East Finchley Methodist Church

150 Years at East Finchley

This article appeared in the souvenir magazine issued for 150 Birthday celebration.

EFM ImageIn these pages we tell, all too briefly, the tale of the first 150 years in East Finchley of the people called Methodists, a people “claimed by God for his own to proclaim the triumphs of Him who had called them out of darkness into his marvellous light”, a people called at all times to proclaim good news to modern man.

King Street ChapelGenesis of EFM

In the year that the disreputable Prince George succeeded to the throne of George III, 20-year-old John Freeman came from Brackley in Northamptonshire to live in Finchley. In 1820 the Industrial Revolution was changing the country’s life and the gap between rich and poor was more evident, but Finchley was still a scattered village of some 2,350 persons.

John Freeman, a Methodist in Wesley’s own tradition, joined a class meeting at Highgate until, in 1822, he and a Mr C. G. Muller started meetings for prayer and fellowship in Lincoln Cottage at the High Road and Strawberry Vale (long since lost under the North Circular Road). The cottage soon became too small for its congregations, which moved for a time to Long Lane, Church End, Finchley. In 1824 land in King Street, East Finchley, was bought and in 1829 the first purpose-built Methodist Church in Finchley was opened “near the Red Lion” on a Monday, with two sermons, the first at 3 p.m. by a minister from the U.S.A., the second at 6.30 p.m. In case one missed those, the following Sunday was punctuated by no less than three sermons!

By then, the society served the Methodists among the 3,300 population and 36% of the 600 families were still engaged in agriculture. The church was part of the Great Queen Street Circuit along with Wesley’s Chapel in City Road. About the same time, legislation removed the legal block to civil and military office for non-Anglicans and moved to a reform of parliamentary representation and franchise. “Bobby” Peel introduced his first policemen. Ireland kicked frequently against its Union with England, but Roman Catholics were at last given civic standing like the Dissenters. Factory Acts, the final abolition of slavery, the Poor Law Amendments Act further reflected the growing social conscience, not a little influenced by the Methodists.

18-year-old Victoria became Queen in 1837, destined to salvage the wreck of monarchy. The colonies overseas were then a mixed blessing but the constitutional solution for Canada set the pattern for the development of the British Commonwealth.

Rowland Hill’s Penny Post arrived, railways were opening up the country, the first income tax was levied, the first Co-op shop opened in Rochdale, the Irish went hungry in the 1840s, and the 1851 Great Exhibition was England’ shop window on the world. Three years later, the Crimean War enabled Florence Nightingale to show that even “ladies” could be more than decorative. The Indian Mutiny led to the Crown takeover of India, the United States were torn by Civil War. The vote was extended to yet more people (but not to women) and the 1870 Education Act brought elementary education within the reach of every child. Plenty there for 19th century Christian citizens!

Meanwhile, Finchley Methodism went from strength to strength and the King Street society joined the Kentish Town Circuit, evidence of the growth of other groups in expanding London. In 1867 the Primitive Methodists arrived in East Finchley, using a private house until they moved into the “Iron Hall” in East End Road in 1871. Deterioration of the Wesleyan King Street building led to its rebuilding in 1870/71 at a time when Finchley claimed 7,140 people occupying about 1,260 houses. Soon after, in 1876, John Freeman, the original East Finchley Methodist died.

The young Rev, Bryan Roe had much to do with the success of the new King Street chapel (his death in Lagos in 1896 at the age of 36 is commemorated by our font) and sharing the church with the Sunday School became impossible. New school premises were added and came into use in 1885. Perhaps some of the pressure was taken off by the building of the first Methodist church in Ballards Lane in 1879, but nevertheless the planners had built too small in King Street. The first resident minister was appointed in 1894 (Finchley population now over 16,000) and in 1895 a plot of land “adjoining the Pound and fronting the Great North Road” was bought. In 1897, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee year, the present church was opened by the President of Conference. The laying of the foundation stone was enlivened by bunting from the Bald Faced Stag. The opening was remarkable for the attendance of a gang of pickpockets! The music of the church was later enriched by the purchase of the present organ, after inspection at Alexandra Palace and removal of some stops to cut it down to size.

The Sunday School still met inconveniently in King Street, until school buildings were added to the High Road church and opened in 1908 by Rev. J Scott Lidgett. In 1904 the Primitive Methodists moved into their new Trinity Church just up the High Road, so near and yet so far. Three other strands of Methodism, not represented in Finchley, actually joined together in the United Methodist Church in 1907.

The True Blue Band and a Band of Hope had started at King Street and, in 1901, one of the earliest Wesley Guilds in the country was organised. A Sisterhood in 1906 was followed by a Brotherhood in 1908. The brethren succumbed in the 1920s and the Guild in the 1950s but the Sisterhood flourishes still.

