In the mid 19th Century, the poor but developing area of Royal Docks was brought to the attention of the Headmaster of a private independent school in Essex, Felsted. His actions led to the founding of the Felsted School Mission Association which proposed that every master, prefect and pupil pay a subscription to the Association. This funding meant that in 1887 a small brick and iron mission building could be built in Baxter Road, Custom House, the site of the present Ascension Church. However, by 1891 – just four years later – the congregation had outgrown its first home. The Felsted School Mission Association contributed to the £5,500 cost of building a new church and a former Felsted student, JEK Cutts, was appointed as architect. The new worship centre was dedicated on Ascension Day, 8th May 1902.
Since its inception, Ascension has always sought to be a church at the heart of its local community. In the late 18- and early 1900s it was delivering the kind of community-based youth work that any church today would be proud of, including a swimming club which taught the children living near the notoriously dangerous docks to swim, and a football team, while the thriving dock community ensured weekly attendances of over 600 on a Sunday.
However, the closure of the docks in the second half of the 20th century led to massive unemployment, combined with an exodus into Essex, and by the end of the 1980s the church had dwindled to a handful of committed and prayerful individuals meeting in an increasingly derelict building. With closure a significant possibility, the congregation, diocese and Felsted School, worked together to devise a package of renovation measures that would equip Ascension Church to continue to shape and support its community into the 21st century. Complete with industrial kitchen, office space and community hall, the new-look Ascension Church building was rededicated in December 1995.
Ascension returned to its roots, developing a wide-ranging programme of community intervention and support initiatives providing for young and old alike. The Ascension Eagles Cheerleaders were founded in 1996, whilst an appeal by the Felsted Mission Council in 1998 led to the appointment of the church’s first fulltime youth worker. By 2001 it had become clear that in order to secure the level of funds necessary to sustain a significant level of community involvement, the church would have to establish a separate charitable trust, and the Ascension Community Trust was born.
Today, Ascension Church, together with the Ascension Community Trust continues to work to fulfil its calling to be a church in the community, for the community, in the 21st century.