Although our church opened in the area in 1997 in very small, rented premises, in 2008 we at last managed to buy our own church in Colchester in eastern England through the generosity of donors. May God bless them! This is the fastest-growing town in the country, with large numbers of immigrants from Eastern Europe. The church has two altars. The main church, which was built for 900, is dedicated to St John of Shanghai, our former Archbishop, and the small church, which is for about 25, is dedicated to All the Saints of the Isles. The parish numbers about 1,000 Orthodox, however many of these only come for baptisms, weddings etc. and although about 2,000 pass through the doors per year, the actual parish list is 572.
On an average Sunday we have between 100 and 200 present and between 50 and 100 communions. We sell half a ton of candles a year. There are 24 different nationalities of which the main ones in order of numbers are: Moldovan, Baltic, Ukrainian, Romanian, Russian and Bulgarian. The Ukrainians came first in the 90s, then the Baltic Russians, then hundreds of thousands of Romanians and now tens of thousands of Moldovans and Bulgarians. We are very grateful for the help of our Romanian Deacon Ion. With so few from Russia itself, everybody speaks with an accent, not least a Russian-Australian who reads at the church.
Our catchment area is huge, covering Russian-speaking and other Orthodox in three counties, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. Every Sunday people come from as far as Norwich in the north and East London in the south, so we cover about 60 miles (100km) in every direction. However, I also occasionally visit parishioners outside these three counties, as far as Kent, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, covering 18,000 miles a year. These people come to our church much less often because of the distance.
Recent figures for baptisms and weddings are:
2014: 50 baptisms and 4 weddings.
2015: 35 baptisms and 5 weddings.
2016 (so far): 12 baptisms and 0 weddings.
Our last funeral was in 2009. The average age of parishioners, excluding children is about 30. There are very few parishioners over the age of 40.
We run a Sunday school, a Russian School, a Ukrainian School, as well as an art club, a sewing club for girls and a boys’ activities club, and have a parish library. A Bulgarian School wants to open in September. In May we intend to start a children’s choir and they will sing during the Liturgy. I give talks for adults and teenagers after the Liturgy and we issue a 16-page monthly electronic journal in Russian and English. I am also responsible for Fr Sergiy, who lives 12 miles away. He is elderly and ill and at present unable to celebrate. He comes to our church about once a year. He lives in his little house, where he has a chapel dedicated to St Panteleimon.
I have Dcn Ion to help me with Romanians, one day I hope he will become a priest. However, I desperately need a Russian-speaking second priest. In this way we could have two liturgies on Sundays for example and help with new missions. If you know a candidate, please send him to me. Occasionally the Moldovan priest, Fr Gregory Mereacre, comes from London and helps. However, on his last two visits he has had to confess during the whole Liturgy until communion. The need is all the greater in that we will soon be opening a parish in premises that we finally bought on 15 April in Norwich and want to dedicate to St Alexander Nevsky. Here there are 200 Baltic Russians, hardly any of whom has a car.
In general we need another 10 Russian-speaking priests just in the eastern quarter of England. These would be for: York, Lincoln, Boston, Norwich, Bury St Edmunds, Bedford, St Albans, Romford, Canterbury and Hastings. In Cambridge there are 172 children at the Russian School – and no Russian-speaking church. In Bury St Edmunds there are now 30 children at the Russian School and three Orthodox families who come to us from there. We would like to set up the next new parish there.