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East End floating-church dream sinks, thanks to pandemic

27 October 2023

DIPESH DHIMAR

The Genesis, with a “For sale” sign in the window, on Wednesday of last week

The Genesis, with a “For sale” sign in the window, on Wednesday of last week

A VISION of a floating church for the communities of the East End of London has foundered after pandemic restrictions meant that the congregation had to meet on land.

The diocese of London’s specially designed barge, Genesis, is now up for sale, ending hopes that the £650,000 vessel, with an illuminated pop-up roof, might be a means of reaching out to canal-side communities.

A diocesan spokesperson said: “Due to the restrictions in place caused by the pandemic, the new worshipping community was unable to meet aboard Genesis for the first 12 months of its being in situ, and instead relocated and grew in premises provided by local churches.”

The diocese says that Covid restrictions, combined with the departure of the Revd David Pilkington, who was leading the community, led the diocese to rethink the project.

“Following the departure of the key lead, and having offered the use of the vessel elsewhere in the diocese, the decision was made to look to sell Genesis so that the funds could be redeployed to promote the growth of new worshipping communities elsewhere,” a spokesperson said.

The design of the barge, which included a kinetic roof inspired by organ bellows, and made from concertina-ed, translucent sailcloth, allowed the boat to pass under bridges when lowered. With the roof raised, it offered a meeting space to seat up to 40 people.

Moored near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Genesis was conceived as a modern-day mission, developing links with growing communities living around the canal in East London over the next 25 years. It was initially set up to serve the parishes of St Paul’s, Old Ford, and St Mary of Eton, in the Stepney Area, with hopes of reaching new communities and parishes undergoing urban growth or change.

Although the use of Genesis was delayed because of the pandemic, Mr Pilkington said, the small barge community had met on board for about a year, until his departure in 2022.

Despite the failure of the Genesis project, one floating church mission continues to thrive in Canary Wharf, where two clerics head up St Peter’s Barge.

The Senior Pastor for St Peter’s Barge, the Revd Marcus Nodder (Feature, 1 June 2018), said that, although the pandemic had forced them to move online for some time, the church was now growing, and included about 100 adults and 20 children, meeting each week.

He said: “We have four full-time staff, and we’re very full on Sundays. Our lunchtime events have been hit, like most City locations, but we’re looking at other options, and how to grow what we’re doing.”

The spokesman said that the diocese was inviting offers for the barge. “The missional objectives of the project succeeded, and growing discipleship amongst the growing canal community around London remains part of the diocese’s missional strategy,” he said.

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