Christchurch Abbeydale is one of a growing number of LEPs in England which comprise the four denominations (Baptist, Anglican, Methodist and United Reformed Church) in one congregation, and set in the heart of the community in a new (multipurpose) church building – opened in the spring of 1995. It serves the mixed housing estates of Abbeydale and Abbeymead 4 miles from the centre of Gloucester, which are continually being developed and will have a population of around 12,000 in due course. Church membership currently stands at 99 with a further 20 regular worshippers.
There is also a wider Ecumenical Partnership shared with three other churches in the area, St Leonard’s at Upton St Leonard’s, St Oswald's Coney Hill and St Lawrence Barnwood. The ministers hold regular team meetings.
The Church 'Building' was officially opened on 10th June 1995 to the Glory of God. But the Church, the People, have maintained their vision for a visible church presence on the estate for over a decade, despite a legal system which tried to apply laws which are not relevant to the situation, and the bureaucracy of traditions. All the opposing forces have been overcome as a result of much prayer.
It might be thought that Abbeydale and Abbeymead have no history, but in fact the area has a long history with numerous agricultural settlements over the centuries almost as far back as archaeology can trace human existence in Britain. This history is the subject of a book called "Abbeydale and Abbeymead Before the Developers" by David Evans, one of the current members of Christchurch.
At bordering Coney Hill, several streets in the Newton Avenue area were built by 1872. The County Asylum, the grounds of which are now being redeveloped, was designed by John Giles and Gough and built between 1880 and 1884 on land which had previously belonged to the Barnwood Mill estate. The closure of mills along the River Twyver and the enclosure of remaining open fields in 1897 released land for building. Gradually, the area took on some of its present appearance as other houses were built along Painswick Road at the end of the 19th century. By 1921 six pairs of cottages had been built on Awfield Pitch off the Wheatridge Road.
Modern development at Abbeydale began in 1971, when the area was known as Heron Park after the principal builders involved, Heron Homes. The Heron School was opened in 1977 and the Abbeydale Community Centre, once the home of Christchurch, was built in 1984. Building work began on Abbeymead in 1986 and is still in progress.
The story begins when Bishop Basil Guy appointed the Revd. Michael Bramley-Moore to be priest in charge of the Saintbridge Experimental Area in 1973. The Anglican Church bought two semi-detached houses in Glebe Close in order that a Church presence should be established on the newly developing estate, which then numbered 500 houses. In one house Michael and his wife, Elske, lived and next door was a study and a large through room for meetings and worship. From the beginning the evangelistic work was to be ecumenical and ministers from other denominations often spoke at the Sunday Services.
The monks at Prinknash provided a Church notice board. Mrs Bramley-Moore started a women's group called the Lady Birds (the roads being named after birds on the estate), and there were 50 members.
Sadly the City Council on hearing about this Church meeting in a home said that the house could not be used for this purpose and a closing order was put on it. The ensuing publicity reached the national news on TV. This pioneering venture was closed in 1978 and the Bramley -Moores moved to Littledean. A Church Army Captain was appointed to work on the estate as an evangelist, mainly establishing groups meeting in houses to explore what a Church should be. However, the area was divided among four parishes and six incumbents, and these were happy with the prospect of new housing to swell their congregations so why build another church? The initiative was doomed to failure.
By early 1983, many of the Planning Details for Abbeydale had been released and Archdeacon Christopher Wagstaff proposed a new approach by the Church of England. A meeting of the Gloucester City Pastoral Committee was held at Church House on 27th May 1983, chaired by Revd. Hedley S. Ringrose who was then Rural Dean of Gloucester. It was decided:-
- That there should be no 'Anglican' church building as such a building had so far been understood
- Any progress in the provision of a shared ecumenical building should be made by the Gloucestershire Ecumenical Group and the sponsoring body which it should set up.
- The following representatives of local churches should be invited to an Ad Hoc meeting.
|Revd Vernon Godden
|Revd Roger Borlace
||Roman Catholic Church|
|Revd L J Jameson
||United Reformed Church|
|Revd D Jones
|Revd Hedley Ringrose
|Revd T P Jackson
||} All Church of England|
|Revd M O Seacome
|Mr P G Thompson
The Methodists held a similar meeting on 9th June 1983.
The Diocesan Secretary, John Cooper was to organise the meeting and it was duly held on 7th July 1983 with all those invited plus Father E. Collins, Mr J. A. Ancell, and Rev Adrian Berry who had by this time been appointed Diocesan Ecumenical Officer. The minutes record that:-
- Rev D. Jones, Methodist - The Abbeydale Community Centre would include Counselling Rooms ( Diocesan Pastoral Committee had loaned £25,000 for their provision.) and the Main Hall could be used for services provided that a worshipping community could be established. An Ecumenical Church should be the aim.
