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Modern Church Then and Now

Modern Church was originally founded in 1898 under the name of The Churchmen’s Union for the Advancement of Liberal Religious Thought. Our founders described themselves as liberal, or ‘Broad Church’, or progressive.

After some correspondence in the Church Gazette, seventeen people attended a meeting on 27th July, chaired by The Rev. H. G. Rosedale. A second meeting took place on 29th September. According to the report,

the meeting was intended to be a private one for the interchange of ideas, but owing to an excess of zeal on the part of an official, reporters had been invited. On the mistake being pointed out, these gentlemen most courteously retired.[1]

Would reporters from the press retire so meekly today, one wonders? In any case this meeting planned the Inaugural Meeting of the new Union, which took place on 31st October.

The case for the new Union was promoted by the Church Gazette. The Editor, the Rev. William Routh, appears to have had a keen eye for the theological issues. What follows is a summary of the case being made for the new Union during 1898, much of it probably written by Routh himself.

Stronger voice for liberals

Liberals felt they needed a stronger voice. Rosedale wrote:

As by far the larger proportion of learned and highly accomplished clergy and Church laity belong to this school of thought, I am sanguine enough to believe that their deliberations would not be futile.

An editorial comment remarked:

It is particularly wanted, because, so far, Liberals have been scattered, and have lost most of their influence by their inability to write.[2]

The following week The Rev. E. N. Hoare replied:

You say that Liberals, being scattered, have lost influence. Have they not also lost heart? There may be more Liberalism in the air than there was thirty years ago; but it needs to be concentrated – condensed. We have no leaders now. In patience we have possessed our souls. We have cherished the lessons that Maurice and Robertson and Kingsley and Stanley taught us (not to speak of that “Enquiring Spirit” that long since illumined, for some of us, the old formula – “I believe in the Holy Ghost”). But these men are no longer with us; and in vain do we seek for him on whom the mantle of one of these prophets may have fallen... It may also be that many silently hold today what poor Bishop Colenso was denounced for promulgating a generation ago; but who, even now, will give frank credit to the man who compelled them to think?[3]

In the report on the Inaugural Meeting, the two most pressing issues were described as

the defence of the Church, coupled with its reform from within, and the formation of a platform upon which both parties of extremists can meet.

The Clerical Secretary, The Rev. T. P. Brocklehurst,

emphasised that the main object of the Union, in his view, lay in the power it would possess to prevent the falling away of the educated layman from the Church, and he hoped it might go far to bring back some of those who had left it through the feeling that the Church was out of touch with the spirit of the age.

As for the general mood of the meeting,

One speaker after another dwelt on the isolation which is the lot of liberal thinkers, especially in the country, and welcomed a Union which would bring them into touch, and make them parts of a great whole. Everyone, however, agreed with the chairman in deprecating the formation of a new “party”, with all its shibboleths and trade marks, but that the Union has no intention of forming.[4]