Ilford is in the London Borough of Redbridge, in north-east Greater London, and, like most of London, it is booming. The effects of the 2012 Olympic Games can be still felt, with improved transport links. Trains get you from Ilford to Liverpool Street station in 18 minutes.
In the next five years, Crossrail will arrive, promising even more regeneration. Ilford town centre has a shopping centre, which acts as a hub for the wider area. The schools are strong academically. For many people it is a popular place to live. Being east London, property prices are cheaper than other parts of London, though that’s not saying much!
While Ilford has lots going for it economically, it is spiritually very poor. In the mid-20th century it was a white suburb at the end of the train line, with large church buildings that were nearly full. But, since then, the ethnic make-up of the area has changed.
Today, more than half of the population comes from the Indian subcontinent (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), with significant communities of West Africans and eastern Europeans.
More than 90 per cent of the children in a local primary school have English as an additional language. The majority of the south Asians are Muslim, with many Hindus and Sikhs. They know little about the gospel. Today, those large church buildings of Ilford that were nearly full are nearly empty.
It is easy to react negatively to areas like Ilford and the high levels of immigration they represent. However, in previous centuries, missionaries such as William Carey and Henry Martyn got on boats and waved goodbye to their families to reach people from these nations.
Today, God has brought them in large numbers to our capital city, where we can reach them much more easily. Whatever our politics, it is vital for the church to be reaching areas like this with the gospel.
The new church in Ilford comes after a lot of faithful prayer and evangelism. For 11 years, a team of Christian workers from the USA partnered with London City Mission (LCM) to serve the local area.
They have had use of a building on Ley Street, which LCM took over from a shrinking Brethren church in 2002. It’s well equipped, situated on a main road, and less than 15 minutes’ walk from Ilford train station.
From this centre, the team have run English language classes, Punjabi poetry evenings, dinners with a Christian speaker, and Christian-Muslim dialogues. As a result, they have got to know a lot of people in the area.
The plan now is to gather a group of Christians together to form a church, which will become a strong base from which to reach out to the diverse area and proclaim Jesus Christ as Saviour of the world.
The church will be part of the International Presbyterian Church, a small Reformed denomination started by Francis Schaeffer in the 1950s. It is being led by Simon Arscott, who was previously assistant minister at Trinity Church York, itself an IPC church plant six years ago. Mr Arscott is from south London, and trained at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. He, his wife, and four children moved down to Ilford at Christmas.
At its heart, the church will be committed to Christ’s Great Commission to ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’, using the ordinary means of grace: the Word, sacraments, and prayer (www.ilfordipc.co.uk).