St John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church at St Philip's, Golden Jubilee 1952 - 2002


Fifty years have now gone by since the then Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the Rt Rev Richard Brook, dedicated St Philip's on Sunday 3 February 1952. Twenty-five years later that dedication was in turn commemorated by a Silver Jubilee Service of Thanksgiving on Sunday 6 February 1977. The preacher was the Rt. Rev. Leslie Brown, the then Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. Also at that time a short history of the church written by Mr George Crofts was printed and a Silver Jubilee Exhibition held. On Sunday 3 February 2002, 50 years to the day, a Golden Jubilee Service of Thanksgiving was held for the presence of this church in Felixstowe.
Fifty years on, it is my turn to put together this small commemorative booklet, readily acknowledging my debts to George Crofts and Canon Wakefield. Indeed, I can think of no finer commemorative words than those quoted by the much-loved pastor of St Philip's, Canon Kenneth Wakefield, who ministered here from 1959 to 1987. In his special message for the Silver Jubilee history of St Philip's (1952-1977), he very fittingly quoted St Paul, writing to the Philippians that we must, 'strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus'. And as we Orthodox Christians, new Philippians, now celebrate fifty years of Christian endeavour at this church, we also 'strain forward to what lies ahead', to the ever new challenges which lie before us in this New Century and New Millennium.

Fr Andrew Phillips
Seekings House
St Edmund's Tide, 2001

The Twentieth-Century History of St Philip's

St Philip's began on 12 June 1950, when the then Vicar, the Revd A. Ross Sage, and Walton Church Council obtained a piece of land on which to erect a church building on the new housing site in the future Wadgate Road. This land was donated by the local authority for the princely sum of £1, on condition that the building to be erected be used for religious purposes in perpetuity. The building was to cost £1,497 plus the purchase price of the site and costs of conveyance and furnishings.
The original idea was initially to hold an evening service once a month and, above all, establish a Sunday School. The Diocese granted £1,000, the remainder was to be raised locally. The Parochial Church Council readily agreed to name the church after the Holy Apostle Philip (one of the seven deacons, see Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 6 and 8). The Bishop of St Edmundsbury suggested that the official name be 'St Philip's Hall-Church, Wadgate Road'. Subsequently the building of the new church started in November 1951 and the church was opened on 3 February 1952.
The Sunday School grew very rapidly, from 52 children on 10 February 1952 to 106 on 2 March 1953, 160 on 19 March 1954 and 217 on 24 February 1956. With the post-War baby-boom and an increasing number of houses on the estate it was decided to build an extension to the church - a separate hall, larger than the actual church itself. In 1957 decisive action was taken to obtain permission and funds (£3,300) from the appropriate authorities. Building began that same year and was completed towards the end of January 1958.
Now, instead of two services a month there could be a service every Sunday. This was further increased at the end of 1959 to two services every Sunday. Church life now moved ahead and a number of gifts were made: in 1959 a pulpit; in 1961, among other gifts, a font; in 1962 a seven-foot high wooden cross for the outside of the church; and in 1968 the generous gift of a palisade and a wall erected around the church and hall transformed the outside of St Philip's. These and other gifts considerably enhanced the appearance of the church.
During the 1960's the Church of England decided to make changes to its services in the hope of attracting the younger generation, growing up in an increasingly dechristianised society. Thus in 1968 at St Philip's new services were introduced and new Bibles came into use. In 1974 other new services with modern hymnbooks were tried out in the hope of creating more participation by the congregation.
Meanwhile, St Philip's hall was increasingly used, not only by a host of church clubs and organisations, Sunday School, Mothers' Union, Brownies, Youth Group, Men's Fellowship, but also by other organisations, such as the Disabled Association, a Club for the Blind, St Philip's Playgroup every morning and it was also used as a Clinic for babies.
When Canon Wakefield retired in 1987, there was a core of about forty churchgoers and regular attendance of twenty to thirty. Although the surrounding society seemed to be losing its faith, it seemed as though St Philip's future was reasonably assured. Sadly, this was not to be.
For a variety of reasons, one of which was the building of a new church elsewhere in Felixstowe, Cavendish Community Church, St Philip's went into decline. The last regular service took place in 1991. From then on, various local clergy tried to hold at least one service a month at St Philip's, but congregations usually numbered less than ten, often only four or five. Indeed, the main use of the church during this period came to be as a Christian youth club and as a club for the unemployed to learn about computing. In September 1999, after two final services with congregations of two and five respectively, St Philip's was closed. But not for long!

