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'A beautiful space to worship God' 

Avenue Baptist Church in Westcliff on Sea, Essex is gearing up for the official reopening of its building after a year-long construction process

Apart from repainting, Avenue Baptist Church has hardly been altered since its construction in 1901. While the exterior remains the Edwardian style and design, the last year has seen the building receive a completely modernised interior. The pews have been removed to be replaced by chairs and a new audio system and audio visual system is set up with facilities to watch films. There are new staircases, with an extended space and other improvements.

The result is pleasing for several reasons, according to minister the Revd Andrew Picton.

'Working with our architect and builders, we have created a flexible space that can now be used in a huge variety of ways,' he said, 'but working with local artisans, we have also created a beautiful space to worship God.'

The idea for the refurbishment came in the 1990s. However, no progress was made until five years ago in a period of pastoral vacancy, when Rick Owen, a long-standing member of the church was asked to talk with an architect to draw up plans for refurbishing the church.
It was decided to wait for a new minister to discover God’s will for the proposal. Then, from September 2013, the church discussed, prayed and sought God’s vision for the church. In May 2014, the decision was made to go ahead with the plans.
'This was a step of faith because we didn’t have the finances in place for this £1 million refurbishment,' said Andrew. 'During this time there, was a mixture of emotions; excitement for where God was leading us and the possibilities that came from creating a flexible but beautiful space that could help us engage with our wider community, but also sadness as objects that held many dear memories were removed, such as the organ and pulpit.'

The refurbishment was paid for partly by two legacies from church members. 'We believed that [the refurbishment] was confirmed when out of the blue we received two large bequests from long standing members,' said Andrew.

The money for the refurbishment also came from fundraising, from the congregation and other churches, and from the Baptist Union and the Eastern Baptist Association.
In August 2015, the building work began and and it has lasted a year. Unable to use the church building, the congregation gathered in other locations to engage the wider community with services on the local cliff tops and beach, as well as with other local churches to encourage and seek inspiration from them.
As the refurbishment drew to a close, the church hosted a number of events to showcase the church. This included concerts, a lecture and circus acts, concluding with a street party with the neighbouring St Helen’s Catholic Church.
The redevelopment will mean the church is more flexible and means building can be used by the local community. The church is due to be officially reopened on 4 September and plans to run courses on dealing with depression and money management. It will also welcome Radio 4’s Any Questions in January.

By Kira Taylor

Baptist Times, 31/08/2016
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