Home > About our Church > A Very Flexible Space > The Next Chapter Begins 1 ...

The Next Chapter Begins 1 ...

 SHAMIANA ... a turning point in the story of St. Paul's, Bow Common .. these 4 pages track the unintended way in which a major change emerged in the way the church is now used, as well as for its primary use for worship. With much relief, Robert Maguire expresses himself as 'thrilled' and 'inspired' by how this development has progressed and sees it as fully in life with the founding principles and purpose of his and Keith Murray's building.

The Background
In October 1995 a new Incumbent arrived at St. Paul's, Bow Common - Prebendary Duncan Ross - only the second priest of the 'new' church which now stands where an earlier church had stood
since 1858 until it was destroyed by wartime bombing. The remarkable,visionary Vicar of

Fr. Gresham Kirkby
Fr. Gresham Kirkby

Bow Common, Fr. Gresham Kirkby, had been there for 43 years (1951-1994) and it was his vision for the rebuilding of the new church which was embodied by young, inexperienced architect, Robert Maguire and equally young Designer, Keith Murray.

Only one member of the congregation in 1995 had known the previous church, all the others having come during Fr. Kirkby's time with a core group who had been there from his earliest days when the ruins of the first church still stood. The church had the smallest church electoral roll (apart from some City churches) in the Diocese of London, but what it lacked in numbers it made up for in spirit! Naturally there was nervousness about what any new priest would bring, but there was particular anxiety about what would be done to the 'Tradition' at Bow Common. Fr. Kirkby described himself as a 'socialist anarchist' and was radical in many ways. He had a phenomenal intellect and knowledge and developed a liturgical tradition during his time of experiment before the new church was built, when the congregation met in a church hall & after a time in the beighbouring St. Luke's church. His tradition was further developed after he left the parish and there was anxiety that all of this would be swept away under the new man and whatever changes he would bring.

It was not an easy beginning for a new ministry in a parish. Conditions were imposed by the PCC upon the future Priest-in-Charge and when he declined to be further pressured, his Licensing was cancelled by the Church
and, alas, very little support was given from the authorities or any mutual understanding brokered or encouraged by those who could or should have done so. It was a tough and painful time for all. Meeting together after this impasse, a way ahead was found, though with much caution on the part of the church, and the new Priest-in-Charge was duly licensed.

st pauls bow common
St Paul's, Bow Common
In a very short time the fears dissolved and trust began to be built. The fears that a 'wrecker' might be among them were rapidly allayed when the new priest was seen to respect the traditions which had been established and to practice them to the best of his ability. To honour the non-canonical tradition of the church and to build trust and confidence had been at the cost of having to dishonour the canonical undertakings made at his Licensing, at least for the first 3 years of his incumbency, and this was personally painful to the priest. However, in a short while a 'normal' ministry was established and Fr. Duncan was given real support and respect by all sections of his small congregation, both 'old guard' and newcomers alike. Numbers grew, at last children arrived in some numbers, and there were no walk-outs or protests and normal life was resumed. Change did come, but it was organic rather than imposed - a longer process but much stronger and more owned, in the long run.

A remaining anxiety showed itself, however, in the frequent use of a phrase by one or two of the original core members of the church - 'the integrity of the walls' ! By this time Duncan had come to know Keith Murray very well and he asked Keith about this phrase which he never seen used in any of Maguire and Murray's papers. Keith Murray said that both he and Bob Maguire were completely unfamiliar with it and clearly it had been created after Fr. Kirkby's time as a 'protective mantra,' a semantic amulet to keep at bay any smart ideas a new priest might have for monkeying around with their iconic building, already known far and wide and not to be misused or dishonoured!

st mary of eton hackney wick

St. Mary of Eton, Hackney Wick

They need not have had any such fears! Duncan Ross has come to Bow Common after 12 years in a huge Bodley church (St. Mary of Eton, Hackney Wick) in which he had been free to 'play' with configuring the church, exploring the effect of lighting and colour, with icons and candle-light and other ways of enhancing that particular barn-like space for liturgy. However, he was well aware of the radical difference between a huge Victorian Bodley space and the similarly huge modern space which was now in his care and he had no plans to violate the 'integrity of the walls.' !

 Return to the top of this page

 

 

 


Printer Printable Version