Our history

A Brief Outline

With thanks to A. M. G Stephenson, The Rise and Decline of English Modernism (London, SPCK, 1984)

  • 27 July: A day conference was held at Kensington, the object of which was to start a society of Liberal Churchmen. It resolved to use the Church Gazette as its organ.
  • 30 November: At Church House Westminster, The Churchmen's Union for the Advancement of Liberal Religious Thought was founded. Its objects were published in the Church Gazette of 19 November 1898. Its first President was Revd George Henslow who served till 1902.
  • The objects were finally agreed and remained unchanged until 1918.
  • The main speaker at the Annual Meeting was Hensley Henson then Rector of St Margaret's, Westminster and Canon of Westminster Abbey, later Bishop of Durham [Wikipedia biography]
  • The Annual Sermon was preached by William Ralph Inge, then Lady Margaret Professor of Theology at Cambridge University, and later Dean of St Paul's. [Wikipedia biography]
  • The first issue of The Modern Churchman was published in April 1911 edited by Henry D. A. Major, the moving spirit of the organization from 1911 to 1961 [entry in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography]. It had a red cover in the first year, but this was changed to yellow, which it retained until 1972. The publication was often called the "Yellow Peril". The journal was subtitled: A MONTHLY MAGAZINE TO MAINTAIN THE CAUSE OF TRUTH, FREEDOM AND COMPREHENSIVENESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.

Articles from the first edition:

  • 3 - 6 July: The first annual conference, organised by Henry Major and held at the Spa Hotel, Ripon, Yorkshire.
  • The Modern Churchman's Library was launched. The first book was The Faith of Modern Churchman by M. G. Glazebrook.
  • The eighth annual conference was held at Girton College, Cambridge (8 - 15 August). Its theme was "Christ and the Creeds". Publication of the Conference papers in the Modern Churchman, fuelled by misreporting in the media, led to a charge of heresy being brought against the editor, Henry Major. The charge was dismissed by the Bishop of Oxford. The conference and the controversy it sparked was a factor which led to the creation of the first Doctrine Commission in the Church of England. It began work in 1922 and reported in 1938.
  • An American Modern Churchmen's Union formed. It was linked to the English group through its journal 'and in no other way'.
    "Claiming the right to put their own spiritual interpretation on the creeds in accordance with the results of modern science and biblical scholarship, and hoping to 'promote a new evangelism among the unchurched classes' in a way which would not interfere with freedom of thought, a group of Episcopal churchmen met yesterday afternoon at the Century Club, 7, West Forty-third Street, and formally organised the Modern Churchman's Union in America. As their first president they elected the Rev. Dr. Roland Cotton Smith, Rector Emeritus of St John's Church, Washington, D.C."
    PDFThe New York Times, October 18, 1922
  • The Churchmen's Union became the Modern Churchmen's Union.
  • Once more the objects were revised.
  • Bishop Barnes published The Rise of Christianity.
  • Major retired as Principal of Ripon Hall.
  • The document Marriage and Divorce in the Church of England produced by members of the MCU had considerable influence on the debate and contributed to the eventual acceptance of remarriage in Church.
  • In December Henry Major edited his last issue of the Modern Churchman after 46 years. Arthur Adams and William Frend become the new editors.
  • The Jubilee Annual Conference was held at Somerville College, Oxford, with the theme of "Christ for us today", organised by Dr Norman Pittenger. It was as controversial as 1921 - but times had changed and it was regarded as "less earthshaking".
  • In a pamphlet of the 1960s the aims of the organization were elaborated, though its summary of the Doctrine Commission was a little self-serving.
  • Conference papers were published as Sociology, Theology and Conflict, edited by D. E. H. Whiteley and R. Martin (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1969; New York, Barnes and Noble, 1969 - part of the Boston General Theological Library series). Papers were:
    • Sociology and theology, Roderick Martin
    • Christian social responsibility, Maurice Broady
    • Power, authority and conflict, Malcolm C. Goldsmith
    • Use and abuse of original sin, D.E.H. Whiteley
    • Overcoming of alienation, F.W. Dillistone
    • Purpose and choice, B. Babington Smith
    • Higher education in a technological society, Maurice Broady
    • Contribution to the climate of opinion on sexual mores, Josephine Klein
    • Goal language and vision language in theology, A.E. Hills
    • Limitations of the sociological approach, Henry Compton
  • New Series of Modern Churchman was produced in white covers.
  • The current objects of the MCU were agreed.
  • The first of the Foreword papers was published in May. No. 1 was "Jesus" by Peter Hamilton. The series continued until no 21 in 1985.
  • In the 1980s the Modern Churchman became MC under the editorship of Dr A.O. Dyson.
  • The name of the Union was changed to The Modern Churchpeople's Union.
  • Annual Conference "The State of the Ark" - a sell out!
  • MC became Modern Believing, edited by Dr George Pattison. It is currently edited by Professor Paul Badham of University of Wales, Lampeter.
  • New series of the MCU Newsletter which includes Signs of the Times.
  • Bishop John Saxbee succeeded Bishop Peter Selby as President of the MCU.
  • MCU Centenary Year.
  • MCU contributions to debate on the Draft Anglican Covenant were included in the official papers sent to General Synod members prior to the dabate (GS 1661).
  • The name of the organisation was changed to Modern Church.

(at the Lambeth Palace Library and the Church of England Record Centre)