An evangelical preacher and his wife have been blasted for using ‘incendiary language’ after they declared themselves ‘at war’ with villagers over a huge new worship centre.
Locals of Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire, say they’ve been ‘put through hell’ by rector Laurie Clow and his wife Wendy, who in turn denounced ‘evildoers’ in their midst.
The row started over four years ago when the Clows announced plans for a £6million ‘Multifunctional Parish Centre’ to replace the parish hall of St Leonard’s Church.
Residents feared the proposal for a large conference centre, complete with a carpark for 114 vehicles and capacity for around 400 visitors – would spoil the ‘tranquility’ of their community.
The plans were ultimately rejected by Buckinghamshire County Council on January 11 on their third attempt.
Rector Laurie Clow wanted to replace St Leonard’s Church Hall in Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire, with a huge new conference centre which locals feared could be a commercial project
Preacher’s wife Wendy Clow blasted their opponents, as she urged her congregation to ‘watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh’
The proposal – which included plans for a cafe, day nursery building and detached garage – was designed to replace the modest church hall (pictured) erected in 1937, which currently stands on the site
An image shows the interior of the current village hall as locals attend a consultation of the most recent plans
A artist’s diagram showing the ‘vision’ for the new church centre
A 3D rendition of the proposed glass-fronted conference centre with 114 car parking bays. A new rectory would also have been built
A view of the approach to the proposed new prayer centre with the rebuilt rectory to the left
A drawing of the new conference centre with the rebuilt rectory in the foreground
The curved roof of the glass-fronted conference centre would be a prominent feature of the building
Cards sent out by the church at Christmas time included the wording: ‘If we don’t do anything then the enemy will attack. The choice is ours. We must not be passive. We either take territory OR we concede territory’
But villagers are still unsettled by words from the rector’s wife Mrs Clow, who told the church’s congregation to ‘go on the offensive’ against those who ‘oppose us’ in a sermon last August.
Quoting from the bible, she urged them to ‘watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh’.
Cards given out over Christmas at the Church also bore the words: ‘Bells being rung can have two meanings during a time of war and make no mistake we are at war.
‘We have bells at our church and we are to ring them to proclaim the victory that Jesus has won. The enemy will know he is under attack and cannot win.
‘If we don’t do anything then the enemy will attack. The choice is ours. We must not be passive. We either take territory OR we concede territory.’
Resident Colin Whipp, who helped set up the ‘Protect Chesham Bois Common’ action group, said locals have been left worried about this incendiary language.
He said: ‘Many people in the area became very, very concerned about their own personal situation with words being used by the local Church of England representative.
‘One never knows the reaction or where things are going to go when words like that are utilized.
‘People in the area, who are Church of England, have had to leave the church… because they’ve been so upset and disillusioned by rector Clow’s antics…’
Roger Booth, who’s lived with his wife Christine for 40 years in a listed five-bed home that backs onto the proposed site, said their lives had been ‘ruined’ by the dispute.
The retired sales director said: ‘We are an elderly couple. I’m 81 and my wife is 78, and it’s ruined our life for the last four years. It’s unbelievable.
‘It makes no commercial sense, no religious sense, no sense at all.
Colin Whipp and Peter Williams, joint chairmen of the Protect Chesham Bois Common society, say villagers have had to navigate around the Clows’ antics
Laurie Clow first came to the idyllic village of Chesham Bois in 2015 where he took up the position of Rector at St Leonard’s Church – which dates back to around 1200
Mr Clow is one of the ‘leaders’ of an evangelical group called the Jesus Ministry, which emerged in the UK 20 years ago. The organisation’s stated aims include ‘dismantling and defeating the schemes of the Evil One’ and to ‘manifest and extend the Kingdom of God in our day’
‘We’ve had meetings with the rector who says one thing and then does the opposite* It’s a horror story really.’
He also worried the Georgian-style property’s value would plunge if the plans were given consent – and said they had spent ‘thousands of pounds’ trying to stop them.
Mr Booth added: ‘Who would buy a beautiful house with a carpark 30m (100ft) from the grounds with a carpark for 114 cars?’
Laurie Clow first came to the idyllic village of Chesham Bois in 2015 where he took up the position of Rector at St Leonard’s Church – which dates back to around 1200.
