Church Buildings Matter

by Gerry Lynch last modified 19 Sep, 2018 03:02 PM

Bishop Preaches St Paul's Cathedral Sermon Celebrating Two Centuries of the Incorporated Church Building Society

Church Buildings Matter

Photo (C): Gerry Lynch

Churches matter in the present and for the future, Bishop Nicholas said in a sermon preached at St Paul's Cathedral, London, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Incorporated Church Building Society (ICBS).

The service was attended by special guests including His Royal Highness, The Duke of Gloucester and The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York.

Following the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars and faced with the rapid expansion of industrial towns and cities the ICBS was set up in 1818 to help keep England holy.

With a rapidly growing population, in the early decades of the 19th century there was a severe shortage of churches. In some parts of London there were barely enough places in parish churches for one in nine of the population. And many people in the Church of England feared the rise of nonconformity and competition from Methodism.

In the 19th Century, the ICBS was responsible for the building and enlargement of many hundreds of Anglican churches and chapels. Many hundreds of thousands of new spaces were provided in parish churches, the majority of them free for anyone to occupy, in contrast to the then customary provision of private pews. Find out more about free pews.

The work of the ICBS, albeit on a lesser scale, continued through the 20th Century as far as 1982. In 2013 Parliament and the Charity Commission agreed changes to the rules of the ICBS, which brought its affairs under the National Churches Trust for administrative and regulatory purposes.

Bishop Nicholas said, “Two hundred years ago, not long after the Napoleonic wars had disturbed the politics of Europe, at a time of industrial revolution, great poverty, political ferment and social change, the Incorporated Church Building Society set about building and enlarging thousands of churches and chapels to provide hundreds of thousands of free pews for a rapidly growing population.

"In many communities the church is the building around which the community has been formed. In Salisbury, in the wake of the poisoning of the Skripals and the violation of the city, the cathedral and the churches have been the places of gathering and have given stability. Similar happened in Southwark and Manchester, as after every public atrocity.

"The 200th anniversary of the ICBS is not an exercise in nostalgia or just a thanksgiving for what has been achieved in the past, good and important though that is. This is an opportunity for us to say why churches matter in the present and for the future. We rededicate ourselves, for mixed motives, to good purpose, because our society, God’s world, would be so much the poorer without them. Church buildings are to God’s glory and the common good. We value them highly, give thanks for all who care for them, today especially the Incorporated Church Building Society and the continuing work of the National Churches Trust."

The full text of Bishop Nicholas’ sermon is here.

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