Running an ancient village church involves considerable time and expense. It is a task that is all the harder in a tiny village, with few people to share the load. The burden of preserving the most important building in the parish falls on a few households, explained Churchwarden and treasurer Andrew Kedar. Most do not wish to pay.
There is much to do in the upkeep of the church and churchyard. Cleaning, repairing, flower arranging and security of the very valuable building is in the hands of about six people. Two of these, Andrew and Margaret Kedar, described the day-to-day tasks and fundraising, as well as the special events in the church's calendar, in an interview in October 1999.
Although the congregation is small, the village and church are popular with visitors. "We do anything to keep the church open," said Margaret. "We have had one incident of vandalism, but we have been very lucky. Unlike a lot of churches in England and around Suffolk, we can keep the church open in daylight hours which is a great bonus." Hundreds of visitors visit each year, and there are pages of laudatory comments about the church.
Churchwardens play an important part in the running of St Mary's. "You are responsible for the upkeep of the church, the running smoothly of the services and generally for the well being of the whole set-up of the church congregation in a way - you just keep an eye on them," explained Margaret who has recently completed a seven year term in the role. The current Wardens are Andrew Kedar and Heather Brighouse.
The church was begun in the 12th century, though there was probably a church there long before that as bodies have been uncovered in the churchyard dating back 1000 years. The church developed in a rather random way, and the latest addition which can be accurately dated is the tower, built between 1460 and 1503. A booklet about the church's history, written by John Fitch, is on sale in the church.
There is a weekly Sunday service in Santon Downham, even though the village shares its rector with two other parishes, explained Margaret. The Rector usually visits twice a month, for a Eucharist service. Family services are taken by a Churchwarden, or by Ann Buttrey, a lay reader who lives in Brandon. "We are also very fortunate in that we have a retired priest, the Reverend John Terry, who will come an average of once a month," she added.
Special services were arranged to mark the third millennium. "There will be the usual Christmas services of course," said Margaret, "but on the 1st January there will be a special service at which we shall probably ring in the bell around midday to welcome in the new year. We are also going to plant a millennium yew tree. This is a small 18 inch high tree which has been taken from yew trees with a history of over 2000 years. So it's come from a parent tree which is as old as Christ."