NOT satisfied with being the focus of a recent BBC TV series, the Rural Diocese of Herefordshire is pushing the boundaries once again and trying a new approach to encourage congregations to think of attending the Sunday morning worship as fun.

Christopher Franks, the church warden at St Devereux church in the Ewyas Harold Group of Parishes thought long and hard about how he could attract new parishioners.

He has created a character called Cliff the Beggar, a puppet who appears in the pulpit to converse with the service leader about the sermon or liturgy of the day.

“It is to appeal to everybody, not just children,” Chris said. “Using drama as a way of trying to get people into church.”

Not from a theatrical background, Chris comes up with the scripts for the dialogues in the weeks prior to the ‘occasional' services.

Currently without a vicar in the parish, Chris had to get the thumbs up from Rural Dean, Rev. Nicholas Lowton, to try 'something different’.

That difference is seeing a rise in attendance at the churches where Cliff shows up.

"Every time Cliff appears our congregations are larger, at Easter we went from an average of 14 up to an amazing 66 people," said parishioner and artist Diana Thomas. "Children and adults love him, he has a unique grumpy but witty way of sharing the story of Christ." Diana created the puppet Cliff after reading Chris' script.

“The psychology behind it is Alternative Interpretive Ministry,” Chris explained. “Trying to make church interesting, informative and entertaining - like people’s favourite television programmes that they don’t like to miss. Cliff the beggar is part of the overall concept that I’ve come up with.

“We need to get growth in the congregation and if churches do close then people will have nowhere to get married, buried or christened. Churches are places of history, stories and treasures - a light goes out in the countryside every time a church closes.”

So far, the numbers at services where Cliff shows up have increased month on month - from Christmas, Christingle to Mothering Sunday and Easter.

“Generally most people are quite enthusiastic about it,” Chris said.