Hersey says.

Eventually, he adds, they hope to have a full-time caretaker at the church to guide sightseers. A deacon currently leads tours. While having an airport in the backyard boosts attendance, it could potentially be a noisy disturbance. However, Hersey says, the church's construction solved the problem: the walls are about three feet thick.

There can be more or less noise depending on the direction the planes are flying, Hersey added, but noise hasn't interfered with worship.

The Gatwick-Horley congregation stumbled upon St. Michael when Hersey saw a listing for an abandoned building on the Church of England's Web site. The structure had sat empty more than two years. The Horely church members needed a new home and St. Michael was in the right location. Both churches agreed on a small rent of £500 (roughly $900) for a 10-year lease, and the Horley congregation moved into the building last spring. These days, attendance on Sabbaths is between 70 and 80 people.

In fact, Anthony Opoku-Mensah, the church’s pastor, says its Gatwick-Horley Church is thriving in the new location. He adds that the church members actively reach out to the nearby town, whether through offering to sing at community gatherings or providing free massage therapy.

Gatwick-Horley will also host Remembrance Sunday on the second Sunday of November, commemorating the services of the armed forces and civilians during wartime. Hersey said hosting the event is something the church is happy to do for the neighborhood.

The congregation is currently working on additions and renovations. Electricians are re-wiring the building, toilets will be added for the first time, and a kitchen is the works.

Opoku-Mensah says the projects will allow Gatwick-Horley to be used for weddings, cooking schools, and various outreach programs. Ultimately, he wants the church to be a constant resource in the surrounding area. "We are trying to make the church available throughout the whole week," Opoku-Mensah says.

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