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St Michael’s Fulwell brought back to life

For 14 years the church of St Michael's in South West London had been empty, its building deteriorating and its role in the community lost. However, in 2014 a new community was planted at St Michael's, and since then the church and its building have undergone a dramatic transformation.

In October 2022, the Bishop of Islington spoke at a service of thanksgiving for this regeneration. Here we explore this story of new life and restoration, reflecting the resurrection hope at the heart of the Gospel.

The early 1900s saw the opening of St Michael and St George’s Church in north Teddington, South West London. The building held over 600 people and the church played a significant part of life in Fulwell. However, by 1990 the parish was combined with St Peter and St Paul Teddington to become one benefice and sadly in 2000, St Michael’s was closed. The building lay empty for over 14 years, deteriorating and unused, and its future continued to be uncertain.

However, since 2014, both the building and the community of St Michael’s have come back to life. The former Bishop of Kensington, the Rt Revd Paul Williams, invited a small team from St Peter’s Fulham to start a worshipping community at St Michael’s, to be known as St Michael’s Fulwell. In the Autumn of 2014, the launch team was commissioned at St Peter’s and with the support of local churches, a new chapter began at St Michael’s. The side chapel and vestry rooms were restored and in January 2015 regular morning services began again, led by the Revd Ed Kendall. Evening services started and the congregation began to outgrow the side chapel. In 2016, the team installed a tent inside the nave as an innovative solution to heat the space! However, soon it became apparent that a more permanent answer was needed and REGENERATE was launched in 2017 to fully renovate St Michael’s.

Malcolm Fryer Architects were appointed to create a long-term masterplan and oversee the considerable repairs to the late Edwardian building, which included levelling the chancel and installing a new backdrop to worship. In August 2021 building work started on this Grade II listed church and by July 2022 the works were completed.

At the evening’s celebration of the regeneration of St Michael’s, Malcolm Fryer spoke about the immense challenges that both the architect team and the congregation faced during the process. Tragically, one of the architects had died during the design stage of the project so the service celebrated his legacy and his mark on the building. Malcolm Fryer also spoke about the strength of the leadership team and congregation’s vision for St Michael’s and the joy of seeing this vision come to life. The Archdeacon of Middlesex, the Ven Richard Frank, shared how our buildings are a gift from God – a safe space for ministry and worship, to encourage each other and to be a blessing to others in our community. 

Drawing his reflections from Ezekiel 37 and John 11, the Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Dr Ric Thorpe, shared how this revitalised church building reflects the picture of dry bones coming back to life in Ezekiel’s vision. It looked like St Michael’s was empty and dead, like the valley of dry bones. A previous archdeacon once said that: ‘An empty church is like the empty palace of a long-forgotten king and people walk past and say, “The king is dead.”’ But the transformation of St Michael’s shows how the king is not dead and God had a different vision for this building. Now it is a place of new life, new connections and new possibilities. The evening also celebrated the new church community. Bishop Ric reminded us that a church cannot fully come alive without people. St Michael’s Fulwell needed a new congregation and St Peter’s Fulham sacrificially sent a wonderful leader and people with passion, energy, gifts and time, bringing a living hope and community to this building. 

To conclude, Bishop Ric talked about the regeneration of St Michael’s and how it points to the new life promised by Jesus in the Gospels. The story of Lazarus reminds us of the resurrection hope that Jesus came to give each person. In John 11, Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me shall live!’ We no longer face challenges alone but with God, and death is not the end. By his action on the cross, Jesus offers us forgiveness from the past – he takes away our sin and our shame and he gives us new life. The restoration of St Michael’s is a beautiful reflection of what God can do through Christ in us. It highlights how the Christian faith is not simply about new buildings or congregations but resurrection life in us. 

In 2019 St Michael’s was reestablished as a parish church and today, the heart of St Michael’s is to see every life following Jesus. It is part of the church planting network Co-Mission and one of 87 new or revitalised parishes established between 2013 and 2020 in the Diocese of London.    

By Philippa Guy

Photography by Margaret R Chandler