The Year 2000: Continuity and Change

To many today it would seem that Christianity has not weathered the storms of unbelief brought on it by the twentieth century. Familiar institutions seem to be in a state of collapse. New generations, shaped by the disasters of the last century, appear not to have the Faith of those who preceded them. Moreover, despite well-meaning attempts to adapt to modernity, it would appear to many that Church authorities have only rarely been able to meet the challenges and difficulties of the late twentieth century.
That view, however, must be mitigated by the growth of Christianity in certain areas. New suburban Christian churches are springing up, but they are of a different sort from those of the past. Among the 'successful' Churches there are: firstly, charismatic, Pentecostalist churches; secondly, fundamentalist churches; thirdly, churches which believe that to look forward we must look back, returning to the traditions of the Early Church, if we are to survive. The Orthodox Church is the prime example of such a Church.
The Faith of the Orthodox Church, Orthodox Christianity, is confessed by some 200 million people worldwide. The Orthodox Church itself is made up of a confederation or family of local Orthodox Churches. These include the Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Constantinople, Alexandria (for Africa) and Antioch (for much of Asia), as well as the Russian, Romanian, Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Georgian, American, Cypriot, Polish, Japanese and Czechoslovak Orthodox Churches. Although there are Orthodox Churches in virtually every country in the world and serving in every language of the world, from Alaska to Peru, Haiti to New Zealand, Korea to Wales and Zimbabwe to Lapland, even today the majority of Orthodox Christians are to be found in Eastern Europe, especially in Russia. For centuries, indeed, the Orthodox Church has meant little to English people, as it has been misunderstood as something foreign and even exotic, confined only to certain nationalities.
By far the largest and most important of the Orthodox Churches, the Russian Orthodox Church, had existed in this country since the eighteenth century. Until the twentieth century it was, however, very much a Church confined to Russian nationals and dependent on the Russian Embassy in London. This was to change radically with the Russian Revolution in 1917.
At that time some two million Russian refugees, including thirty bishops, fleeing political violence and bloody religious persecution, emigrated to Western countries. With the blessing of the saintly Russian Patriarch of the time, they organised their own Church Outside Russia, politically free and independent of the intensely persecuted Church inside Russia.
Several thousand such refugees came to this country and settled. Gradually they intermarried and their sons and daughters became English. Moreover, many of them not only kept their Orthodox Faith, albeit in English, but also introduced English people to it. In this they were aided by a number of English Orthodox and others who encouraged the use of English in services and helped English people to become Orthodox. We might mention in particular two contemporary Saints, commemorated in this church in Felixstowe, St Elizabeth the New Martyr (+ 1918), a favourite grand-daughter of Queen Victoria and visitor to this country, and St John the Wonderworker, the Russian Archbishop in London and contemporary miracleworker (+ 1966). As well as these two outstanding contemporary Saints, other individuals helped in this process. For example, there were Fr Nicholas Gibbes (+ 1963), an English Orthodox priest and former tutor to the son of the last Tsar, and also Fr Lazarus Moore (+ 1992) and Fr David Meyrick (+ 1993). The result is today that there is a network of English Orthodox parishes up and down the country where English people live and worship according to the Orthodox manner.
The Felixstowe Orthodox church came about initially through Fr Andrew Phillips and family. With his family originally from Suffolk, he had attended school in Colchester before studying Modern Languages and Theology in Oxford. From there he went to live in Greece and then went to study Orthodox Theology at the Russian St Sergius Institute in Paris. Here he became known as the author of a number of books about the Orthodox Church and Orthodox Christianity. Returning from France as a missionary to England in 1997, he was directed to Suffolk where at the time there was no English Orthodox church. Initially he looked at Bury St. Edmunds, a town central to Suffolk and named after Suffolk's famous Saint Edmund, England's former Patron Saint. Here it did not seem possible to set anything up. The decision was taken to look in the only other Suffolk town named after a Saint - Felixstowe, named after St Felix - a missionary from France. Here everything required was readily found. In August 1997 the first Orthodox services began. These were attended by only five people in the Orthodox chapel of the very modest upper room of a converted art workshop at 10A Victoria Street in Felixstowe town centre.
By mid-1999 the community had grown from the initial five and then had fifty people on its books. It had become urgent to move. Fr Andrew decided to take a sabbatical year to look for more suitable premises, raise funds and generally establish the church on a firmer footing.
Through 'Churches Together in Felixstowe', of which the local Orthodox church had been an observer-member since 1997, we learned in late September 1999 of the newly vacant St Philip's Church. Through the friendly help and good offices of Revd Rod Corke of St Mary's Walton and Revd Ivan Barley of Cavendish Community Church, an agreement between the Felixstowe Orthodox Church and St Mary's Walton was finally signed in March 2000.
There followed a month of intensive work at St Philip's, transporting, gardening, sawing, hammering, drilling and painting, involving many members of the church. As a result, on Friday 21 April, the first Orthodox service took place here, being a service of thanksgiving combined with the blessing of the waters. Significantly, the first regular service took place the next day - the Vigil for the Feast of the Entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem, the Orthodox Palm Sunday.
The conversion of St Philip's into an Orthodox church was providentially relatively easy. For example we are pleased to be reusing many of the church furnishings of the old St Philip's - the donations of the faithful of that time are still very much in use. Nevertheless, the conversion of St Philip's required more than simply moving out the things stored there, cleaning and repainting.
As in the Early Church, the interior of Orthodox churches is covered with frescos, or lacking these, icons. Icons are simply holy images, portraying the Saviour, His Mother, the Saints and the Angels. For Orthodox Christians these are not decorative pictures, but images which make those portrayed spiritually present. The main icons in an Orthodox church are on the icon-screen, a wall which separates the nave of the church, where people stand, from the sanctuary or clergy area. This screen is entered into by three doors, the central or holy doors and the north and south doors to the left and right of them. The images of the Four Evangelists are to be found on the central doors, for there is no way into the Kingdom of Heaven other than through the Words of Our Lord which the Evangelists recorded. Images of the Archangels Gabriel and Michael are to be found on the north and south doors, for the angels are messengers from heaven to earth. The nave of the church represents earth, whereas the sanctuary represents heaven.
Other aspects of Orthodox worship also continue the practices of the Early Church. For example, Orthodox Christians believe that our Faith in the Holy Trinity is to be lived by in daily life; Orthodox believe that the Saints are our friends and helpers, we belong to the same family as they; Orthodox believe in sacraments and the priesthood; Orthodox priests are married; babies are confirmed immediately after baptism, meaning that they can take communion at once; Orthodox use no organs or other manmade musical instruments in their services but only their God-given voices; Orthodox stand for their services, not sit down, for we are in the presence of God; Orthodox light candles before the images of Christ and the Saints; Orthodox venerate the Cross, for this is the symbol of the Resurrection; Easter is the most important feast of the Church Year; Orthodox fast, as did our Lord in the wilderness; Orthodox use incense in their worship; Orthodox have daily readings from the Gospels and the epistles; Orthodox pray for the departed, for we all belong together, on both sides of life; Orthodox bury the departed, never cremating, for we are called to respect the body, 'the temple of the Holy Spirit'; Orthodox have monasteries and convents; Orthodox use the ancient Christian calendar - the modern secular calendar being thirteen days ahead of the Christian calendar and also fixing Easter on a different date from that of the original Christian calendar, as agreed in the year ad 325 at the First Universal Council of the Church at Nicea outside Constantinople.
All these aspects of Orthodox Christian life and worship make Orthodox churches look quite different from other churches. However, as Christians, we are conscious that all our worship is directed to the One Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, Who is the Head of the Church and on Whom all our life must be centred.


