THE CHURCH went walkabouts yesterday as the Bishop of Chelmsford returned to his roots for the first of ten walks across his diocese.

Bishop Stephen Cottrell, who grew up in Southend, was back in the town for the first of ten, ten-mile walks where people can join him for a chat in an informal, relaxed environment.

Mr Cottrell was brought up in the town and attended Belfairs High School and took a walk along the seafront yesterday morning.

The day began at St Aidan’s Parish Church in Leigh with a service and breakfast, before the party set off to St Margaret’s Church, also in Leigh, foramass conducted by Father Ian Booth.

Mr Cottrell said: “This is my home patch so it seemed a good a place to start.

“I wasn’t brought up going to church, but St Margaret’s is a very special place to me.

“The walks might not be the most original idea in the world, but I thought they might just be a bit different and it’s nice to get out and about and see people.”

The bishop was confirmed at St Margaret’s and also married there years later.

Following the sevice, a group of approximately 20 walkers set off from St Margaret’s towards the seafront and along to Southend.

They stopped for lunch at the Naval and Military Club where Mr Cottrell and his walkers were met by veterans and shared a drink.

The afternoon was spent walking to Hockleywhere a “Quiz the Bishop” session took place at St Peter and St Paul Church.

Mr Cottrell added: “Church is not on the decline any more, there’s something in the air, whether it’s disillusion with Government, or parents thinking about the values their children grow up with.

“I sense there is a much greater interest in God than 20 years ago, so hopefully these walks will help.

“On any one day I will be engaging with hundreds of people, in a lovely informal way, so I hope it will encourage and boost local churches.”

The bishop’s walks, which are being dubbed “missionary journeys”

by the diocese are taking place between May and October this year and are part of celebrations to mark 100 years of the diocese.

BISHOP Stephen Cottrell was pleased with the turnout for his first walk in what was not ideal weather conditions.

The rain did not put people off and the walkers were in good cheer as they made their way from Leigh to Southend in the morning.

Elaine Brooks, church warden at starting point St Aiden’s, said: “St Aiden himself used to walk a lot and be among the people, he was a quite humble guy and so is the bishop.

“The bishop is a very down to earth kind of guy and is a real man of the people. I remember him coming to some meetings at St Aiden’s when he was a lad.

“Your roots are always important to you and he clearly believes that.”

Steve Tate is a church goer at St Clement’s in Leigh. He praised Mr Cottrell for getting out and meeting people.

He said: “It’s a lovely idea to get out and about in the community and to meet the bishop, which is something you don’t do every day.

“For me it was a good way to share an experience with churchgoers and a nice way to mark the centenary.”