- Rev R. Borlace, Baptist - Generally sympathetic.
- Mgr D. MacMillan, Roman Catholic - There would not be a regular commitment to a regular centre of worship.
- Rev L. Jameson, United Reformed Church - Would not participate in view of the failure of a sharing agreement in the City. People would travel to a United Reformed Church for the type of worship they preferred.
The following points arose out of the discussion:-
- Anglican parish boundaries were irrelevant.
- A meeting of all the Christians in the Abbeydale area should be called to discuss the possibilities.
- The Abbeydale Christian Fellowship should become involved.
It was agreed that:
- Anglican, Methodist and Baptist Churches were ready and willing to be involved in an ecumenical project.
- The Abbeydale Christian Council, which had been set up by the Gloucester Council of Churches to consider the holding of services in the Community Centre, should be disbanded.
- Rev D. Jones would organise a public meeting of Christians on the estate. (This subsequently took place and was not well attended.)
The next meeting of the Ad Hoc Group took place on 17th October 1983 and additional representatives in attendance included the Abbeydale Christian Council (now disbanded), the Abbeydale Community Association, and the Abbeydale Christian Fellowship. The United Reformed Church was not represented. This meeting set up a local ecumenical group to examine the needs on the estate and proposed that a bid should be made to the Building Consortium for one acre of land for a Church Building.
At the further meeting on 22nd February 1984 an audit was carried out to see what personnel were available to lead services. Deaconess Sharon Swain, the Curate from Upton St. Leonards, would head up a team comprised of Ministers from Methodists, Baptists and URC (Now recommitted), along with the Vicar of Coney Hill, the Revd. A. Lynett, and the Curate, the Revd Nick Wright. There would be an oversight by the Gloucestershire Sponsoring Body. The format of the Worship was discussed and this should be ecumenical and not denominational in rotation. The Abbeydale Community Centre would be booked for worship. A small "grass roots" group was appointed.
Sunday 11th March 1984 saw the first meeting at Coney Hill Vicarage of the "Grass Roots" group, Comprising members of the parishes of Upton St. Leonards, Coney Hill, and representatives of the URC, Methodist Church, and Baptist Church, and it was led by Rev Ian Yates, the Methodist Minister at Lonsdale Road, who applied vision and drive. The meeting resolved that 'The terms of reference shall be to form a centre of ecumenical worship on Abbeydale that shall be complementary to existing parish structures'. It was anticipated that the centre of worship would be the Abbeydale Community Centre which was due to be opened in July 1985.
The Community Association not unnaturally needed money to build their centre and through the good will of the late Roger Lindsay, churchwarden of St. Oswalds and Chairman of the Community Association, a deal was worked out that the Gloucester Diocesan Board of Finance should provide a loan of £25,000 to build a large room onto the Community Centre. This would be used exclusively by the four denominations as a base for their work. The money was given as an interest free loan to the Community Association which would be repaid in 10 years time, when the room would become the property of the Association. So it was in May 1984 Bishop John laid the foundation stone of the Community Centre.
Further meetings took place under the name of Abbeydale Ecumenical Group, with Roger Lindsay as Chairman and Rev Ian Yates as Secretary The group discussed issues on how to run services and the form that the worship would take. Meanwhile, Christchurch members were meeting in house groups within the area.
The National Strategy
The British Council of Churches was set up in 1948, but the Roman Catholics were not able to participate. They had to decide how to support around 500 LEP's which had by now already been set up. It was the British Council which encouraged sponsoring bodies.
Local Ecumenical Projects began in 1964. There was no mechanism set up so the 'Locals had to work it out for themselves.
Conversations took place between Methodists and Anglicans.
A National Covenant was abandoned in 1982.
There was to be a County focus giving prime support to LEPs.
They were to explore how Churches Together could co-operate.
In 1980 the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt. Revd. John Yates, was Chairman of the Gloucestershire Ecumenical Council, comprising of three Church Leaders from the Church of England, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Churches.
The Revd. Adrian Berry was appointed Secretary to the Ecumenical Group in 1983 which became the Sponsoring Body in 1985.
During 1984/85 the first draft of the constitution was drawn up under the guidance of the Archdeacon of Gloucester, the Ven. Christopher Wagstaff. It turned out to be very complex, who should be in it - Parishes? The Methodist Church - no - the Circuit? It has been said that Chris Wagstaff aged about 100 years!
