Dynamic women pivotal in ecumenical church plant

The story of the growth of the single congregation Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP) in Great Notley in Essex.

In 1994 two women, Val Spouge and Betty Barltrop, and a group of young mums met to pray and study the Bible together on a new housing estate in Great Notley, near Braintree in Essex.

After some time they began to gather other Christians and meet together in a portacabin provided by the local developer of the estate. Committed to doing this ecumenically, each week a different lay preacher or minister would join them leading a service from either the Baptist, Methodist, URC or Anglican tradition. For a while it was called St Portacabin!

It was Val, a Methodist lay pastor, who in April 2000, with the encouragement of Through Faith Missions, decided to do a community survey. She shared the idea of a church building that would be built to serve both the needs of Christians and the wider community. This led to a request for a nursery to be an integral part and player in whatever was built.

Supported by senior leaders from Churches Together in Essex and East London (CTEEL), a Local Advisory Group was set up bringing denominations together to plan what the building would look like and whose purposes it would serve. Val told me, “The local Anglican Priest piped up in one meeting in the early stages of planning – We’ll call it St Saviour’s! Val told him, “No, we won’t, this is going to be a church in Great Notley, it’s for everyone”, explaining she felt very strongly about that.

Val and Betty were joined by other dynamic women like Jacqui King (former County Ecumenical Officer for CTEEL) who all longed to see a church building established that might engage with, and bless, the community. Through tirelessly engaging with denominational representatives, the developers of the site and the community, a church building went up incredibly fast.

Jacqui played a key role in the building project, drawing on skills learnt from working with the Salvation Army. The building cost £685,000 – much coming from the local community in all sorts of ways, a large chunk from the denominations involved and a final £70,000 from the developers Countryside (a loan which could be paid back if possible but probably written off now). The building was opened in August 2010.

Today the church is being used in all sorts of ways on a daily basis with a pre-school permanently operating, a messy church established and a weekly Snackanory. Local community groups use the space, as well as a weekly café connecting with older folk.

Local Ecumenical Partnerships (LEPs) as single congregations embarking on putting up new church buildings is an increasingly rare phenomenon. The financial pressure on most denominations today mean building a new church is unusual when so many in other contexts are facing closure. The story of Great Notley is one of determination, clear vision and a desire to see a building be flexible and ultimately serve the community.

Find out more about the Church in Great Notley.

Explore stories around New Housing and the work CTE does with the Churches Group for New Housing Areas, or contact our Principal Officer for Mission and Evangelism Rev Dr Ben Aldous for more information.

Written by Ben Aldous, CTE