Bishop of Chelmsford decides fate of Grade I listed Wanstead Church

PUBLISHED: 09:20 30 January 2019

St Mary's the Virgin church in Wanstead which featured in the BBC drama Taboo with Tom Hardy

St Mary's the Virgin church in Wanstead which featured in the BBC drama Taboo with Tom Hardy


The once uncertain future of an 18th century Wanstead church - the borough's only Grade I listed building - has now been decided.

In a letter issued on Friday (January 25), Bishop of Chelmsford Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell conferred a new legal status on St Mary’s the Virgin, in Overton Drive, which will see it hold at least 18 priest-led services each year.

He also called on the church’s congregation, a number of whom had written to him to protest against proposals to end weekly worship, to hold “lay-led services” three to four times a month.

These services are led by members of the church family who are not priests, and training will be offered.

“St Mary’s will always struggle to offer the space and facilities that would usually be expected for a church to flourish,” Bishop Stephen wrote.

But he added: “I am also concerned that those who worship at St Mary’s are not overlooked and that the new energy and enthusiasm for the church that has been engendered recently is not quenched.”

He praised the parish’s “bold vision” and said his decision will not prevent it taking “hard decisions” in the future should the upkeep of its buildings prove an “impossible burden”.

The new pattern of worship at St Mary’s, as set out by the Bishop, will be introduced on May 5 and be reviewed after two years.

It consists of one Sunday Eucharist a month, which must be led by a priest and lay-led services on two to three Sundays.

It also stipulates that there should be a joint parish-wide celebration at Christ Church, in Wanstead Place, on the remaining Sunday with an additional lay-led service at St Mary’s during the same week.

Church rector Rev Dr Jack Dunn welcomed the Bishop’s decision.

He wrote: “This letter both meets the requests of our deeply committed and faithful parishioners who have asked for weekly worship to continue at St. Mary’s while at the same time fulfilling the parish’s strategic vision to further consolidate our mission and our ministry in and around Christ Church.”

The church is now looking to assemble a working group to think through next steps following the Bishop’s decision.

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