Christ Church, Moreton Hall, Bury St Edmunds
|On the face of it, this is just
another modern undistinguished church building on an
undistinguished housing estate, and including it on this
site is the kind of thing that gets me accused of being
trainspotterish. In my defence, I must tell you that
there is rather more going on here than meets the eye.
If you have ever been to Bury St Edmunds, especially on a Saturday morning, there is one question that you always end up asking. As you force your way through the crowded Market (Suffolk's biggest and finest) or rub shoulders in Sainsbury's or M&S, or thread through the tightly packed lanes with their posh little shops, it will eventually occur to you to wonder: where do all these people actually live?
Decent vernacular architecture in north Bury: a Church on a mission.
|Bury may claim a population of barely
50,000 souls, but it always seems much bigger than that.
Well, one answer to your question is that they live in
Moreton Hall - or, at least, 10,000 or so of them do.
This is the vast new estate that spreads to the north of
the River Lark, safely hidden from the pretty town centre
(as all Bury's estates are). You get to it by heading off
of Angel Square on the Ixworth road, over the bridge,
turn right, and there you are.
Moreton Hall is what is known as a 'planned community' of the 1980s and 1990s, making it rather better than earlier housing estates or unplanned ribbon developments. It is actually rather pleasant - certainly much more comfortable than Bury's southern housing estates, which cluster around the sugar beet factory, and are cut off from the town centre by the A14. It is, like many planned communities, designed for easy access by car, but with lip-service at least paid to cyclists. Cycle lanes seem to wind their way around the estate with enthusiasm, but the lack of adequate signposting meant that they were fairly useless to me, and I stuck to the roads.
Christ Church is a yellow-brick building in the Suffolk vernacular style. It sits on a square corner beside the Bury park and ride and a small supermarket. It is just off of the main road through the estate, but its setting across a wide verge from some pleasant semi-detached houses gives it a villagey feel, and not an urban one at all. The tall windows echo Suffolk Perpendicular, as do the rather neurotic buttresses. We have met this idea before at St Francis and, more traditionally, St Augustine, both in Ipswich. Unusually, the main block is almost all a big, light nave, without the fussy offices packed in around that we find at Cavendish Community Church. These are restricted to the west end, with an annex to the south west of that.
What we have here, then, is an inter-denominational church. Or do we? Would it be more accurate to say that it is non-denominational? And I had assumed that the bit about the permission of the Vicar of St Mary's was one of those typically Anglican pieces of legalese.
But when you look a little deeper, you see that things are a little more interesting. The document continues: Moreton Hall Estate has been designated a mission area by both the [Anglican] Diocese and Churches Together in Bury St. Edmunds and District and recognised as such by Suffolk Churches Together. Those of you who have come across Churches Together will know what an excellent organisation it is. It has always grieved me that it doesn't exist in Ipswich, and I am really excited that a new group is currently under discussion there. It works very well in other places in Suffolk - the Waveney district, for instance, and Felixstowe. And apparently Bury. The Catholic church is very strongly involved in the Churches Together movement - indeed, along with the Baptists they seem to be the main driving force in many places!
Now, I am fully aware of the Anglican church's special position as the Established church, with its Bishops sitting in Parliament, and the Government of the day overseeing major appointments. But is this really the kind of level playing field that encourages ecumenism? And then my doubt bites home: Churches Together in Bury St. Edmunds and District, Suffolk Churches Together,and the Diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich have sought to ensure that Christ Church was the only fully recognised Christian presence on the estate, so that its ecumenical work would not be diminished. Christ Church, Moreton Hall, is recognised as being a Local Ecumenical Partnership while remaining an Anglican parish.
Well, make what you will of all that, I suppose. The declaration is signed by the Anglican Bishop, as well as representatives of the Baptist Union, the Savation Army, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. On the east end of the building is a plaque, showing that the building was opened on 17th April 1994 by the chairman of Suffolk Churches Together - who just happened to be the Anglican Bishop.
As a member of Suffolk Churches Together, I suppose that the Catholic Church must have agreed to all this. Judging by St Edmundsbury Council's conditions, they are entitled to use it for Masses, but I could find no evidence that this happens, so it looks like the Catholics of Moreton Hall have to travel into St Edmund in the town centre if they want to go to church.
This all sounds as if I'm carping, and I don't mean to be. I wish Christ Church every success, and hope that it succeeds in its Evangelical Mission. Anything that brings people to Christ is doing good work, and I assume that this partnership will ensure an equality of opportunity for all the traditions involved in it.
Christ Church, Moreton Hall, is located in the northern suburbs of Bury St Edmunds. Take the road that runs from the north of Angel Square, over the bridge, and turn right. I expect that it is only open when in use.