Thursday, 14 November 2013

Wood Lane Baptist Church Dagenham

The Becontree Estate was begun in 1921 by the London County Council as part of the ‘Homes for Heroes’ scheme after World War One (the Housing Act of 1919 promised to provide ‘Homes fit for heroes to live in’). Over 300 acres of land were compulsorily purchased, mainly in Dagenham, but also in the boroughs of Ilford and Barking. Manor houses, farms and cottages were then cleared to make way for the new development.  The building of the estate took over a decade to complete.

On completion, the Becontree Estate was the largest in the world. Its 27,000 houses provided new homes for over 100,000 people. With gas and electricity, inside toilets, fitted baths and front and back gardens, they were originally intended for the better-off working class Londoner.


Wood Lane Baptist Church opened its doors for worship in 1932 and is situated on this estate. Over these past 80 years Dagenham has changed in many ways. The two major changes were the “Right to Buy” scheme, which has led to large numbers of Council houses being transferred to private buyers. Which in turn has has led to a large number of properties available for private let throughout the borough. The second major change that has happened is that the ethnicity of the borough has also changed, which has led to some cultural problems within the borough.

When I was approached to become Pastor at Wood Lane back in the Spring of 2003, I would have described the congregation as predominantly from a white, working class background. To day, we are a truly multi-cultural congregation, with many un-waged due to the present economic climate, and as a result of the majority of large industry moving away from Dagenham.

As Dagenham has changed, then so have we as a church. We have deliberately not sat down and put together a strategy about how we could accommodate the many  different cultures into our church, we have accepted one another asfamily and allowed the church to naturally evolve to the point where our cultures have combined; our worship has become more enriched; and we have multi-cultural church; we are just God’s family coming together to worship a God that we all love.

When the BNP were actively canvassing in Dagenham at the recent election we opened our building for other candidates to use for comfort brakes. Some of our members got involved, not canvassing for specific candidates or parties, but by going out and encouraging ordinary people to go and cast their vote. We like to think that these efforts led to the BNP collapse in Dagenham.

Yes, our church has grown and changed in these past ten years. The demographic of the area and the church has changed. People have come to faith in Jesus. Our strong youth work, mainly centred on Girls Brigade and Boys Brigade, continues. We sent one of our members into ministry as an accredited Lay Pastor in Suffolk. One thing has not changed, and that is that Dagenham isstill not a very prosperous area. We have recently experienced our third break in at the church this year, this time the safe itself was stolen. Security and personal safety are always an issue to consider with regard to the congregation and the buildings. The 80 year old buildings have needed a lot of repair and care.

Without the support of Home Mission we would have struggled even more than we do now. Home Mission has allowed Wood Lane to support a full-time minister, which in turn allows the Good News of Jesus Christ to be spread more widely , especially in our schools work and becoming more involved in the local community.

To all those churches that support Home Mission, we at Wood Lane, would like to say a very big THANK YOU.

This is part of a series called Partners in Mission from the EBA.