The once uncertain future of an 18th century church that featured in BBC drama Taboo featuring Tom Hardy has now been decided.

In a letter issued on January 25, St Mary's the Virgin Church in Wanstead was conferred a new legal status which will see it hold at least 18 priest-led services each year.

The letter from Bishop of Chelmsford Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell called on the church's congregation to hold "lay-led services" three to four times a month.

These services are led by members of the church family who are not priests and training will be offered.

The ownership of St Mary the Virgin Church was put under review last year.

Low congregation figures, high maintenance costs and funding changes prompted the Wanstead Parish to review whether to keep the church open.

The church costs around £30,000 to run per year with an estimated £150,000 needed for restoration and relies on charitable donations and income from hall rental and occasional offices.

A consultation document proposed that the Parish intended to secure Anglican worship at St. Mary’s up to six times per year and also allow St. Mary’s to be used for the baptisms, weddings (by Special License) and funerals of long-standing members of our church family.

However, the new conditions have outlined that the church will hold at least 18 priest-led services each year.

The letter from Bishop Stephen outlined that the church would continue to run in this way for two years after which point it would be reviewed again.

Bishop Stephen wrote: "It is no longer desirable to treat Christ Church and St Mary's in exactly the same way.

"Since receiving the application I have received a significant number of letters from the 'Save St. Mary's' group and from other concerned parishioners asking me not to agree to this request.

"I have therefore decided to grant St Mary's a new status under Canon B14A."

However, he did express concerns about the future of the church.

Bishop Stephen added: "“St Mary’s will always struggle to offer the space and facilities that would usually be expected for a church to flourish in the way we need. "I am also concerned that those who worship at St Mary’s are not overlooked and that the new energy and enthusiasm for the church that has been engendered recently is not quenched."

"The new pattern enables strategic development in the whole parish, centred on Christ Church, to continue to flourish."

A group of parishioners from St Mary's grouped together to protest against the suggested changes to the church.

Now, a member of the group has spoken out about the decision process for the church.

One member of the Save St. Mary's Wanstead group said: "We are cautiously positive about this outcome.

"But this whole process has caused tension across the rectory.

"Trust has broken down on both sides of the fence and we just hope with these two years we can rebuild it.

"I continue to maintain strongly that the Parochial Church Council has no mandate to do this and has not properly sought one and that the Bishop's letter constitutes an endorsement of an inept and undistinguished process." However, overall he said that the St Mary's community is taking the news as a positive.

He said: "From what I am hearing, the St Mary's community is seeing it as an opportunity.

"The feeling is that the parish and diocese has thrown us under a bus but that lay led services are an opportunity to strike out in a different and perhaps more traditional way, there are certainly some who view the potential absence of clergy as a very positive move.

"The haggling will start shortly with the working party that has been proposed and it will be interesting to see how much control the parish wishes to exert over a church and congregation it has essentially written off.

"I think it will be very interesting to see what happens when the rumoured "re-ordering" of Christ church starts.

"Word is that we are going to see the removal of pews, the creation of a coffee shop and so on. All very modern and worthy but that is a much more conservative congregation than St Mary's so I don't think the fun is over yet. It will also be interesting to see what part school admissions will continue to play in driving church attendance.

"This has been the trump card of parish for many years and it appears that changes are also afoot there.

"There is now a two year window so we will see what happens next."

The Diocese of Chelmsford has been approached for comment.