Stephen Cottrell: Goodbye from Essex

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A popular pub quiz question asks: Which English county has the longest coast? The surprising answer is – Essex.

As I prepare to return to Yorkshire and take on new responsibilities, I say goodbye to Essex, the county I was born in – and probably the most misunderstood, caricatured, and overlooked county in the country. Those of us who love Essex quickly get used to predictable necks over white stilettos and fake tans. In the north of the county, worn down by the jokes, some Essex people just say they are from East Anglia.

AlamyThe Woolpack, Coggeshall

But I am Essex and proud of it. It is a fabulous county. It is full of surprises – and not just the length of its coast. As the recently published Excellent Essex by Gillian Darley (Old Street Publishing) shows, it is a land of energy, wit and creativity. This is the county of Billy Bragg and Bobby Moore; Thomas Tallis, Priti Patel and Grayson Perry; Alison Moyet, Russell Brand, Hannah Stodel and John Dankworth; Paul Ince, Maggie Smith and Keith Flint; Lancelot Andrews and Wilco Johnson.

It has the oldest city in England: Colchester; its longest pier in Southend; his oldest church in Bradwell-on-Sea; and the oldest wooden church in the world in Greensted-juxta-Ongar. It has the latest public art, Julie's House, in Wrabness; and the oldest competition, the Dunmow Flitch, for the happiest couple.

On Mersea Island, in Company Shed, eat some of the most delicious oysters ever. If you go to a hotel in the world you will find a pot of jam from Tiptree. Every cook who is worth his salt gets it from Maldon. The first international live concert came from Writtle a century ago last month, and Marconi built his first radio factory in Chelmsford.

ESSEX is also a county with strong independence of thought and fascinating minorities and peculiarities – the historically most interesting is the peculiar people themselves. They were one of many Puritan sects that started in Essex. This takes its name from Deuteronomy 14.2: "The Lord chose this to be a strange people for himself."

Conrad Noel, the famous “Red Pastor”, who hoisted the red flag from the church tower, addressed his community as comrades, preached about the Trinity as a model for a social revolution and campaigned for the revival of popular traditions in dance and music the Vicar of Thaxted in Essex.

When I was leading the fair there on Plow Sunday a few years ago, dancing Morris men accompanied the offertory procession. Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams were regular visitors in the 1930s; They helped start the music festival that takes place there every year. Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious founded their artists' community nearby in Great Bardfield, and the Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden is home to much of their work.

AlamyWestfield Shopping Center, Stratford East

This innovative, sometimes individualistic, but always aspiring vision of building new communities and generating new thinking is also evident in some architectures in Essex, which result from the elegant simplicity of the art deco designs of the built workers' town Silver End by Francis Crittall in the 1930s on the expansive visions of new post-war cities and the open spaces and fantastic public art of Harlow. Or the quirky quirk of Julie's house; even in contemporary church buildings such as St. Pauls, Harlow, St. Martin & # 39; s, Basildon or St. Edmund & # 39; s, Forest Gate.

Essex is a county with its own thoughts, style and vision. There's something in the water. It is on the edge. A huge expanse of water is never far away. There is always a wide horizon. The tides ebb and flow, which means that the landscape is constantly changing, especially at the points on the coast where the sea takes back the country. Sometimes that's overwhelming. In 1953, many people died on Canvey Island and in other cities below sea level, such as Jaywick, when these waters were flooded.

It's a place of arrival and departure: two major ports in Harwich and Tilbury and an international airport in Stansted. Essex's headstrong and independent thinking was shaped by waves of immigration. Dutch engineers helped drain the swamps to form the fertile agricultural land of North Essex. They stayed. Those who do well in East London are still looking east.

But Essex has also exported ideas around the world. Feeling out of tune with your neighbors has sometimes led to extremism. But at best, it has shaped new dreams. Freethinkers realized that their ideas flourished in the Essex terroir, even if they had to be lived elsewhere.

William Penn set up his "sacred experiment" in a colony that became Pennsylvania. He grew up in Wanstead. John Locke, whose writings significantly underpinned the 1776 American Declaration of Independence, lived and wrote in Essex. And Thomas Hooker, the founder of the State of Connecticut and known as the father of American democracy, was a preacher at St. Mary's Parish Church in Chelmsford, today's Cathedral.

istockClacton at sea

They also took Essex with them. There is an Essex County in Virginia and Massachusetts and an Essex Town in Connecticut.

Even St. Cedd, whom we remember as our evangelist, was changed by his arrival. He learned mission and service on Holy Island, but arrived in 653 on the Dengie Peninsula and pursued a different strategy. If the word "Münster" occurs in an English place name, it usually means that there was a stonking large church building at one time. Not in Essex. Cedd's Minster were communities of missionary disciples, not buildings, although the one he built still exists today. When we go there, we learn how to be sent out; We learn to respond to the contexts we find.

WHY am I writing all this? Because I love this county – the diocese is the old county of Essex, which also means the five boroughs in east London – and was privileged to serve as a bishop. But also because love for people and places, be it Essex, East London or Yorkshire, is fundamental to Christian service.

If you imagine that, there are remarkable similarities between Essex and Yorkshire that I would like to explore. Both have a passionate and deeply rooted sense of identity and place. Although this is not uncommon in the north, it is less common in the south. I have often told clergymen who move to Essex that the best way to understand the place is to realize that it is not the home country.

In the last few months of closure, the Church of England has gained a lot through our creative forays into the digital community and digital communication. This is here to stay. But we also need the place to be rooted. The Church of England is the Church for the whole nation. We are the church of the people and the place, not just the parish and the parish church.

With Ordinands at Bradwell

Of course, our buildings with their rich history are particularly important places. They are woven into the tapestry and the landscape and bear the history of the communities they serve. We look forward to re-inhabiting them and weaving the stories of this terrible pandemic into the ongoing chronicle they convey.

But we are also the church in the public square and the church that should be at the edges, where new ideas and new communities thrive and form. We are called to honor, celebrate and understand the rich diversity and complicated history of the people and places we serve.

For me it helped me to understand why the diocese itself is rarely compliant but always creative and how I had to manage both in order to deal with the history and culture of Essex, which is badly misunderstood and undervalued.

So when I look back on my time as Bishop of Chelmsford, I went to the Colchester Oyster Festival, saw Southend United at Roots Hall, stood at a war memorial in an Essex village, or teamed up with young people to cry looking after climate justice or on the support of travelers whose settlements have been evacuated, or over dinner with friends from other faiths to maintain hospitality in their sacred places, which has helped me to be bishop for the entire church and county only the assembled congregations of those who worship week after week.

This seems to me to be an extremely important part of the Anglican ministry and I look forward to getting to know Yorkshire again and getting to know the people, places and stories of the North. Paulinus, the first bishop of York, was a Southerner. I follow in his footsteps.

How is it that Essex has the longest coastline? Well, it's not just the sea: it's the meandering estuaries of the Stour, Blackwater, Colne and Thames, which are also considered the coast. Then there are 27 islands. This helps. In fact, I've often thought about renaming the Chelmsford & the Isles diocese.

Since 1514, Trinity House in Harwich has been monitoring not only this coastline but also the nation's coasts and every lighthouse. I have spent many hours, both as Bishop of Chelmsford on mission trips through the diocese and as a child in Chalkwell or Paglesham on this coast. Big skies not only fill the horizon, but also the imagination.

The Church of Jesus Christ and its preachers are called to be guardians who watch, see and understand what is happening over this country, to lead joy and to warn of dangers.

When I lived in Huddersfield on the edge of the Pennines, it was the hills that penetrated me and shaped my thinking. I look forward to hearing them again.

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