The Turn of the Century

In 1901 Queen Victoria had died, bequeathing the glories of the Commonwealth to elderly successor, together with the Irish Question still unsettled. The Boer Wae sequel in the Union of South Africa, agitation for women’s suffrage, the arrival on the political stage of the Labour Party and a expanding gaiety marked the Edwardian years.

The 1914-18 War was for East Finchley Methodists, as for others, the dividing line between one age and another. At one period, 160 men from the church were in France and elsewhere, and 22 never returned alive. In 1914 there were 336 children and 65 teachers in the Sunday School, but, while war disrupted organisation and training, young people still came into membership of the Church. The world and the Church were rocked, not only by the war, but also by the Red Revolution in Russia and the continuing ripples from publication in 1859 of Darwin’s “The Origin of the Species”, yet East Finchley Wesleyans gradually picked up the threads and the Sunday School in 1923 had 300 children again. King Street was disposed of and the Annexe set up next to the church to house the Guides and Scouts which began in 1920/21. By now Finchley had 46,700 people.

Between the Wars

Church Outing 1920sThings moved swiftly between the wars – the Treaty of Versailles charted the peace, the League of Nations was born, a settlement of sorts bloodily partitioned Ireland. Transport was transformed by the motor car and the aeroplane, the B.B.C. was created out of the cat’s whisker age, cinema became the poor man’s theatre. The first Labour governments came and went, Britain went off the gold standard in 1931, the seeds of Israel were sown in Palestine, the Spanish Civil War and Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia preceded the emergence of Hitler’s Germany. Trade Unions flexed their muscles, hunger marchers marched, the revised Prayer Book was turned down by Parliament.

Childrens CornerEFM did not stand still. Its organisations flourished or died as necessary to fulfil the needs of it people and neighbours, as God called individuals to use their talents for Christ’s sake. The new Junior Church corner of the church was dedicated in 1938, and morning Junior Church started in 1937 to supplement the Sunday School. Women’s Fellowship was formed in 1934. Wesleyans and Primitives both looked beyond their own walls and cared that the whole world should know Jesus Christ. Not surprisingly, some members went themselves overseas to serve Christ as ministers, doctors, nurses, and teachers.

1933 the 32 brought the union of the three branches of Methodism and in 1933 the ex-Wesleyan church joined the Finchley and Hendon Circuit, to be followed in 1938 by the ex-Primitives.

Youth work suffered with the outbreak of war in 1939 as children were evacuated and men and women joined the services. Part of the ex-Wesleyan building was taken over for A.R.P. and became a Civic Restaurant, serving an urgent need in the neighbourhood. In 1940 blast from a land mine damaged roof, windows, and organ. Trinity was gutted by a H.E. bomb, which was something, but not everything, to do with Trinity’s members and the ex-Wesleyans uniting for real in the remaining building. Services continued in the Annexe until the horror of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima (60,000 people dead) with a second on Nagasaki ended the Second World War, and the end of the war brought restoration of people and buildings to the Methodist Church in East Finchley.

The Modern Era

The 27 years of “peace” have brought their sorrows and joys, their disappointments and opportunities, to a church in a shrinking world.

Post-war hope initiated the United Nations, and from 1947, when India , Pakistan (then married East to West) and Cylon became independent, onwards to the 1960s, emerging Commonwealth countries have added to the membership. Chinese representations has changed its spots, vetoes hang like the sword of Damocles, but the U.N remains a place of meeting. Hot wars, cold wars, growing pains (and how painful) in recently independent nations, dubious adventures to contain Communism, the wind of change, have all affected EFM’s existence no less than closer experiences. Refugees and relief, World Health, Education, Scientific and cultural matters are all part of the U.N. too.

Who, in East Finchley, has not not been touched by the fruits of the 1944 Education Act and comprehensive evolution, by the post-war Labour Government with a mini-programme of nationalisation and its follow-up by the other party, by a National Health Service and Social insurance, by the second Elizabethan era? Of late, Christian citizens have had before them a care fir the survival of man through conservation and population control, the reconciliation of Europe (or was it just a Common Market and the price of butter?), an attitude to censorship, use and abuse of T.V./advertising/drugs, employment and unemployment of human beings, who is to live and who is to starve, the proving of the universe, technological and medical discoveries, the “permissive” society …. Is there no end? Actually, there is not. Ireland and its Question explodes among us, 1926 has echoed down the years to plunge us into cold darkness during the miners’ strikes of 1972 …. And every person remains a person to care and be cared for.