The Ministerial Team of : Rev I. Yates (M), Rev R. Borlace (B), Revds. P. Jackson, A. Lynett and Nick Wright(C of E), with URC, and Deaconess Sharon Swain met for the first time on Friday 7th December 1984.
On a cold, wet, Sunday afternoon on 3rd March 1985, a group of about 60 people picked their way through the mud into what is now the Games Room of the Community Centre. The walls were unplastered, the floors were rough concrete, the lights were bulbs strung around the room on wires. Chairs were carried in and a service was held, with the Revd. Ian Yates and his puppet bear preaching the sermon, the Revd. Roger Borlace and Ds.Sharon Swain taking part, organist Mr Charles Martin(URC). An air of excitement and expectancy was present and all realised that history was being made as a new Church was coming into being. Ds. Sharon Swain took on the work of co-ordinating Minister at Christchurch in June 1985, and regular Morning and Evening Worship commenced on 8th September 1985. The official Inauguration of the LEP took place on Whit Sunday the 7th June 1987, in the presence of the Bishop of Gloucester, John Waller(URC Moderator), Neil Hall (Baptist), and the Chairman of the Methodist District. The Archdeacon preached the sermon..
With regular services now taking place in the Community Centre, the question arose, "do we build a church or not?" The Sponsoring Body saw advantages of not having the encumbrance of a building. Rev Ian Yates presented a paper to the Sponsoring Body in January 1985 and was asked to provide further evidence regarding attendance. This was duly submitted and Bishop John Yates supported the need for a Building because the worshippers needed to have somewhere to which they could relate. The go ahead was given and with enthusiasm and expertise, Christchurch produced a time table for the building despite the departure of Sharon Swain at this time.
(BUT) the decision had to be referred back to the Anglicans because the problem arose, "to whom does the Diocesan Board of Finance sell or lease the land?" None of the existing bodies were legal bodies.
The Sponsoring Body looked for existing LEP's in similar circumstances such as those in Swindon and Milton Keynes, but there were differences. The Oxford Diocesan Board of Finance had been preparing for 20 years and they acted as Custodian Trustees in similar circumstances. The Board of Finance at Gloucester were not willing to do more than lease the land, not give it away. It needed a body to lease it to.
Peter Beasley of Lee, Boulton and Lee, Solicitors, had dealt with a similar project in the St. Albans Diocese and so in 1989 Adrian Berry went to meet him in London. Peter Beasley offered important advice and wisdom, and particularly offered a way forward, to form a shared company, limited by guarantee, under the Companies Act. This would include the four denominations and the Company can own and lease land, and handle money.
The existing site was the result of a land swap between the Anglican Church and the developer. It was thought to be an ideal situation if a church were to be built, on a central site opposite a supermarket, pub and doctor's surgery. Originally it was thought that the land was Glebe Land, but it was eventually discovered that it was common Diocesan property and the Diocese could do with it as it liked.
There was a struggle in the Mid 80's when the City Council wanted to retain the site as amenity land and when Outline Planning Permission was applied for in April 1988 and a letter was circulated to local residents setting out grounds for objection and requesting that they write to the Planning Department. The Planning Application covered a Minister’s house, new Church Building and a site for Charity Housing.
The setting up of the shared company was proposed in late 1989 and the case was put to the Sponsoring Body in 1990. There were unexpected problems to the setting up of the Company and there was a period of two years during which documents passed between the church solicitors. One of the problems was the Sharing of Church Buildings Act 1968, which assumes that there will be separate services and denominations and, therefore, provides protection for the participating churches. The Act does not apply in modern times. Peter Beasley had warned that it would be a long and tedious process. He would draft the Agreement as close as possible to the situation on the ground, but Denominational Solicitors might try to change it back again to conform with the Act.
By 1993 the shared company was brought into being. A body to whom land could be leased and this was completed in 1994. A body to whom churches could give money. A body which could sign Contracts.
Following the departure of Sharon Swain in 1985, Ian Yates took on the mantle of Co-ordinating Minister and the long search began for the appointment of an Anglican to be the first full time minister. The Ministerial Team at this time consisted of Ian Yates (M), John Bentliff (URC), Harold Stead (B), and Tim Thompson (C of E). The intention was that ministry would alternate between Anglican and Free Church. The first stipend would be paid by the Anglican Authorities but it was anticipated that all the participating denominations would contribute in due course. One difficulty to the appointment of a new Minister was that he or she would have to be licensed as a curate attached to St Oswald's Parish.
