A SERVICE of celebration and thanksgiving for Christchurch was held at the historic Priory two days before the new BCP Council got up and running.

The service, to bring the ancient borough together after the bitter divisions of the merger debate, was the idea of the Reverend Charles Stewart, Vicar of Christchurch.

But it was also a chance to celebrate hundreds of years of history and to look forward to the next chapter in its life.

Hundreds of people attended the special service, which took place on Sunday May 19.

After a processional hymn, those in attendance heard a welcome and introduction, followed by prayers, readings and hymns.

Rev Stewart then gave a sermon in which he referred to the creation of the BCP Council as one of a number of “transition moments” in life.

He said: “For Christchurch, and for Bournemouth and Poole, April 1 this year was one such transition moment, in this case, from one form of local government to another, after long discussions, heated debates, and many, many words.

“That transition explains why this service is offered today, to help people in Christchurch mark this transition from the Ancient Borough to BCP, and to the new Town Council here, and the new Neighbourhood Council in Highcliffe and Walkford, alongside the existing Parish Councils in Burton and Hurn.”

He urged people in Christchurch to give thanks for the past and remember those who have made a difference in the town including “all those Mayors whose name are on the council chamber walls, all the councillors, council officers and leaders, all the entrepreneurs and business people, farmers, doctors, teachers, social workers, shopkeepers, even some of the clergy.”

Rev Stewart thanks all those who have served as councillors and added: “If you’ve just been elected as BCP councillors, or to the Town Council here or the other Parish and Neighbourhood Councils, on behalf of the community, I want to congratulate you. And for those of you who sought election but were not successful, I want to commiserate with you and thank you for your willingness to serve.

“Christchurch has a past, for which we give thanks. Christchurch has a future, to which I hope we will all commit. But we can’t live in the past, nor may we live in the future. We can only live now, in what we call the present –the only place and time we can make a difference to the life of our communities.”

He said elected members are not always going to agree with their fellow councillors and added: “There will be arguments – indeed, I hope there will be arguments, because without the light generated by a healthy debate, we rarely see the way ahead.”

The service ended with a blessing and the National Anthem.