Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

whether Episcopal or Presbyterian, its own latent capacity for co-operation has been evoked by actual needs to a degree never before realized in England. Association for mutual help and counsel, contemplated in some degree in the early days, from Browne to the Savoy Declaration of 1658, but thereafter forced into abeyance, began early in the 19th century to find expression in County Unions on a voluntary basis, especially for promoting home missionary work. These in turn led on to the Congregational Union of England and Wales, formed in 1832, and consisting at first of “County and District Associations, together with any ministers and churches of the Congregational Order recognized by an Association.” Later it was found that an assembly so constituted combined the incompatible functions of a council for the transaction of business and a congress for shaping or expressing common opinion: and its constitution was modified so as to secure the latter object only. But after half a century’s further experience, public opinion, stimulated by growing need for common action in relation to certain practical problems of home and foreign work, proved ripe for the realization of the earlier idea in its double form. In 1904 the Union was again modified so as to embrace (1) a council of 300, representative of the county associations, to direct the business for which the Union as such is responsible, and (2) a more popular assembly, made up of the council and a large number of direct representatives of the associated churches. Association, however, remains as before voluntary, and some churches are outside the Union; nor has a resolution of the assembly more than moral authority for any of the constituent churches. As regards the “Declaration of Faith, Church Order and Discipline” adopted in 1833, and still printed in the official Year Book “for general information” as to “what is commonly believed” by members of the Union, what is characteristic is the attitude taken in the preliminary notes to “creeds and articles of religion.” These are disallowed as a bond of union or test of communion, much as in the Savoy Declaration of 1658 it is said that constraint “causeth them to degenerate from the name and nature of Confessions,” “into Exactions and Impositions of Faith.”

Among topics which have exercised the collective mind of modern Congregationalism, and still exercise it, are church-aid and home missions, church extension in the colonies, the conditions of entry into the ministry and sustentation therein, Sunday school work, the social and economic condition of the people (issuing in social settlements and institutional churches), and, last but not least, foreign missions. Indeed the support of the London Missionary Society has come to devolve almost wholly on Congregationalists, a responsibility recognized by the Union in 1889 and again in 1904. To afford a home for the centralized activities of the Union, the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London, was built on the site of the Fleet prison—soil consecrated by sacrifice for conscience under Elizabeth—and opened in 1875. There the Congregational Library, founded a generation before, is housed, as well as a publication department. A congregational hymn-book (including Watts' collection) was issued by the Union in 1836, and again in fresh forms in 1859, 1873 and 1887.

The theological colleges which train for the Congregational ministry have themselves an interesting history, going back to the private “academies” formed by ejected ministers. They underwent great extension owing to the Evangelical Revival, and became largely centres of evangelistic activity (Dale, p. 593 ff.). But they were burdened by the necessity of supplying literary as well as theological training, owing to the disabilities of Nonconformists at Oxford and Cambridge till 1871. Even before that, however, owing partly to the impulse given by the university of London after 1836, the standard of learning in some of the colleges had been rising; and the last generation has seen marked advance in this respect. In 1886 Spring Hill College, Birmingham, was transplanted to Oxford, where it was refounded under the title of Mansfield College, purely for the post-graduate study of theology (first principal, Dr.A M. Fairbairn); in 1905 Cheshunt College, founded by the countess of Huntingdon, was transferred to Cambridge, to enjoy university teaching; whilst the creation of the university of Wales, the reconstitution of London University, and the creation of Manchester University, led, between 1900 and 1905, to the affiliation to them of one or more of the other colleges. Indeed in all cases the students are now in some sort of touch with a university or university college. There are eight colleges in England, viz., besides Mansfield and Cheshunt, New and Hackney Colleges, London; Western College, Bristol; Yorkshire United College, Bradford; Lancashire Independent College, Manchester; the Congregational Institute, Nottingham. In Wales there are three (one partly Presbyterian), in Scotland one, and in the colonies three. The students number over 400.

Congregational statistics are very uncertain before 1832, when the Union began to make such matters its concern. About 1716 Daniel Neal knew of 1107 dissenting congregations, 860 Presbyterian or Independent (of which perhaps 350 were Independent), and 247 Baptist. During the 18th century, though the Independents increased at the expense of the Presbyterians, it is doubtful whether they kept pace with the increase of population, until the Evangelical Revival. In 1832 they reckoned some 800 churches, the Baptists 532. In 1907 the figures were, for Great Britain[1] as a whole: Churches, branch churches and mission stations, 4928; sittings, 1,801,447; church members, 498,953; Sunday school scholars, 729,347, with 69,575 teachers; ministers (with or without pastoral charge), 3197, together with 299 evangelists and lay pastors; lay preachers, 5603. In other parts of the British empire there are some 1045 churches and mission stations (many native), South Africa, 385; Australia, 311, and Tasmania, 49; British North America, 151; British Guiana, 50, and Jamaica, 48; New Zealand, 35; India, 15; Hongkong, 1. There are also congregational churches in Austria, Bulgaria, Holland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and in Japan (93). Apart from these, however, and some 150,000 communicants in its foreign missions, British and American “Congregationalism” reckons more than a million and a quarter church members; while, including those known as Baptists (q.v.), the total amounts to several millions more.

The Union of 1832 led indirectly to two further developments. In the first place it fostered the growth of Congregationalism in British colonies. Beginnings had already been made—partly by help of the London Missionary Society—in British North America (from New England), South Africa, Australia and British Guiana. But in 1836 a Colonial Missionary Society was founded in connexion with the Union. Secondly, a medium now existed for drawing closer the bonds between English and American Congregationalists. This gradually led to the idea of “An Ecumenical Council of Congregational Churches,” broached in 1874, and first realized in 1891, in the London International Council under the presidency of Dr R. W. Dale (q.v.). The second council met in Boston in 1899, and the third in Edinburgh in 1908. Their proceedings were issued in full, and the institution promised to take a permanent place in Congregationalism.

Bibliography.—The literature bearing on the subject is given with some fulness in the appendix to R. W. Dale’s History of English Congregationalism (1907), the most authoritative work at present available. For the ancient church the data are collected in T. M. Lindsay’s The Church and the Ministry in the early Centuries (1902), and in papers by the present writer in the Contemp. Review for July 1897 and April 1902. For the modern period in particular see H. M. Dexter’s Congregationalism of the Last Three Hundred Years, as seen in its Literature (New York, 1880), supplemented by bibliographies in the first vols. of the Congregational Historical Society’s Transactions (1901–  ), themselves a growing store of fresh materials. Of the older histories Waddington’s Congregational History in 5 vols. (1869–1880) contains abundant data; while for more detailed study reference may be made to various county histories, such as T. Coleman, Independent Churches of Northamptonshire (1853), T. W. Davids, Annals of Evangelical Nonconformity in Essex (1863), R. Halley, Lancashire, its Puritanism and Nonconformity (1869); G. H. Pike, Ancient Meeting-Houses in London (1870); J. Browne, History of Cong. in Norfolk and Suffolk (1877); W.

Urwick, Nonconformity in Hertfordshire (1884); W. Densham and
  1. In Ireland the oldest existing Congregational church (at Cork) dates from 1760; but most belong to the 19th century. There are now 41 churches, attended by about 10,000 persons. The Channel Islands have 12 churches, the oldest founded in 1803.