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Vision for 100 new churches in London begins with first new purpose-built church in 40 years

Posted on: November 22, 2017 7:07 AM
Bishop Rob Wickham prepares to dedicate London’s first purpose-built church in 40 years: the new St Francis at the Engine Room.
Photo Credit: David Tothill / Diocese of London

The Bishop of Edmonton has dedicated a new church in London – the first purpose-built church in the diocese of London for 40 years. The new St Francis in the Engine Room Church is part of ambitious plans to see 100 new Christian communities planted in the diocese, which covers the part of London situated north of the River Thames. Elsewhere in the city, planners have given consent for the 1970s Holy Trinity Church in Swiss Cottage to be demolished and be replaced by a new £11-million six-storey complex including a 450-seater auditorium, recording studio, and accommodation for vulnerable young people.

In August 2011, Tottenham Hale in north London was at the centre of a series of riots, arson attacks and looting which ignited in London, the Midlands and the north-west of England. Two years later, St Francis began. It provided “not only a place of worship, but has also allowed the congregation to grow to play an important role at the heart of Tottenham Hale life, and make their mark by hosting regular activities, including pop up cafés and the Make Lunch project, which is designed to tackle food poverty in the area,” the Diocese of London said in a statement.

At first, the church met in the old Engine Room community centre, but now they have their own premises, which includes a new purpose-built church and community centre with an in-house bakery and café, run by local pizzeria Loven Presents, and a 36-place nursery to serve some of the many young families living in Tottenham Hale.

The new church and community centre was built as part a regeneration project in the area, which also saw the construction of 800 new homes in what is being called Hale Village.

In the church’s first few years, it has created a number of initiatives which are now regarded as stables of community life in the area. These include ReACT, a performing acts workshop staged every spring for young people who attend local schools, and the annual Hale Village Summer Festival, which brings together businesses, residents and partners from across the community in a celebration of the local area.

“It was an immense privilege to see St Francis Church and Community Centre finally opened to the public,” the Revd Andrew Williams, priest-missioner at St Francis, said. “The dedication was the culmination of many years of hard effort by countless individuals, and it is our task now to ensure that St Francis can build on the work already begun to support and uplift the residents living in Tottenham Hale.”

At the dedication service, the Bishop of Edmonton, Rob Wickham, knocked on the door with his crozier before being welcomed inside into the church by Jeremy Hickman, the manager of Hale Village. The symbolic act marked the handover of the building from Hale Village to the Diocese of London. Bishop Rob met members of the congregation and the community, before blessing the new church with rosemary, grown by a local allotment project.

The dedication was attended by local Member of Parliament David Lammy, a former member of the Archbishops’ Council, the trustee body for some of the Church of England’s national bodies. Also in attendance was the deputy mayor of Haringey, Cllr Liz McShane, the chief executive of Newlon Housing Trust, Mike Hinch, and the director of London City Mission (LCM), Graham Miller, which has partners with the diocese of London to help run the centre.

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LCM’s Martina Kwapong is church community worker at St Francis. He said that it had “become a busy place for making friends and exploring each other’s cultures and faith. A vibrant community is growing together here, and we are making a unique contribution to life in Tottenham.”

Bishop Rob described the dedication of St Francis Church as “an important milestone”, saying: “We long for human flourishing, and St Francis is our response to the liveability needs of Tottenham Hale. At its root we see a confident series of partnerships, which ultimately will lead to a stronger and more compassionate community, with Jesus, the ultimate builder, at the heart.”

Last month, 600 clergy attended a “London Clergy Summit” – described as the largest ever-such gathering of clergy from the diocese – to discuss “how to recruit and nurture the next generation of ordinands, and ensure that the Church of England is well placed to meet the challenges of its future mission.”

The clergy discussed and prayed about how implement the diocese’s goal of increasing the number of new ordinands by 50 per cent over the next three years as part of its Capital Vision 2020. The vision includes a commitment to plant 100 new Christian communities across the city.

“I was delighted to welcome clergy from across the diocese to our 2017 Calling London Summit,” the Acting Bishop of London, Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, said. “We meet in such numbers on too few occasions and I hope that the summit provided those who attended with not only an opportunity for reflection, but also to exchange ideas and best practice, so that we can continue to grow the ranks of new ordinands, and ensure they are dedicated and equipped to serving the needs of our Capital.”

Also last month, Camden Council’s planning committee gave unanimous approval for the demolition of Holy Trinity Church, opposite Finchley Road Tube station, and the construction of a new modern Christian centre, The Lighthouse, on the site.

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Holy Trinity was established in 1851 to serve the families of workers building London Underground’s Metropolitan Line. Its current building was constructed in the 1970s. The new Lighthouse Centre will include a 450-seater auditorium, housing units, recording studio, social enterprise Café and an exercise studio.

“Lighthouse will add much-needed beauty to Finchley Road and be a place of community, sanctuary and social transformation,” Associate Vicar Kristin Breuss said. “At a time when people are feeling increasingly unsafe, divided and isolated, I can’t think of a more important way to use land, air and money to make the world a better place.”

The Diocese of London said that the Lighthouse will “provide a wide range of services to respond to social need, and improve community life as well as being a place of Christian prayer and home for the worshipping community.”

The Bishop of Edmonton, Rob Wickham, described it as “a hugely creative response to the ever-growing demands that lead to a flourishing community.”

He added: “Clearly, our vibrant Church family at Holy Trinity have a heart for serving the local community, which is witnessed through worship, the SPEAR programme to help 16-24-year-olds into work or training, homeless outreach and beyond. Our compassionate care of the poor is central to this vision, as we, working in confident partnerships, demonstrate God’s love for all. I am delighted to support.”