He is an ordained priest with the Church of England and one of the ‘leaders’ of an evangelical group called the Jesus Ministry, which emerged in the UK 20 years ago.
Their organisation’s stated aims include ‘dismantling and defeating the schemes of the Evil One and so to manifest and extend the Kingdom of God in our day.’
The group, which emerged with the support of US pastors, also seeks to ’embrace the reality that warfare between the Kingdoms is a central reality to our lives.’
Their website states: ‘We are called to wage war on the front foot, and to do so without allowing the prevailing mindset of our Western culture to water it down.’
Villagers said they had graciously welcomed Mr Clow into their homes for coffee when he first arrived in the blissful English village, sat in the rolling Chiltern Hills.
But their relations soured when St. Leonard’s Parochial Church Council, which he also chairs, set out plans to turn an area of grassland into a sprawling, glass-fronted ‘worship centre’ in 2020.
The proposal – which included plans for a cafe, day nursery building and detached garage – was designed to replace an existing church hall put up in 1937.
But Locals questioned why buildings with the capacity for around 400 people would be needed given their church’s ‘dwindling’ congregation, now numbering around 140.
And they feared that the site – which could be open until at least 10pm daily – would in effect function as a a ‘commercial’ conference centre for those outside the community.
Mr Whipp said: ‘The commercial activity started to become a concern for all of us.
‘We became really worried that so many people would come in from outside Chesham Bois to the new site. No local group could occupy a building of that scale’.
The planned site also sits in the ‘Chesham Bois Conservation Area’, which is home to several different species of wildlife.
The plans for the multi-million-pound development, set out in 2020, were first declined by the Buckinghamshire Council’s planning committee in January 2021.
They were then declined again on appeal in April 2022 by the Planning Inspectorate, which is a UK government agency.
A third attempt to get the plans accepted with some changes was also formally dismissed on January 11.
General view of the land that the church wants to develop in to a large carpark
Local ward councillor David King, who has lived near the planned developed for 28 years, said he was relieved by the most recent decision. He said: ‘I’m delighted. I make no bones about it. What it would do is absolutely change our village into something completely different’
The latest planning bid was met with over 250 letters of opposition, but locals still fear the church will try and get its plans accepted on appeal once again.
Local ward councillor David King, who has lived near the planned developed for 28 years, said he was relieved by the most recent decision.
He said: ‘I’m delighted. I make no bones about it. What it would do is absolutely change our village into something completely different.
‘Effectively, what they’re planning is a commercial conference centre, that has a capacity of over 400 people, with car parking for 114 cars.’
Lesley Winrow, chair of Chesham Bois Parish Council, also said the proposed new development would have tainted the village’s ‘peaceful environment’.
She added: ‘Now that the planning application to build such a large development has been refused for a third time, we may hope that a more reasonable proposal to refurbish, extend or even rebuild the Parish Centre on a similar footprint may be considered in due course.’
A spokesperson from the Parochial Church Council at St Leonard’s Church said they were ‘disappointed’ at the most recent outcome.
They said: ‘We are disappointed the council has come to this decision and will be taking time to consider their comments and our next steps.
‘This application was made to replace buildings which are near the end of their lifespan and had at its heart our intention to provide the community with a multi-functional parish centre to be used by all, especially the pre-school.
‘It would cost almost as much to refurbish what exists on the site as to start again and provide something fit for purpose. Hence the plans to redevelop.’
At the time of the sermon, which was delivered by Wendy Clow in August last year, they ‘apologised unreservedly for the offence caused to members of our community’.
They added: ‘It was not the intent of the preacher nor the leadership of St Leonard’s to be inflammatory or offensive.’
Their spokesperson offered another apology concerning the wording of the card, which was handed out to parishioners over Christmas.
They said: ‘This card sets out our vision for the year, which is reflected in the spiritual language used. Our congregation look on these words as spiritual encouragement for the year ahead.
‘They are rooted in the ‘spiritual realm’ and the Bible references to the battle between good and evil. The wording is not targeted at any section of our community nor in response to anything specific.
‘It is typical of the cards which have been handed out by St Leonard’s for the past eight years and has been endorsed by the church leadership team.
‘We apologise if this has caused any distress in the community as this was never our intention. Our only desire was to share the news of the good God has planned for all of us.’