st paul's with bombs fallingPittsburgh’s new bishop, Dorsey McConnell, and several clergy and laity have begun a study of John Richardson‘s book, A Strategy that Changes the Denomination (more on that here). Discussion was pretty general at the first meeting, but the importance of evangelism, which is Richardson’s point, was conceded, even if the best way forward for the church remains to be found.

The Mission to London of 1949 was the result of a similar discussion, and the story of that mission is an intriguing one. In 1947 the Bishop of London, J. W. C. Wand, canvassed the clergy and wardens of the diocese asking (among other things) about the spiritual state of their parishes, and several respondents suggested a diocesan mission. The idea was passed on to the area Deans, who suggested a formal discussion of it by clergy representatives from each deanery. This meeting was almost unanimous in support, and set a date for the mission a little over a year later. It also set the goals of the mission: first and foremost to appeal to non-Christians, and secondarily to revive the interest of the lapsed. A third goal, says Wand, ‘was more unusual: to show how Christianity applied not only to the individual, but also to the common life… it must show that Christianity had a message for every common concern of mankind.’

The bishop put his energy behind the plan, and took the crucial step of ear-marking funds for a full-time organiser and secretarial staff. The diocese was in the middle of a massive fund-raising campaign intended for the physical reconstruction of diocesan property, but Wand argued that ‘material reconstruction without spiritual reconstruction was useless,’ and persuaded the fund’s committee to release some of the funds (even though it was only halfway to its target) for the purpose of the mission.

A monthly newsletter announcing details of the mission as they fell into place was sent to every parish, posters were printed which parishes were urged to display on the outside of the building, and an advertising agency was persuaded to donate a billboard campaign for use as the time for the mission approached. 120 mission centers throughout the diocese were arranged, some of them parish churches, some community centers and town halls, and some outdoor venues like football grounds.

The organisers prepared a list of specific subjects that they felt needed to be addressed at each mission center, and 150 missioners were recruited from all over the country to deliver talks on these subjects. Each missioner could discuss them in whatever way commended itself, but the subjects were to be the same at each center. A week-end of training was held at which the missioners were prepared for their task by clergy who had tried out various approaches in clergy gatherings for the purpose. In most of the mission centers, the talks were to serve only the first two goals; the third goal was the subject of special meetings at more well known venues—St Paul’s Cathedral, Southwark Cathedral (which must mean that two dioceses were working together on the plan), Westminster Abbey, and the Guildhall, where nationally known names would address the subject of what Christianity had to say to society rather than the individual.

A special meeting was held at the Royal Albert Hall a year before the mission to which the laity of the parishes were invited so their support could be solicited, after which prayer cells and study groups were set up in the parishes. Lay people distributed flyers about the mission throughout their parishes, going door to door, and in some parishes every home in the parish received a visit (not just the home of everyone on the parish register). Classes on evangelism were held for the clergy, as well as how to follow up the work of the mission by staying touch with those who attended. A book was published for the missioners, in which difficult questions were given short answers by a variety of writers. A special hymn was written for use at the opening service in St Paul’s Cathedral, which was attended by the Queen (the present Queen’s mother). Special services of this kind (one was also held in Westminster Abbey) generated press interest, and there was even support from other denominations.

About three-quarters of a million people attended the talks, which were spread over two weeks at each mission center, and clergy noted increased attendance and larger numbers being confirmed in the years immediately following the mission. Special talks and guest services became standard in many parishes, and the laity became more active in local mission than ever before—the first lay person to preach at a regular service at St Paul’s Cathedral did so as part of the follow-up to the campaign, and lay people gave half the talks in a series planned for the following year. A book was published which included the texts of some of the best addresses given by the missioners. The talks by the Dean of St Paul’s, W. R. Matthews, could be given today almost verbatim and still address the concerns of many who believe the church no longer has anything to say. A service was held in the Albert Hall on the first anniversary of the mission, at which the headmaster of Eton spoke. The emphasis on young people led to the establishment of a campaign of their own soon afterwards, which continued into 1951. The diocese did a study of lessons learned from the campaign which wasn’t published, as far as I’ve been able to discover, but whose main feature was clearly the parlous state of Christian education in parish and community, and Schools of Religion and Teaching Courses were set up which were still active ten years later.

Food for thought?