The oldest surviving piece of needlework, although not now hanging in St Johns church, is the Mothers Union banner. Worked on blue and cream brocade with gold thread embroidery it shows the Paschal Lamb of God carrying the St George banner.
The Mothers Union was started in England in 1876, by Mary Sumner, the wife of George Sumner, vicar of Old Alresford, near Winchester. On the birth of their first child, Mary felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of being a parent, not only in caring for their childs physical well-being but also for their spiritual nurture and growth. For the first thirty years she was fully occupied with her family life, but in 1876, spurred on by the birth of her first grandchild, she decided that a new organisation for the young women of the parish was needed, and so the Mothers Union was formed. From these small beginnings it now has more than one million members in seventy countries, united by a common commitment to Christian family life and by the custom of midday prayers. It is now the largest voluntary worldwide womens organisation with 122,000 members in Britain alone. The Mothers Union plays an important role in the religious life and social policies of many countries, with members committed to supporting the family.
The purpose of the Mothers Union is to be especially concerned with all that strengthens and preserves marriage and Christian family life. The aim of the society is the advancement of the Christian religion in the sphere of marriage and family life, its objectives being:
To uphold Christs teaching on the nature of marriage and promote its wider understanding.
To encourage parents to bring up their children in the faith and life of the Church.
To maintain a worldwide fellowship of Christians united in prayer, worship and service.
To promote conditions in society that are favourable for stable family life and the protection of children.
To help those whose family life has met with adversity.
In Britain the Mothers Union is involved with eighty-four prisons, two remand centres, eight young offenders institutes and forty-eight hospitals, and twenty-three Mothers Unions are involved with child contact centres. Projects outside of Britain are supported by the Overseas Fund that helps provide training, for members and workers in developing leadership and advocacy skills in their towns and villages, funds seminars and conferences on issues affecting members everyday lives, such as widowhood, civil and legal rights and family life, provides grants for vehicles, and gives encouragement in self-help initiatives such as small livestock holdings, soap making and other craft co-operatives. The Felbridge branch of Mothers Union was linked with the branch in Kanchapara, India. In addition to the Overseas Fund, there is a Relief Fund that is specifically used for emergencies and disasters, such as war, famine and flood.
The Felbridge branch of the Mothers Union met on every third Thursday in the month, and meetings included speakers, discussions and every four months, a Corporate Communion. The Annual General Meeting was held in July each year when a new Enrolling Member and Committee would be elected. The Mothers Union banner, used to hang to the South of the old altar position in the sanctuary of St Johns but was removed when the church was re-fitted in 1974, as the Felbridge branch had by then disbanded.
After the refurbishment of St Johns church, many of the decorative Victorian features were removed, making the interior quite plain, in keeping with it being a low church, (a faction of the Anglican Church that is opposed to excessive ritualism and favours a more evangelical doctrine). It was later decided that the walls needed some form of decorative hanging and in 1988, the St Johns Banner Group was formed with the aim of adorning the church with relevant hangings. The Banner Group originally included, Marion Baker, Sheila Johnson, Ann Morley and Sue Turner, although Ann Morley now carries out the majority of the work.
The first banner to be produced was entitled Praise the Lord, and was made to hang on the South wall of the church between the two plain windows. The background was pale blue with an assortment of flowers and plants growing from a landscape rolling of green hillocks. The lettering, Praise the Lord, was in the form of an arc and flying above the lettering was a dragonfly and a butterfly, with another butterfly fluttering amongst the flowers. This piece of needlework no longer hangs in the church.
To commemorate the 125th Anniversary of St Johns in 1990, the vicar, Stephen Bowen, asked that the Banner Group might produce the Banner of St Johns, the Eagle Banner (pictured on cover). The banner was used at the front of the procession for the open-air service held on the Village Green. It depicts an eagle soaring over the countryside, with the text: I carried you on eagles wings and brought you to myself, the text taken from Exodus 19: 4., unfortunately, on the day of the service for which it was specially made, it poured with rain, however it has been used since in more clement weather. When not heading the processional march it was to be found hanging above the pulpit, but with the installation of the multi media system it was moved and is now to be found above the South door.
Another large banner entitled Holy Spirit used to adorn the walls at the rear of the church near the North door. This depicted a dove with randomly arranged words of Come, Fill, Cleanse, Heal, Comfort, Renew and Strengthen. This was made circa 1993, and in 2002 was given to a church on the Isle of Wight, when the area at St Johns, in which it hung, was turned into a Childrens Corner.
The childrens area now has a large Noahs Ark banner made to replace the afore mentioned Holy Spirit banner, which is more appropriate for children. At the top of the banner are the words, God keeps His promises, and depicted centrally below is the ark with the rainbow and fish in the water. Either side are depictions of Noah sending birds to find land, with the dove eventually returning with an olive twig. Below these panels is the depiction of the animals in pairs. The Banner Group did not make this piece of needlework, as it was completed under the direction of Ann Morley, assisted by Brenda Langridge, with children from Pathfinders, Explorers and Climbers. Help was also given by two children from Montreal, Canada, who made the lions and a little boy from Texas, USA, who made the crocodiles that appear directly below the ark.
