As It Happens

Why a bishop blessed a new church porta-potty in a U.K. village

After 868 years, a wee parish in the east of England has finally had their prayers answered.

Medieval All Saints' church in the village of Ulting gets 1st bathroom in 868 years

Last Sunday, Bishop of Chelmsford Stephen Cottrell, centre, blessed the first-ever toilet at a medieval church in a tiny U.K. village. (Submitted by Derek Clark)
Listen6:28

A wee parish in the east of England has finally had their prayers answered — with a portable toilet.

For 868 years, the congregation at Medieval All Saints' church, in the tiny village of Ulting, had no access to a public restroom.  

The church's first ever facility officially opened with a blessing by the local bishop on Sunday.

Rev. Derek Clark purchased the portable facilities out of his own pocket. Here's part of his conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Rev. Derek, how does it feel to finally have some public convenience at your church?

It made all the difference, not only for the congregation but also for me of course.

Why didn't the church have any bathrooms?

Well, that church is [almost] 1,000 years old. In those days, it was acceptable to go behind trees and bushes, but that's not acceptable nowadays.

Rev. Derek Clark, left, outside Medieval All Saints' Church in Ulting, Essex. (Submitted by Derek Clark)

Where were people going to relieve themselves when they were at your church before?

It was very difficult, especially on occasions where we had weddings, baptisms, we got children and babies, funerals, where people come from long distance.

And actually they don't ask nowadays, "is there a toilet?" They say, "where is the toilet?"

And it's actually a bit embarrassing really, because you say there isn't one. So they have to go off to find a local pub or something like that.

Or head into the woods.

Yeah, head into the woods.

Describe what you've come up with.

This is a four-wheel trailer. It's 23 feet long, seven feet wide.

It was a wreck when I bought it. It took me a year to refurbish it, and I'm a handy sort of fella. There's a toilet on one end, with big water tanks underneath, and there's a kitchen unit on the other end.

So it's more than just a toilet. It's actually welfare, and it's caring for the community.

Rev. Derek Clark says he tows the church's mobile toilet behind his tractor every Sunday. (Submitted by Derek Clark)

What does your congregation think of Reverend Derek driving up to the church for services dragging the loo behind him?

They don't mind Reverend Derek doing that. They accept him for who he is.

How has the congregation reacted to having the facility?

I'd say three years ago we had six, eight or 10 people in the congregation. Now we get up to the 20s and 30s.

It's allowed us to do all kinds of things. We've had concerts, pet services, vintage motorbike shows on the go. It's all bringing the community together.

So people must be so relieved.

Yeah, they certainly are.

This is a blessed loo, isn't it?

Yes it is, because our Bishop came out.

He said he's blessed many things in his time but it's the first time he's ever blessed a mobile toilet unit.

So it was quite an amusing service we had. Everybody was laughing at the service and everybody still is laughing, although we were taking it serious.

And it's all to the glory of God. God is great.

It's more than just a toilet. It's actually welfare, and it's caring for the community.- Rev. Derek Clark

I understand you think the whole idea for this was divine inspiration.

Absolutely. All the work of the Holy Spirit — and my wife, of course.

Go there my son and get me a portable toilet?

Yeah, God is great and so is Jane.

Reverend Derek, I'm glad you have your convenience there and that your woods will not be quite as busy as they were in the past.

Yeah, they're going to miss the nitrogen input, aren't they?

Written by Donya Ziaee. Interview produced by Ashley Mak. Q&A edited for length and clarity. 

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