Towards a Network of Twelve Multinational Russian Orthodox Churches in the East of England

The Past

Non-Orthodox Western Europe is divided into 79 (NUTS-1) regions. Each has a population of between 3 and 7 million. Of these, nine are in England and our own region is the East of England, with a population of 6.2 million and consisting of six counties. In the east there are the large counties of Essex (1,417 square miles and 1.83 million people), Suffolk (1,466 square miles, but only 758,000 people) and Norfolk (2,074 square miles, but only 904,000 people), and in the west; the small counties of Hertfordshire (only 634 square miles, but 1.18 million people) and Bedfordshire (only 477 square miles and 670,000 people), followed by the large county of Cambridgeshire (1,309 square miles, but only 852,000 people).

A number of basically mononational, new calendar Orthodox missions exist in the East of England, some have existed for over five decades. These have largely catered for now mainly older Greeks or else, in much smaller numbers, for mainly older ex-Anglicans. Among them are for example Greek parishes in Great Yarmouth, Cambridge, Norwich and Southend and missions for ex-Anglicans in Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. There are also two new calendar Romanian missions in the region now and two old calendar Serbian missions have existed for several decades in Bedford and Letchworth.

A number of small and sometimes temporary Russian Orthodox missions have also existed. Notably, there was one which opened in the village of Walsingham in Norfolk in the 1960s and lasted for over 30 years (thanks to the pioneering work of a former Anglican, Fr David (Meyrick)). Much more recently, in order of date, there have been, or still are, small missions in Bury St Edmunds (2000-02 and 2017- ), in the village of Mettingham (founded in 2009 and with very regular services), a chapel outside Clacton (occasional services since 2010), and services in Ipswich (occasional services since 2015) and Wisbech (occasional services since 2016).

The Present

Apart from the above, from 1997 on permanent, multinational, Orthodox calendar and public-access Russian Orthodox churches have also opened. These are, together with their dedications:

1997 – Felixstowe, Suffolk – St Felix

2002 – Kings Lynn, Norfolk – The Nativity of the Mother of God (and holding in special memory the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas who visited the town in 1894).

2008 – Colchester, Essex – St John of Shanghai (also with a winter church dedicated to All the Saints of the Isles).

2015 – Norwich, Norfolk – St Alexander Nevsky.

2015 – Peterborough, Cambridgeshire – St Olga.

2021- Cambridge-Little Abington, Cambridgeshire – St Edmund (and holding in special memory the other local saint, St Audrey of Ely).

All the above are in Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire and three of these churches, Colchester, Norwich and Cambridge-Little Abington, have their own churches. Although the three other churches are yet to obtain their own premises for the moment, it is still time to think of working elsewhere also.

The Future

We can think of founding and dedicating churches as a priority, in:

Bedford. This could be dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul, following the dedication of its first ever church to St Paul, founded in the eighth century, situated centrally on the banks of the River Ouse. This church would look after all Orthodox in the small county of Bedfordshire.

St Albans. The dedication must be to St Alban the Protomartyr and a large church here would look after all Orthodox in the small but densely-populated county of Hertfordshire.

Romford (formerly Essex, now Essex in east London). In a working-class area of great and multinational immigration, we suggest that a large church here be dedicated to St John of Kronstadt.

Lowestoft, Suffolk. The dedication in this former fishing port could be to St Nicholas. It would look after all Orthodox on the Suffolk and east Norfolk coast.

Southend. In the largest town in Essex, with a densely-populated catchment area, and as a former fishing port, we suggest a dedication to the fisherman St Andrew.

Thetford, Norfolk. Here in the centre of this whole network of churches, we suggest a dedication to the Resurrection.

Such a list of churches, open, about to open and possibly to open, does not exclude the existence of old and new chapels and churches, both present and future, in places in addition to these centres. Obvious choices would be in the large town of Harlow in Essex, a town on the north Norfolk coast such as Wells-next-the-Sea and, albeit outside the East of England, Boston in Lincolnshire. Similarly, there should be both a monastery and a convent in the East of England, perhaps one near the Suffolk coast and one in the west on the opposite side of the region.

However, this network, with three churches in the most populous county of Essex (if we include Romford as still in Essex), three in the largest county of Norfolk, two each in the very similar counties of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, and one each in the small counties of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, would meet the needs of most Orthodox. It would bring all within a maximum 25-mile or 25-minute range of a church, the expression of our pastoral responsibility. Now we await the hand of Providence, the blessing of a bishop and the work of the people.