Stoke Newington Methodist Church celebrates 200 years with new building and exhibition
- Credit: Stoke Newington Methodist Church
As Stoke Newington Methodist Church marks its double centenary, Emma Bartholomew hears about some of its longest-serving players
Vinette Daley had been going to Stoke Newington Methodist Church on and off since the 1950s – but it was only in 1980, when Marks and Spencer asked her to work Good Friday, that she remembered how sacred Easter was in Jamaica where she grew up.
She declined to work that day despite the offer of extra pay, and went to church in the High Street instead, since becoming a regular and one of the longest-standing members of the congregation.
Her memories of the church and her faith are included in an exhibition that launches this weekend to mark 200 years of Methodism in Stoke Newington, and to celebrate its new building – the fourth on the site to date.
The new church opens its doors on November 27 – 200 years to the day after the opening of the first Methodist church in Stokey.
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Methodism was created by John Wesley, an Anglican priest who felt the Church of England was too exclusive and not in touch with working people.
Wesley travelled around preaching to people in the open air, and stayed in Abney House and Palatine Road before his death in 1791.
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A group of people who called themselves Methodists got together in 1814 and built the first church two years later – a tiny brick building, measuring 46 feet long, 30 feet wide and 22 feet high.
Methodism has its roots in social justice, and Wesley provided the first free health care in London, while the first trade unionists were Methodists.
By 1850 the building was too small for the church’s growing congregation and was replaced by a larger Victorian gothic revival building, which was badly bomb damaged during the Second World War and replaced again in 1957 by a simple, single-storey block.
Since 1816 the area – and hence the congregation – has witnessed huge population growth and change. After the Second World War, both became increasingly multicultural, with members from the Caribbean and Africa.
Cathy Bird, below, who has been minister of the church for eight years, said: “As migration led to people coming to the UK, those people connected with the Methodist churches. Methodism in Stoke Newington has shifted as the community shifted.”
She has found the stories in the exhibition “wonderful”.
“These folk are some of the longest standing members of the church – who have stuck with the church, who are people of deep deep faith and integrity,” she said.
“Their faith is utterly what sustained them and I have respect for people who have lived through some difficult things, like racism when they came to this country.
“No church is immune to racism, and sometimes people went to church and were turned away or not made to feel welcome. But the Methodist church does have a reputation for welcoming people and including people, and many found a home here.”
Cathy is thrilled with the new building, which has been funded through collaboration with a developer who has also built housing on site. She hopes the church will be an open “listening place” during the week where everyone feels welcome.
The exhibition runs at the church from Sunday for a week (1pm to 4pm Sunday; midday to 2pm and 5pm to 7pm during the week; 11am to 6pm Saturday).
A free history walk about dissenting groups in Stoke Newington on Saturday at 11am will be led by historian Sean Gubbins.