This is no ancient site of worship. It is a church which was worked for and built and furnished by people, some of whom are still in living memory of members of present-day congregation. Yet for all that, we have this in common with churches of great age: we have much that is fine and beautiful and things of exceptional interest.
By way of background
On a fine evening in 1937 a van from London pulled off the newly made road at this spot, open to meadow-land where, under the guidance of a minister-priest sent by the Bishop of London, workmen erected a small marquee, roughly where our present font is sited. The following morning, Sunday June 6th, The Church of the Ascension held its first service. Later that year the church moved into the new, dual-purpose building erected alongside, which is now the church hall. Finally, much delayed by the war the present church was built. It was dedicated on September 14th 1957.
The character of the building
Attractive by any standards, the church’s full beauty can be the better appreciated when seen through the mind of its architect. Harold Gibbons was at the close of a great career during which he had built many beautiful churches. This was to be both his swan song and his masterpiece.
Above all he set out to recapture what he called the architectural “religious joyfulness” of mediaeval church-builders.
“It must soar joyfully,” he said repeatedly. “It must be joyfully light, bright and spacious. And certainly we must bring back what so many later generations in their blindness would not accept: those joyful colours in which the old church delighted.”
Happy in achieving his aim, he died almost as The Church of the Ascension was completed. If you seek his monument, look around you at the power of his great arches, the soaring sweep of his spacious sanctuary, the deliberate daring of his ceiling colours and the complete sense of “joyful religious purpose” on which he had set his heart.
The Mural and the windows
At times Gibbons admitted wistfully that he would have liked every wall to have been splashed with colourful mural paintings in the manner of his beloved mediaevalists. Really vital to his theme was the logical one over the altar. This, with its “Ascension” motif, is the work of the great muralist Hans Feibusch, who worked closely with Gibbons in harmonising his own colourings with those of the surrounding architecture.
The lancet windows on either side, subtly incorporating St Michael and St George and their accompanying panel windows, were specially designed (by Walker) to be appropriately colourful but without being “dominant in their own right” in the way that some of our other glasswork is dominant.
How is it that a relatively young suburban church can have acquired a wealth of stained-glass artistry which would normally have been the fruit of patient centuries of giving and of a standard which enrich many a cathedral? The answer is that this is the fruit of many past centuries of giving, first embodied in valuable glass destroyed by enemy action in a London church and later replaced by War Damage insurance, not in its original setting, that church was never rebuilt but instead at this new church in a young suburb.
Thus it is that, if you stand behind the font and look to your left into what was originally designed to be the baptistery, you will see a window of St Anselm (by Carter Shapland) which for sheer drama of form and colour can have few equals in Britain. The Carter Shapland brilliance of effect can also be seen in the large window of the St Michael Chapel at the head of the north aisle and in four small abstract panel windows in the Lady Chapel, beyond the south aisle. Our other glasswork is in more delicate and traditional mood, as exemplified (by Whitefriars) in the Rose Soames memorial window, opposite the site of the pulpit, in the “Godly Matrons” windows in the Lady Chapel and in the crested panels of the big west window in the choir gallery. In the bay next to St Anselm’s Chapel there is a more recent vibrant window beautifully illustrating “Suffer the little children to come unto me”. This was generously donated by a late member of our congregation in memory of a much loved grandson.
Other items of interest
Unlike most churches the world over, this church does not follow the traditional east-west line; in fact it is more nearly north-south, in order to use limited ground space to the best advantage. However, we still find it convenient to refer to various parts of the church (west, south aisle, etc.) by their traditional compass points.
On the inner wall of the narthex or vestibule, to the left of the “west” door of the church, the visitor may see three pieces of stonework incorporated, symbolising that although this is a young church it is also part of an age old heritage. One stone comes from the mother church of the deanery, St Mary-on-the-Hill, Harrow; another, linking us with the diocese, is from the fabric of St Paul’s Cathedral and the third, certainly the oldest fragment of masonry for many miles around, is from Canterbury cathedral itself.
The chairs in the church were given each by a member of the congregation either in a personal thanksgiving or as a memorial and each carries a small plaque accordingly. The major ornaments in the church were also given by various members. Our two main vessels of communion plate, a ciborium and a chalice, were made by a silver-craftsman member of the congregation. The various alter frontals and most of the vestments, too were made by members of the church.
The church was shortlisted for the 'Best Modern Church' competition in 2013. The following year it was was listed as a Grade 2 building for its architectural interest.
We are humbly proud of our church in its entirety and pray that we may be worthy of it. We welcome all to share in the enjoyment of it and of the Gospel message which is the whole purpose of this Church of the Ascension.