Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Church planting in historical perspective

Here are the youngest Unitarian communities in Britain, the year they were founded, and how often they meet, which gives some indication of their vitality:

2006 Hollandstoon Unitarian Chapel, Haughland, Shapinsay (weekly services?)

(2005?) Charnwood Unitarian Fellowship (monthly services)

(2002?) Durham Unitarian Fellowship (monthly)

(2000?) Harrogate Unitarian Fellowship (monthly)

1994 Banbury Unitarian Fellowship (monthly)

1993 Bath Unitarian Fellowship (twice a month)

1981 Hyde Unitarian Fellowship (monthly)

1976 Chelmsford Unitarian Fellowship (twice monthly)

1964 Worthing Unitarian Fellowship (weekly)

1963 Unitarian Fellowship of Enfield and St. Albans (three times a month)

1959 Cirencester Unitarian Fellowship (monthly)

1947 Watford Unitarian Fellowship (monthly)

Date unknown, but presumably in the late twentieth century:

Reading Unitarian Fellowship (monthly)

Manx Unitarian Fellowship, Isle of Man (quarterly)

Colchester Unitarian Fellowship (eight times per year)

Exeter Unitarian Fellowship (twice monthly)

Salisbury Unitarian Universalists (monthly)

1906 Free Church, West Kirby (twice monthly)

1906 Broadway Avenue Unitarian Church, Bradford (weekly)

1905 Ansdell Unitarian Church (weekly)

1904 Unitarian Church, Cambridge (twice weekly)

1903 Golders Green Unitarians, London (weekly)

1900 New Street Meeting House, Aberystwyth, (fortnightly)

1899 Halliwell Road Free Church, Bolton (twice weekly)

1897 Lewisham Unitarian Congregation, London (weekly)

1897 Unitarian Meeting House, Southend-on-Sea (monthly)

1896 Capel-y-Cwm (weekly)

1894 Blackpool Unitarian Church (weekly)

1894 Urmston Free Church (weekly)

1892 Unitarian Meeting House, Bedfield, Suffolk (monthly)

1890 Chorlton Unitarian Church, Manchester (weekly)

As you can see in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there was a healthy amount of church planting, with close to one church a year being planted. But throughout the twentieth century only fellowships have been planted. What's the difference between a fellowship and a church? I'm not entirely sure. But I think that meeting only monthly, as most of them do, is an indication of a smaller community that cannot easily grow.

This list only includes communities that still exist and not communities that have died out. I'm unsure how many fellowships have died away, but its a few.

So how did those churches get started in the early twentieth century, and why did such church planting stop?


Anonymous Mel Prideaux said...

I'm such a geek ... Broadway Avenue has actually just closed - but the congregation still meet at the other Unitarian church in Bradford (perhaps that's why you left them in?).

I think there might be two things going on:

1. In the nineteenth century there was money around, and land was cheap enough, that building a church was feasible. I have a feeling the Broadway church was described as a mission or something...

2. (And this relates to earlier posts about buildings etc) For a lot of people 'church' doesn't do it anymore, what they want is 'fellowship'. Which doesn't mean not worshipping, but does mean creatively worshipping and organically developing. The only fellowship I know about (from a distance) is Charnwood, and I think that would describe it...

This also relates to the interest in Engagement groups and other alternative ways of being together - like through the NUF (or BUYAN I suppose).

I think the people who think the divide is between Unitarians and Free Christians are missing the point - the divide is between old (building based, minister led) and new (people based, lay or co-operatively led) ways of being Unitarian. But hey, that's a whole other issue...

I really, really hope you came up with that list for some work at college - if not - you really need to get out more!!

Blue skies and love
Mel xx

2:54 pm  

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