Our parish started its life in 1993 with a handful of English converts to the Orthodox Faith meeting for prayer and worship in a private home. The basement floor had been converted into a beautiful little Orthodox chapel and served the needs of this fledgling community. Some of the early community were Orthodox Christians who felt drawn to more traditional Orthodoxy than was then available in the Greek Parish in Chester. This little group was partially made up of Fr Paul's family and some of his ex-parishioners from Congleton from his Anglican days. The group formally came under the care of Archbishop Mark of ROCOR on the Feast of the Annunciation 1993.
We orginally set up two little churches: a garden chapel in Congleton and the basement chapel in Birkenhead, dedicated to St Werburgh and St Elisabeth the New Martyr, respectively. Before Father Paul was ordained to the priesthood, the parish was served monthly by Father Alexis and Father Peter from the monastery at Brookwood, which was part of our diocese at the time. Father Paul was ordained deacon in 1994 for "the Monastery and Brotherhood of St Edward and the Churches of Congleton and Birkenhead". For four years, he served once a month or so at Brookwood in Surrey until he was ordained priest in July 1998 in Munich. A weekly Liturgy began in the parish in September 1998 and has continued in various locations ever since.
Over time, and mainly by word of mouth, people came to learn of this little community and began to come - some regularly, some not so regularly. Some saw in this small Orthodox community the Church of the Apostles and claimed it as their own, asking for Baptism and being received into the Orthodox Church. Since then, people have come and gone. Some have moved away, some have reposed, others have felt that their home has been elsewhere. Some have joined the Church as new Christians while others have come to us, having moved to England from Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, and found here a little reminder of the faith of their homelands. Eventually, the garden chapel of St Werburgh closed in 2007, having been hallowed with prayers and faith for over a decade, and our efforts are now mainly focussed on the Wirral.
We now have Britons, Russians, Lithuanians, Afro-Caribbeans, Ukrainians, and occasionally Arabs and Greeks, among others. We have people from all walks of life and, after all of these years, our numbers and our needs as a community eventually became such that we outgrew our little basement chapel and took our first steps into a more public existence. After over a year of searching for a new building, and having our hopes raised, dashed, and raised again, in November of 2008 we found a potential long-term home in a former cemetery chapel in Liscard, Wallasey. We formally began to discuss the move to Rake Lane Cemetery Chapel which belonged to Wirral Borough Council and had been closed due to neglect in 2006. The building having been dreadfully vandalised and in poor condition, the parish raised about £42,000 to bring it back into order. The builders moved in at the beginning of May, 2009 and completed most of their work by St Elisabeth's day, July 18th, 2009. We have made links with the local community, who have been very generous to us. In partnership with The Friends of Rake Lane Cemetery, the Area Forums and Wirral Partnership Homes we have brought back to life a redundant building that once meant a greal deal to a great many people, and they have welcomed us with open arms.
The work on the church is still ongoing. The screen was built ready to receive the icons from the London Podvoria (1926) which have been donated by our cathedral in London where they had been stored. The screen was completed in early 2011 and blessed by Archbishop Mark in the summer. The parish now meets every Sunday in our new church. Already we have had a visit from the Precious relics of St Elisabeth and St Barbara which came to us from Jerusalem, We also were honoured to have a visit from Metropolitan Hilarion in November 2009 and the Wonderworking Kursk Root Icon in the summer of 2010.
Slowly the congregation is increasing as people get to know about us. There have been a number of baptisms and weddings in the new church. Above all, it is crucial that we provide a place of welcome to Orthodox people and enquirers so that this lovely place of worship can come alive with the joy of Christ our Saviour.
Today, our people come from various backgrounds. Some of us have been Christians for most of our lives or belonged to other religions but have more recently embraced Orthodoxy. Others of us have been Orthodox for as long as we can remember. Yet others had no faith background at all before becoming Orthodox. All of us are learning and growing. Those who have converted learn from their brothers and sisters what it is to simply be Orthodox Christians without the difficulties of their past, while those who have always been Orthodox learn what it is to be Orthodox Christians in a different cultural setting. As a parish, we are clear in our conviction that we seek to worship God and order our common life according to the canonical norms of the Orthodox Church and using the traditional Church calendar. We fully support the noble ends of tolerance and understanding between religions, yet at the same time we are opposed to trends towards syncretism and ecumenical excess. We seek simply to live the Holy Orthodox Faith as it was received from the Apostles and taught by the divinely inspired Fathers of the Church.
After all of the generosity that we have received, it is our hope and our prayer that we can use our new situation to give something back, following the example of St Elisabeth by showing them something of the love and steadfast mercy of our loving Saviour, Jesus Christ, with his eternal Father, and his all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit. This is now our mission, and we welcome you to join us.