1121 - 1970
The church building has existed for nearly 900 years, having started as a chapel at the gates of Reading Abbey in 1121. Due to its position next to Reading Abbey, trade in the area was stimulated, and a large market sprung up around the church. One road leading to the church became known as Market Place, and Market Place Square now stands directly next to the church.
The current tower was built in 1458, and then restored in 1882. During the restoration, the tower was found to contain several fragments of Norman work, suggesting that the 1458 tower had been partly built with some materials from the first tower during the Norman era. The tower currently houses 12 bells, making St. Laurence the only 12 bell church in Reading. Whilst the bells aren’t rung for services, they’re used by local bell ringers for regular practices and competitions.
During the 16th century Reformation, St. Laurence was drastically altered. Stain glass windows were removed in 1549, just 2 years after the removal and destruction of the images and whitewashing of the walls to hide the murals. All altars, except the High Altar and St. John’s Altar, were removed and sold.
In February 1943, bombs were dropped in the town centre. 41 people lost their lives and a plaque commemorating this event is fixed to the wall of Blandy and Blandy, the solicitors next to the church. Shrapnel damage to St. Laurence’s wall can still be seen today, and part of the dislodged west window now lies in the graveyard. Both planes were brought down as they returned to Germany, leading to the complete loss of life of all on board.
1970 - 2001
During the 1970s, the congregation of St. Laurence saw a serious decline, causing the parish to be merged with that of Saint Mary's (Reading Minster). As numbers continued to fall, the Diocese gave St. Laurence a new role. The Vicar, Chris Russell, was given the mandate to see young people come to faith and to build new forms of church with them.
2001 - 2015 (ISH)
Chris and his wife, Belinda, moved with a small team to Reading in 2001. Chris was inducted that Easter. The team focused on engaging with “un-churched” young people. One key element of creating space for our mission was the reordering of the building’s interior. During the reordering, we met at All Saints Parish Hall and St Mary’s (Reading Minster). The reordering was completed in November 2004 and the church reopened for use.
Our St. Laurence’s staff team and church member volunteers run youth groups, activities, schools work, and youth weekends away (including trips to Soul Survivor and Momentum). We have a range of small groups (which include young adults who transition from youth into adulthood) meeting in homes across Reading. We have social get togethers, seasonal gatherings and services (Holy Week and Christmas) and worship spaces. The church family also gathers annually for a weekend away.
In July 2013, Chris was seconded to Lambeth Palace for 2 days a week to become the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advisor on Evangelism and Witness whilst continuing in his duties at St Laurence.
2015 to NOW
In June 2015, Chris Russell set out our intention as a community to tirelessly pursue the embodied concept of ‘with’. As part of this, we embarked on an 18 month Review process, facilitated by Rev Neil Warwick (Vicar of St. Nicolas & Asst. Area Dean). One very visible way the Review impacted our church life was the amalgamation of our 2 services (3:30pm & 6pm) into one ‘Service 0’. From October 2015 we began meeting all together at 2pm.
As a further result of the review process, there has been a discernment by the whole church of four key priorities which we have committed to. A new Leadership Team has tasked individuals as Priority Leads, heading up Collectives within each priority area. The relationship between these emerging structures and the PCC, as well as the involvement of church member volunteers in the Collectives, has begun to develop since over Spring 2017