KEYS to the 263-year-old Stratton Green Baptist Church were officially handed over during an emotional final service yesterday.

Last month the congregation made the agonising decision to hand control of the church’s assets to a steering group, which will decide what to do with the building following dwindling attendance and unmanageable repair costs.

The new steering group, formed of two representatives each from the church in Swindon and the West of England Baptist association, will now decide the future of the site, and pastor Hilary Morton will move to the Discovery Church in Wroughton after seven years in Stratton.

“It is very sad to see this come to an end but there is a great hope for what will come in the future,” Hilary said.

“As a congregation we will move on to other churches. There is no way of knowing what will happen to this building but the aim is whatever comes out of here will go to the good of Swindon as a whole, and carrying on the rich heritage of the past.

“Congregations here have fluctuated over the years, and just like life everywhere, life here has gone through peaks and troughs.

“Stratton Green village no longer exists and this building is no longer at the centre of a thriving community – it stands back off a busy road unnoticed.

“The decision to close this building for Sunday worship was not taken lightly, quickly or easily, and it certainly wasn’t a decision I took on my own.

“After a lot of prayer and heartache I instigated the discussion, and it has caused us all a lot more heartache and tears to come to the decision to stop meeting here.

“It is too soon to know what will happen to this site and all the church’s assets but the money raised from this place should be used for Swindon and not simply sit in a Baptist bank account.”

Diane Kirkman, 73, came to the church as a girl from the age of three, and married husband Ken, 76, at the church in 1960. She returned to the church of her childhood yesterday for the last service.

“I live just down the road but I moved away when I was 51 and stopped coming then,” she said. “Back in those days there were lots of children around and so many big events for Christmas and Easter.

“The pastor in those days worked on the railways as a pattern maker and he was from Wales so he could really sing. Everybody paid attention to him.

“He married us in the church and I remember he still had his cycle clips on, and nearly called me by the wrong name.

“The service was lovely and it really set me off because this place has been such a big part of our lives for so long. The church is not the building, it is the people. It might be a good focus to have a building in which to meet but the church will carry on in one way or another.

“We have got a great many good memories from here, but all things have to change.”