Since our first service here in April 2000, more work has been carried out to beautify the church. The interior of the church was painted, and two crosses were donated for the doors by our friend Harry Fryer. These were made by the late Bill Townsend from an old Felixstowe fishing-boat in memory of two local Orthodox Christians, Eugene and Maria. Since then 150 more icons have been generously donated, including the Felixstowe Mother of God, and other improvements made. We have been pleased to welcome our Archbishop Mark to our church and our Dean Fr Alexis.
And so our worship continues. First there are the regular Vigil services every Saturday at 5.30 p.m., then the Liturgies at 10.20 a.m. on Sundays. These are followed by a talk. At certain times of the year there are extra services on weekdays. Services for Christmas and Easter take place at midnight. We continue our mission with services on Saturday mornings at St John's Church in Bury St Edmunds. Talks are given locally about the Orthodox Church and there have been articles in the local and national press as well as a television programme on Channel 4. We also continue to produce our quarterly journal Orthodox England, now in its fifth year of publication. This journal, like the church itself, has its own website, set up with the invaluable help of an Orthodox friend from Ipswich, David Davies.
(The website can be found at: www.orthodoxengland.org.uk).
Although we look forward to the future with confidence and ambitious new projects to further beautify this church, we are also cautious, for we cannot know what this new Century and new Millennium will bring. Nevertheless in Felixstowe we will continue to provide a place where Orthodox Christians can worship God in the Orthodox manner and where they can meet one another in a community. We also believe that we are called to be witnesses to Christ and His Church in an outside world which increasingly does not know Him. And therefore this place is also a place where anyone can come and pray and rest a while before returning to the daily struggle. And thanks to the presence of the Church among us, in this new Century and new Millennium, with whatever battles lie ahead, we trust in Divine Providence that 'the gates of hell will not prevail', for Our Lord is with us always, 'even unto the end of the world. Amen'.

St John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church,
Wadgate Road
Suffolk IP11 2LP

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