Archbishop Gives Thousands Of Pounds To Church That Holds Services In A Field

Carol service on Beaulieu estate ChelmsfordLee Batson

Gathered under a canopy in a field in Essex, worshippers sing out praise to God.

It might seem hard to believe that this is the future of the Church in England.

This is the very start of a new church plant, a church that will one day serve a brand new community of 12,000 souls. Many will live in the 3,000 new homes on the Beaulieu estate now being built on the eastern edge of Chelmsford.

The project is being backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose "renewal and reform" programme, today announced £9 million in grants to seven dioceses.

The Beaulieu Park church plant will receive some of the £2 million earmarked for Chelmsford.

Rev Lee Batson, priest-in-charge of St Andrew's, Boreham, has been appointed lead minister for the plant.

Under the leadership of Bishop of Chelsmford Stephen Cottrell – currently a favourite to succeed Richard Chartres as Bishop of London – Chelmsford diocese has been organised into "mission units".

This means Batson is not alone in trying to evangelise the hundreds of people moving into the new build aspirational homes and social housing on the estate, joining the small pre-existing community of about 1,500 residents. Other members of his mission unit, lay and ordained, are supporting him.

His new plant is currently in a private home, with just a handful of worshippers. But he is hopeful of growth. "Our inspiration is the Early Church, meeting in people's houses. It is a small start but with huge promise," he says.

The congregation moves to a bowls' club next month and will eventually meet in the new community centre. Already, reaching out to the marginalised, such as people with disabilities, is at the core of Batson's priorities. The community centre will have some of the best facilities for disabled people in the county. 

"This is about kingdom values of justice and integration," Batson told Christian Today.

Beaulieu Park estate - the 'ground breaking' for the new community centre where the church will be Lee Batson

Bishop Cottrell said: 'I am proud to be serving an expanding diocese that continues to support new communities as much as established ones.

"The Church has always been there to support people wherever they have settled. Now it is our turn to invest in new communities as well as in older settlements. New housing areas should be neighbourhoods people choose to call home and raise a family, with churches and schools they love, sharing the good news of Christ and helping to build stable communities."

The largest award of the latest grants is £2.5 million and goes to Birmingham diocese for its work with young people in "multi-cultural contexts".

By 2022, Birmingham plans to plant 15 new churches, revitalise 15 existing church communities and encourage 15 new "fresh expressions" of church.

This will include training up to 1,000 missional leaders and increasing ordained vocations by more than 50 per cent.

Bishop of Birmingham David Urquhart said: "A huge amount of work across the diocese has gone in to putting together our plan to bring Christ to young people in our communities so we are absolutely thrilled to receive funding to bring this to life. Society is going through massive cultural changes and in Birmingham we are meeting these head on with confidence and a real sense that we are all in this together."

Church plant waiting for its church: Remembrance Sunday at Beaulieu ParkLee Batson