1121 - 1970
12th century to 15th century
The church building has been around for nearly 900 years. First it was a chapel at the gates of Reading Abbey in 1121. Due to its position by the Abbey, trade in the area was stimulated. A large market sprung up around the church. One road leading to St Laurence’s became known as ‘Market Place’, so Market Place Square is now directly next to us.
The current tower was built in 1458 and contains several fragments of Norman work. This suggests that the 1458 tower was partially built with materials from the first tower from the Norman era.
16th century to 19th century
During the Reformation, St. Laurence was drastically altered. Murals were whitewashed and images defaced or removed in 1547. Stain glass windows were then taken out in 1549. All altars - except the High Altar and St. John’s Altar - were removed and sold.
In 1882 the tower was restored and housed bells for ringing. We still have 12 bells, which makes us the only “12 bell church” in Reading! Whilst we don’t ring the bells for services, they’re used by local bell ringers for regular practices and competitions.
20th century – up until 1970
In February 1943, during WW2, two planes dropped bombs on the town centre. 41 people lost their lives. A commemorative plaque is now on the wall of Blandy and Blandy 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 returning to Germany, leading to the complete loss of life of all on board.
1970 - 2001
In the 1970s, the numbers of the St Laurence congregation declined. As a result, the parish was merged with that of Saint Mary's (Reading Minster). When numbers continued to fall, the Diocese decided that St. Laurence would have a new role.
Chris Russell became the vicar. He was given the mandate “to see young people come to faith and build new forms of church with them.”
2001 - 2015 (ISH)
Chris and Belinda Russell moved to Reading with a small team in 2001. The team focused on engaging with “un-churched” young people.
One key element of creating space for this mission was the reordering of the building’s interior. During the reordering, we met at All Saints Parish Hall (off the Bath Road) and St Mary’s (Reading Minster). The reordering was finally completed in November 2004 and the church reopened for use!
We initially had a small staff structure (a Youthwork Director, a PA to the Vicar who also held the internal office management, and part time youthworkers). Our heart has always been that ‘staff’ aren’t the only ones doing the youthwork and living the ministry of the church. We do it together. Church member volunteers are hugely involved in helping ‘do’ youthwork, as well as supporting all the other activities that a growing church congregation needs. We’re always amazed at the commitment and willingness of our community to serve; everything from children’s work through to cleaning the church! Staff and volunteers do so much: youth groups, holiday activities, schools work and youth weekends away (including weekends run by St Laurence specifically for our young people and trips to Soul Survivor).
We also 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 as well as seasonal services (Holy Week and Christmas) and worship spaces. We also gather annually as a church family for a weekend.
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. Chris continued being Vicar at St Laurence’s, and we took on a curate who supported some of those duties as part of their training.
2015 to 2017
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. 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 discernment by the whole church of four key priorities which we have committed to. The relationship between these priorities and structures which would help to hold them (including the PCC and the involvement of church member volunteers in Collectives), began to develop in 2017.
Our four priorities are:
We commit to being the inclusive family of Jesus Christ where lives are transformed by love
We commit to create spaces where people meet Jesus Christ and thrive as disciples
We commit to love and serve young people in Reading and with them to love and serve others
We commit to share what we learn so that the wider church may be effective in mission with young people
2017 TO 2018
Whilst discerning our next steps in 2017, we decided to appoint an Associate Vicar. Chris Jones and his family joined us in September 2017. The blessing of his experience in management and team has helped us to find our way forwards in 2018. Currently, as we discern leadership structures, decisions are held by the PCC and the Standing Committee (2 Wardens and both clergy).