Carshalton Methodist Church

History

The church was originally founded in 1861 on a site now occupied by a Roman Catholic church. Requiring expansion due to a rapidly increasing local population, it moved in 1911 to a larger church a few streets away, and then again only 15 years later in 1926 to a site next to the 1911 building, which now functions as the church hall.

Major Sir William James Mallinson, Bt. provided a large amount of financial support for the growing church until his death in 1944, paying for the construction of the current 1926 building, buying its organ, and financing expansions to the church halls. The 1930s saw a period of great vitality and activity for the church, with its Sunday School reaching 360 children in 1932, but this “golden age” came to an end with the outbreak of the Second World War, with men called up for service and children evacuated.

Church membership rose again through the efforts of the post-war ministers, but societal changes and the establishment of other local churches prevented the church from returning to the massive congregations it had seen in the 1930s. Cinema, dance and drama societies based on its premises help keep the church connected to the local community, and the church was host to Songs of Praise in 2010.

Appearance

The church has a white exterior with large arched windows and patterns in brown bricks. One could be mistaken for thinking that the church hall next to it, which has the exterior look of a traditional Gothic-style English church, is the actual church. This was what this building originally was (see above), and a spire was removed in 1926 to prevent confusion with the current church building.

Inside, throughout much of the building there is little to suggest what its function is. Although there are some patterns in the décor here and there, on three sides the walls and windows are rather plain, as is the ceiling, with no religious images or objects. These are all at the front.  In the chancel area stands an altar, with a wood carving of the Last Supper behind it, a table in front of it, and two pulpits on either side of that. To the right of the altar is a plaque listing the names of members of the church who died in the World Wars.

Behind the altar is a simple yet elegant stained glass window depicting a large cross set over a picture of an open Bible paraphrasing II Corinthians 4:6 – “God commanded light to shine out of darkness”. A small baptismal font is hidden away in a corner, behind a piano. Also at the front was a projector screen, although this was not used during the service I attended, and a noticeboard displayed illustrations made by the church’s children.

I found it interesting that I could only see the sign of the cross in two places – on the altar, and depicted on the stained glass window. Furthermore, the woodcarving of the Last Supper behind the altar was the only depiction of a Biblical scene – or religious imagery of any sort, for that matter – other than drawings of St. Paul’s journeys which had been made by the children of the church and pinned up on a noticeboard. Despite this, the church somehow managed to avoid having a particularly austere or minimalist feel to it.

Clergy

The service was led by a male minister, with Bible readings and some of the prayers said by four women who went up to the front from their seats in the congregation. There were no vestments, although the minister was smartly dressed in a blazer and tie.

Congregation

According to one of the church stewards, there were 73 people in the congregation for the service, including the four who went up to the front during it. Despite probably at least half being over 50, that left a good number below that age. I did notice that there were quite a few more females than males, probably at least a 3:2 ratio, and not many ethnic minorities (I can only recall seeing two people who were not white).

Service

Before the service, one of the church stewards read out notices and welcomed the congregation to the church. The service then began with a hymn, after which there were prayers led by one of the aforementioned women assisting the minister.

Being the first Sunday in the month, this was a family service, with children staying in the service instead of going out to their Sunday school. The presence of several young children was evident in the talk with which the minister followed the prayers, in which he likened the call to be in the Kingdom of God to an all-inclusive invitation to a birthday party.

After another hymn, there was a reading from the Wisdom of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) – this surprised me, as Protestants regard Sirach as being in the Apocrypha, which is not included in the Bibles which could be found in the back of the chairs. The reading (10:12-18) was a warning against pride and arrogance, and although the minister mentioned that it was in a Methodist lectionary for today it was not really linked to the theme of the rest of the service, expounded upon in the sermon.

The first part of sermon followed on from the theme of the earlier children’s talk, that is, that Christianity should seek to be inclusive, but also that Christians should try to avoid excluding others from their lives. After prayers, another hymn and an offering, there was a second reading, Luke 14:1 and 7-14. There followed the second part of the sermon, continuing to stress that Christianity must actively try to include more people. After more prayers and another hymn, there was a final reading (Hebrews 13:1-8 and 15-16) and more prayers before a final hymn and the dismissal.

The service lasted for just over an hour.

Afterwards

After the service, most of the congregation stayed behind to have tea, coffee and biscuits served at the back of the church. Following this there was a barbecue in the church garden, which I understood to take place after every family service in the summer, this one being the last barbecue of the year.

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