So back to 1953, when we celebrated the coronation of Elizabeth II - and welcomed an accession of strength as we opened our doors to the Boys’ Brigade, the Girls’ Life Brigade, Sunday School and members from King Street, which had been a Presbyterian mission since Methodism left in 1919 and which now accommodates the Elim Pentecostal Church. Ever since there has been an emphasis on youth groups. Indeed, 1951 had seen the first of 15 annual weekend conferences at Amersham and other centres for young people of the Circuit, for so many years giving a majority of places to EFM’s representatives.

A mushrooming Youth Club started a new annual tradition in 1953 when the church became host to youth club members up from the provinces for the London M.A.Y.C. Weekend. At its height, EFM’s Operation Friendship took in nearly 200 young people, using all the church buildings and the old Trinity Church, now a youth centre. One such weekend in 1958 closed with a bang as EFM adapted itself to be host to the BBC’s Sunday Half Hour marking Commonwealth Youth Sunday. Incidentally, it was the stress of preparation for those heavily loaded M.A.Y.C. Weekends that led our present Circuit Superintendent Minister, then M.A.Y.C. secretary in the Methodist Youth Department, to coin the useful diminutive for our church – “EFM”.

Men’s Forum and Wives’ Club came to fill gaps in the church fellowship, and the 8th Day Fellowship in 1955/56 attempted to knot together the many diverse units of EFM. Whenever the 8th day fell, all organisations normally meeting at that time and any willing individuals met together, the “liturgy” taking on stimulating variations from the responsible organisation, be it Trustees or the Boys’ Brigade!

In the 1950s, EFM’s membership roll was upward of 200, about one adult for each child in the Sunday School at one time. Local talent produced a message through drama – remember “A Matter of Life and Death” and “Living Watee”? For fun, there were EFM Eisteddfods, a Youth Review or two an S.S. concerts. For our neighbours, some Lenten outgoing with “A Hand Stretched Out to You” as the flats went up next door.

Blood Donor Sessions, hospital visiting, care for the elderly and blind, Trade Union membership and office, an election to the Borough Council, the advent of the Work Centre run by the Finchley Guild of Social Service and the Play Group have helped keep us in touch with our neighbours, as have our working contact in office, shop, factory, school and hospital.

News from our people overseas has kept alive the generous giving for the Church abroad, spurred by the One DY’S Pay Appeal on Good Friday 1969. We heard from Dr Frank Davey, once our man at the Uzuakoli Leprosy Settlement in Nigeria and lately at Dichpalli hospital in India, from Miss Ivy Taylor at Ituk Mban in Nigeria and later in Kenya,  and from the Rev, Fred Peck in the Methodist Church in South Africa. Now communication is re-established, this time with Miss Alison Geary in the Waddilove Training Institution some miles from Salisbury, Rhodesia, an African focal point in this year of our Lord 1972. And our own neighbourhood is international!

Ecumenical advance and stalemate do not leave EFM altogether alone. In 1948 most of the world’s Christian churches met at Amsterdam and conceived the World Council o Churches. On the sunsequent wave of ecumenism, EFM became in 1058 a founding member of the Finchley Council of Churches. Through the F.C.C. we take part in the yearly Christian Aid house-to-house collection (Christian Aid in Britain raised over £3m. in 1971 for the World’s hungry and refugees). There is also the F.C.C. branch of International Help for Children and Finchley Churches Housing Association. July 1969 produced the the historic Methodist vote in favour of unity with the Church of England, but the latter fell short of the necessary proportion of votes in favour and a decisive Anglican vote is hoped for this year.

It is a sign of the times that a larger church building has not been our target in the post-war period, though larger ancillary premises seemed desirable. Ghost plans have haunted us for the last 10 years, the most recent exorcism putting to rest a plan for a joint ministry and community-cum-worship centre with our Anglican neighbours in Church Lane. What is god trying to say to us about establishment and buildings? We go on listening and looking for a code breaker.

Another contemporary sign was the loss of our “own” minister in 1963 when we had perforce to share a minister with our fellow Methodists in Hendon. Optimism returns, if it was ever lost, with the present arrangement by which we share our minister with neighbours in industrial firms.

This story of East Finchley Methodism has touched the memories of that which seemed most positive in life. Always the records speak of people, some of whom John Wesley would have dubbed “back-sliders” and others who have undoubtedly been Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants. Few names appear in this version because there have been so many, and EFM owes much to the unrecorded backbenchers as to the front-bench spokesmen. There have been mistakes to learn from, but we have ever been tankful to God for the hope which he sets before us and the promises that are for us all in his Christ.

Art image of EFM


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 Last Updated 13 March 2021

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