Modern Church, the main advocate for liberal theology in the British churches, is celebrating 120 years with a social media campaign recording key moments in its history.

Starting on 27th July 2018, which it is calling Modern Church Day, the society is commemorating its achievements with a social media campaign using the hashtag #ModernChurchMoments, relaunching its website modernchurch.org.uk and publishing a series of videos asking members what Modern Church means to them.

On 27th July 1898 a meeting of people concerned about ‘the falling away of the thoughtful and educated from the Church’ agreed to set up 'The Churchmen’s Union for the Advancement of Liberal Religious Thought’. It became generally known as The Churchmen’s Union, which expressed its original character as a pressure group within the Church of England.

In 1907, Pope Pius X issued an encyclical denouncing the ‘modernists’ within Roman Catholicism, effectively suppressing some theological movements. From then on our organisation came to be known as ‘the Modernists’. In 1928  the Churchmen’s Union' embraced the 'modernist' nickname and became ‘The Modern Churchmen’s Union’. To recognise its long commitment to gender equality in the churches, it was changed in 1986 to The Modern Churchpeople’s Union and again in 2010 simply to Modern Church.

Some other key #ModernChurchMoments include: 

  • In 1911 the Churchmen's Union established the first academic journal of liberal and progressive Christian theology. At first known as The Modern Churchman, it became known as Modern Believing in 1996. It has been in continuing publication except for a couple of years in the middle of the Second World War. Early issues of the journal often quoted Erasmus’ motto: ‘By identifying the new learning with heresy you make orthodoxy synonymous with ignorance’. Since 2014 it has been published by Liverpool University Press (LUP). Modern Church members can access back issues on the LUP website, and individual copies can be accessed by contacting LUP.
  • In 1919 Henry Major, the founder of the journal, established Ripon Hall in Oxford as a liberal theological college. In 1975 it merged with Cuddesdon College to become Ripon College Cuddesdon.
  • Annual conferences began in 1914 and have continued with the exception of the early 1940s due to the Second World War. The national press provided detailed accounts of early conferences. The most hotly debated was the 1921 conference ‘Christ and the Creeds’. It explored questions about the divinity of Christ which would now be considered perfectly normal, but at the time there was so much opposition that the Church of England’s first Doctrine Commission was appointed to consider the limits of acceptable belief, chaired by William Temple. When it reported in 1938, it supported our position that a wide range of opinions were acceptable within the Church of England. It was reissued in 1962 as a fresh range of questioning began to emerge.
  • By the 1920s The Churchmen's Union were supporting the ordination of women – long before others did. In the 1990s and 2000s, the focus changed to campaigning for women bishops.
  • From 1997 to the present the society has actively campaigned in support of LGBT equality, particularly the importance of letting LGBT clergy play a full part in ethical debate without suffering discrimination.
  • From 2002-2012 the society actively and successfully campaigned against the proposed Anglican Covenant, which was designed to divide the Anglican Communion between churches with gay bishops and churches without them.
  • In 2017, for the first time, Modern Church recruited a paid part-time General Secretary, Very Revd Jonathan Draper, former Dean of Exeter Cathedral. He is leading the society through an ambitious period of renewal, including sponsorshop of the 2018 Greenbelt Festival on the theme 'Acts Of The Imagination'.
  • This month, in another first, Modern Church announced the appointment of Dr Karen O' Donnell as the new managing editor of their academic journal Modern Believing.

Many people are discovering Modern Church as a welcoming theological home which encourages much-needed open, respectful debate on Christian faith. Founded in 1898 as an Anglican society, it now welcomes all who share our ethos, works ecumenically to encourage non-dogmatic approaches to Christianity and supports liberal voices in our churches.