However, Peter Brightman accepted the post and arrived in Abbeydale on 3rd July 1990 and moved into the Clergy house at 3,Oxmoor Close. His induction was held on the 15th July 1990. The vcarage was planned and built during this time and the Brightmans were its first occupants . It is owned by the Church of England Parsonages Board and has become known as 63 Wheatway since it will also operate as a manse. There were proposals to compromise and call it simply Church House. Peter Brightman was 60 years old on taking up his appointment and the demands of an LEP, together with an ambitious building project, took their toll and Peter had to resign due to ill health on 18th April 1993. Peter was responsible for the launch of the Building Project and leading it through it's planning stages. He also formed the first Church Council as an elected body, meeting for the first time on 10th June 1991. Ian Yates was replaced by Revd David Meachem during this period and Harold Stead left the area and has not been replaced.
The departure of Peter Brightman caused some problem to Christchurch as it had been agreed that the next Minister would come from the Methodist Church and this could not happen until September 1994 at the earliest and the Anglican funding had been transferred with Peter Brightman to his new parish. The Methodist Circuit Superintendent, David Boyle proposed the appointment of Rev. Frank Godfrey, a retired Methodist Minister, as interim co-ordinating Minister to cover the period June 1993 to September 1994 for a total of 14 hours per week. This was gratefully accepted by the Church Annual General Meeting on 26th April 1993 as Frank had been a member of the congregation for a short time after retiring as Circuit Superintendent at Eastbourne. During Frank's Ministry the building was progressed through to Contract Let and the Church Council were introduced to the Methodist process of Ministerial Appointment.
The funding for the new Minister was in doubt at this time as the local Baptist Association had voted to withdraw from the LEP on 14th March 1994. The agreed division of contribution was Church of England 1/2, Methodist 1/6, URC 1/6, Baptist 1/6, with Christchurch making up the balance of £3,785. In March 1994, an invitation was extended to the Revd. Ian Duffy, then serving the Northampton Methodist Circuit, to become full-time Minister at Christchurch from September 1994. There was a local welcome at Christchurch on 3rd September with the official welcome at the Circuit Service on 11th September held at St. Oswald's Church due to insufficient capacity at Christchurch. Ian brought with him considerable ecumenical experience having served as District Ecumenical Officer. His challenge was threefold: to oversee the building to completion; to build up the congregation; to put the church finances on a sound footing. When Ian arrived there was only a sharing agreement so he steered through the Council both Constitution and Standing Orders bringing about simplifications to the government of Christchurch. The Baptist Association rescinded their vote on 24th October 1994 and have rejoined the LEP. In accordance with the 5 year rotation of Ministers, Ian Duffy, Methodist, left on 25th July 1999 and, following the Baptist procedure for ministerial appointment, Revd. Ernie Hall, Baptist, took up his duties on 1st September 1999. The aim is for the church to be financially self sufficient by the year 2000.
Activity at Christchurch
The Annual General Meeting on 19th October 1987 instructed Officers to proceed with preparations for a Church Building and a series of discussions were held after the Morning Service on 17th January 1988 and co-ordinated by Rev John Bentliff and Roger Lindsay, who had been involved in the Grass Roots Group since 11th March 1984. The congregation considered three topics: The form of building required; The possible site of the building; The purpose of the building. The findings of this Church meeting formed the basis of the brief to the Steering Committee.
Contact was made with Fellows and Ballard, Chartered Quantity Surveyors, through the URC Church and Martin Ballard met with, and offered advice to the Steering Committee on 9th January 1990. At a special Church Meeting on 13th September 1990, 5 possible building methods were outlined and evaluated by Mike Wood. These were - a. Traditional, Architect supervised; b. Quantity Surveyor Supervised; c. Multi-Contract, Church supervised; d. Design and Build Company; e. Systems Build. The meeting decided against methods a and e, and the Steering Committee were asked to look more closely at the other three options. During April 1990 the Committee visited Building Schemes in Redditch and Warley which had been progressed as Design and Build Schemes. The Committee prepared plans based on the findings of the congregation in1988 and these were published in the December Chronicle inviting criticism. At a Special Church Meeting on 25th February 1991 it was decided that the Church proceed along the Multi - Discipline route, and it was proposed that an Architect be engaged and plans drawn up based on the one published in the December Chronicle.
It was not an easy decision to reach; much prayer and thought over several years had been given to the subject. But the decision was made and the task of raising £300,000 for a church and hall complex began.
An Architects Brief was produced in April 1991 and four Architects were invited to submit prices. David Williams of DSW Design impressed the Committee with his ideas and enthusiasm and, following a visit to the local mosque which he had designed, he was appointed as Architect for the scheme on 4th June 1991. Fellows and Ballard were appointed Quantity Surveyors on 29th July 1991.