There are also a series of Pulpit Falls, made by the Banner Group, which change according to the time of year and events in the religious calendar. There are currently nine in total, which include:
Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, the Christian festival held on 6th January in celebration of the manifestation of the divine nature of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. The Fall depicts the Star of Bethlehem in black and silver above the village representing where Christ was born, on a cream background.
Lent, the forty days before Easter observed as a season of penitence starting on Ash Wednesday. This Fall depicts a challis, with grapes and wheat on a purple background.
Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion of Christ, represented by a Crown of Thorns in black on a red background.
Easter, the Christian festival commemorating the Resurrection of Christ, celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or just after the 21st March. This Fall is used for Easter and the following six weeks until Ascension Day, when Christ ascended into heaven, the fortieth day after Easter, as outlined in Acts 1:9. The Fall has the words He Has Risen in gold lettering on a cream background with white lilies in the bottom left-hand corner.
Pentecost, the Christian festival occurring on the seventh Sunday after Easter, to celebrate the descent of the Holy ghost upon the disciples, also known as Whit Sunday. The Fall for this event is three white and one silver doves on a red background.
Trinity, the first Sunday after Pentecost. There are two Falls for this calendar date, one with eight fish in assorted colours on a blue-green background, and the other with five sheep and a gold coloured shepherds crook on a pale green background.
Advent, the first and next three Sundays in December, indicating the run up to the Christian celebration of Christmas. This Fall depicts four lit, white candles with holly leaves, on a purple velvet background.
Christmas, 25th December, a holiday celebrated by the Christian faith as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. This Fall depicts the Angel of the Lord appearing to two shepherds and their sheep, and was produced to hang on the pulpit when a new arrangement of the carol When shepherds watched they sheep by night was sung for the first time at St Johns.
Many of the Pulpit Falls have been made by Ann Morley, who representing St Johns Church, was responsible for the church panel of the Felbridge Golden Jubilee needlework picture that hangs in the Felbridge Village Hall, completed in June 2002.
There is a fine set of needlepoint Communion Rail Kneelers of two designs. One design depicts a gold coloured cross, flanked by grapes and vine leaves, in assorted greens on a royal blue background. The other design depicts the Agnus Dei or Lamb of God carrying the St George banner within a circular landscape, flanked by vine leaves, in pale greens, again on a royal blue background. Both designs have a smaller gold coloured cross in the centre of the front edge. The group of people who worked the Communion Rail Kneelers were, Alma Atkinson, Joan Brighty, Hilda Carpenter, Elizabeth Griffiths, Win Scott, Elise Stern, Roy Hinckley, Daphne Rush and Phyllis Sutton-Jones, (sadly the first six ladies are no longer with us).
There is also a pair of needlepoint kneelers located in the foot wells of the Prayer Desks, the chairs found either side of the altar table. These too have a royal blue background with a large gold coloured cross in the centre, surrounded by six smaller small gold coloured crosses. These two kneelers were also worked by the afore mentioned people.
In the autumn of 2002, Joan Brown and Dorothy Foss completed a pair of needlepoint Wedding Kneelers. These depict the eagle, adopted by St Johns church as used in the processional banner, worked in shades of brown, on a cream background with a royal blue patterned edging and the Greek Key pattern in royal blue around the sides. The bridges kneeler depicts the eagle with a small gold ring, flying to the right, with the initials adopted by St Johns church in the top right corner, and the grooms kneeler depicts the eagle with a larger gold ring, flying to the left, with the initials in the top left corner.
In addition to the banners and kneelers, in 2001, Dorothy Harding presented the church with a Credence Cloth trimmed with her handmade lace. The Credence Cloth was made to replace an ill-fitting cloth that was used on the Credence Table during the Communion service. The table, one of a pair, was presented to St Johns church in memory of FO. A G F Cheesewright who died in World War II. The handmade Bucks point lace was based on a design from the Luton Museum Collection, adapted to fit the Credence Cloth. Dorothy, like Ann Morley, also worked on the Felbridge Jubilee needlework picture, and other examples of her lace work can be found in the Evelyn Chestnut panel, that was jointly worked with Jean Roberts, representing the Felbridge History Group.
Parish Magazines, 1946, 1947, 1960, 1961, 1967, FHA
Church News, 1953, 1956, 1958, FHA
Parish News, 1971, 2001, FHA
Felbridge MU, newspaper article from The East Grinstead Courier, 1960, FHA
Mothers Union, http://www.dswark.org/mu/index.htm
My thanks also go to Ann Morley and Dorothy Harding for their help on the finer details of the needlework and wall hangings of St Johns church.