The chicken or the egg? Building Anglican churches and building congregations in a Victorian London suburb

Wolffe, John (2013). The chicken or the egg? Building Anglican churches and building congregations in a Victorian London suburb. Material Religion, 9(1) pp. 36–59.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2752/175183413X13535214684050

Abstract

There was lively debate in the mid-Victorian Church of England as to whether it was more effective for the construction of physical church buildings to precede the formation of a new parish and congregation, or whether it was advisable rather for the human church to precede the material one. This article explores the realities on the ground through a case study of the four new churches built in the North London suburb of Finchley between the 1840s and the 1890s. Where the church before congregation strategy was modestly costed and efficiently executed, it could, as at Holy Trinity East Finchley (1846) and St Paul’s Long Lane (1886) enable the rapid growth of thriving congregations. On the other hand, at Christ Church North Finchley (1868), where the congregation came first, subsequent pastoral activity was hampered for many years by the financial demands of an unnecessarily expensive building. At All Saints Durham Road (1892) initial plans to set up a congregation in an ‘iron church’ due to large donations conditional on the immediate erection of a permanent church. In a context of strong competition from Nonconformity, the desire to make a strong material statement of presence in a community was understandable, but its long-term consequences for the Church’s mission were ambivalent ones.

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