A publicity brochure was prepared and a major fund raising initiative was commenced at the Morning Service on 28th June 1992. Planning Approval was granted on 8th September 1992. Application was made for Planning Approval for the Ann Edward's Charity Housing which shared the church site on 14th October 1992, and there was a conflict over boundaries which had to be resolved.
A brief was sent out inviting three Structural Engineers to submit prices in January 1993, and Rowntree and partners were appointed in February 1993.
A meeting was held in March 1993 with representatives of 'Shared Churches Gloucester Limited' (Ven. Christopher Wagstaff, Rev. Flora Winfield and Mr Edward Millman). Various suggestions were discussed as to how best proceed with the limited funding that was likely to be available in the short term and yet take maximum advantage of the prevailing depressed building costs. Three options seemed possible, to build just the worship centre, to build just the ancillary rooms section, or build just the shell of the whole structure. The Quantity Surveyor was asked to prepare costs for the three options, the likely available funding being in the region of £150,000. It was anticipated that the shell could be built for this some and the go ahead was given to proceed on this basis. By May 1993, the funding had increased to £200,000 and following a meeting with Rev David Boyle on 20th May 1993, a Business Plan was prepared and a two stage development was agreed.
The Building Regulations plans were passed on 23rd July 1993.
Tenders were sent out in October and were returned on 26th November 1993, and after full consideration the Contract was offered to Coldray (Builders) Ltd. who were just completing the adjacent Charity Housing. The Contract was signed in May and a ceremony to 'cut the first sod' followed the Morning Service on Sunday 15th May 1994. The Foundation Stone was laid by the Ven. Christopher Wagstaff at 3pm on Sunday 3rd July 1994.
At the General Church Meeting on 12th October 1994 it was announced that it would be possible too complete the whole of the building if the church could obtain a loan of £11,000. The whole debt was cleared within 9 months of taking possession of the building.
The Building Steering Committee was wound up 31st March, its work to be taken over by the Management Committee. The new building was officially opened on Saturday 1st April 1995 by a service of handing over of the keys. The Dedication took place on Saturday 10th June 1995. There have been many highlights to our worship, the BBC Morning Service was broadcast from the Church on Sunday 21st January 1996, and we have been the subject of two videos, “Called to be One” by Churches Together in England, and “Stopping the Rot” by the Methodist Church.
The Church comfortably seats 185 and is equipped with a baptistry and a sound system with a loop for the hard of hearing. There are modern toilet facilities and a fully equipped kitchen. There is a lounge and a quiet room which can be joined for larger meetings. There is never enough storage. The Church occupies a prominent site opposite a friendly shopping centre.
A modern vicarage built in 1992 stands next to the Church, within easy reach of schools, doctors and all local amenities.
Some statistics as at 19th April 1999:
- In 1994 we had 61 members of whom 24 were Anglicans, 17 Methodists, 7 URC, 4 Baptists and 9 with Joint membership. Half a dozen of these were ‘nominal’ members who had not come to worship for some time, or, were on our list for the sake of Anglican procedures – concerning our relationship with St. Oswald’s.
- We now have 120 members of whom 50 are Anglicans, 37 Methodists, 15 URC, 12 Baptist, and 6 with joint membership. Of these: 4 have ‘nominal’ membership and a further 6 have moved but not yet had their membership transferred.
denomination has now contributed in turn to the Ministry at
Christchurch. During the period 1985-1990, the church was served by a
team of clergy drawn from the different denominations. From 1990,
Christchurch Abbeydale had its own minister.
Anglican - Revd Peter Brightman (1990-1993)
(Revd Frank Godfrey, a retired Methodist minister, served as interim minister 1993-1994)
Methodist - Revd Ian Duffy (1994-1999) Baptist - Revd ErnieHall (1999-2006)
United Reformed - Revd Les Mather (2007 - 2012)
Compiled by Frank Heggs
With special thanks to:
The Ven. Christopher Wagstaff, Archdeacon of Gloucester.
The Revd. Adrian Berry, Diocesan Ecumenical Officer.
Mrs. Elske Bramley-Moore, wife of the Revd. Michael Bramley-Moore, priest in charge of the Saintbridge Experimental Area, 1973-1978.
John Flemons, Member of Christchurch and Member of the original "Grass Roots" Group 1984.
Abbeydale and Abbeymead before the Developers
D. J. Evans. A & C Black (Publishers) Ltd. 1991.
The Gazette, Number 177
Gloucester Diocese. September 1994