By David Goodhew and John Wallace
Who is the greatest ever Anglo-Catholic parish priest? We’d put forward Walter Hook, vicar of the city of Leeds in northern England. When he arrived in Leeds in the 1830s, it had one church to serve its population of 150,000 (which was swiftly rising). Hook, in a lengthy incumbency, created 17 new parishes, as well as completely rebuilding the one church he’d inherited.
Hook was the Clark Kent of the Oxford Movement. But he was far from alone. In his passion for starting new churches, Hook chimed with a key part of the Tractarian tradition. The Anglo-Catholic revival was, in significant measure, a revival of church planting, notably in Britain and America. Most of the most prominent Anglo-Catholic parishes of today came into being through the work of Anglo-Catholic church planters in the nineteenth and early 20th centuries. This article shines light on two largely forgotten examples of that dynamic and argues for a recovery of the Anglo-Catholic tradition of church planting.
Father Richard Temple West is today almost totally forgotten. In 1860 Temple West became curate at the newly opened All Saints, Margaret Street in central London, then and now a center of Anglo-Catholic worship. In 1864, he was prevailed upon to start a church in Paddington, West London by wealthy people who lived in that area. He found an unpromising site, squashed in between the Grand Junction Canal and what was probably one of the worst slum areas in London. He built “a tin tabernacle” and started fundraising. The church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, was eventually, after a number of setbacks, finished in 1874, although in use before that date. On Easter Day 1872, at six celebrations of Mass there were 1,122 communicants and £1,180 in the offertory – the equivalent of about $250,000 today.
Temple West was as energetic in social compassion as he was in worship. He started and maintained a choir school, a sisters home, a penitentiary home, a working men’s club, a nurses institute, private schools for different classes and a dependent church, St. Martha’s. There were also things outside the parish, a female ex-prisoners home in Ealing, and at Spelthorne, a sanatorium for inebriates. In addition, he did up to five hours visiting a day. He stayed at St Mary’s for 28 years, the last 10 of which were overshadowed by increasing ill-health. The Times, in its obituary, referred to him as “one of the greatest high churchmen in London.”
Alongside clerical dynamos, the Anglo-Catholic revival was also powered by lay benefactors. One such was Richard Foster, a merchant of the City of London. Born in 1822, in 1835 he entered his uncle’s banking business as an alternative to ordination training — he hated Latin. Foster was very religious and his first contribution to church building was to give away the guinea which he had been given by his mother on his twenty-first birthday. He helped fund the building of many churches, particularly in the northeast London area of Walthamstow. He is recorded as having given away between 1858 and his death in 1910, over £300,000 in charitable donations — a huge sum, even by today’s standards. The bulk of this went towards building churches in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.
Foster’s heart for church planting is illustrated by the foundation stone of St Barnabas, Walthamstow, which reads:
This church of St Barnabas Walthamstow is to be built at the cost of Richard Foster, a merchant of London as a thank offering to Almighty God for numberless mercies during a long life. This stone was laid by the aforesaid Richard Foster on the 4th September 1902, being the day on which he completed his 80th year.
He later moved to South London but still involved himself in supporting church building, especially in deprived areas and linked them with churches in more prosperous areas.
These two men illustrate the pioneer spirit in the nineteenth-century Anglo-Catholic movement, but many others could be cited.
Many of the flagship Anglo-Catholic churches of today were planted in the 19th and early 20th centuries, founded to serve the burgeoning cities of the Victorian age. Anglo-Catholicism is founded on a high view of ancient tradition. But it often ignores how the foundations of Anglo-Catholic churches were only laid during the last 200 years.
This is a striking contrast with the last 30 years, when hardly any Anglo-Catholic churches have been planted in the U.S. or England. Rather, there has been a significant decline in the number of churches. By 2018, there were 313 fewer parishes/missions in the Episcopal Church than in 2011. Yet in recent decades the U.S. population has been skyrocketing, meaning huge areas of American cities are a long way from any TEC parish. Hook would have been aghast at such a state of affairs. The Anglo-Catholic tradition stakes so much on the importance of “tradition,” but turns out to have ignored a key aspect of its tradition.
Yet key strands of Anglo-Catholic theology naturally fuel the planting of churches. Such strands (and there are many others) could fuel a recovery of Anglo-Catholic church planting.
Continual references to “taking the sacrament” or “being sacramental” usually mean receiving the Eucharist or being a church with frequent celebrations of the Eucharist. Such language makes being “sacramental” synonymous with being eucharistic – but it is never that. Even the lowest of low churchpeople would concede that there are at least two sacraments.
Once being “sacramental” is defined as having an equal emphasis on baptism as on the Eucharist, church practice has to change. The Eucharist is more about staying in the church, baptism is primarily about getting into the church. Baptism is the natural follow-on from people starting to follow Christ and know his salvation. When baptism is given its rightful emphasis, being sacramental asks whether we need more churches in which baptism can be accessed. It is sacramentality made missional.
Likewise, the word “apostolic” is all too often discussed in terms of apostolic succession. But what if “apostolic” is defined also as “behaving in the character of the apostles.” That way the word “apostolic” ceases simply to refer to lists of bishops. “Apostolic” can refer to all Christians who act as if “sent,” and who seek to found church communities. The layman, Richard Foster, was, by this definition, one of the most apostolic figures of the 19th century church.
Why has Anglo-Catholicism neglected church planting? One reason is its forgetfulness of its own tradition. Hook and many other priests of the Anglo-Catholic revival were no mere devotees of “salvation through haberdashery” (to quote Prof. Michael Snape), nor did they reduce the gospel simply to humanitarian relief. They labored heroically and at great personal cost for the poor, but they also understood that all people, rich and poor, needed Christian communities in their neighborhood if they were truly to connect with Christ. So, they set about planting churches.
The good news for contemporary Anglo-Catholicism is that the Anglo-Catholic tradition of church planting is just waiting to be recovered. The tradition of Hook, Temple West and Foster could inspire a fresh generation to look at the burgeoning cities of America, Britain and many other places and get planting.
David Goodhew is a visiting fellow of St. Johns College, Durham University; Vicar, St. Barnabas Church, Middlesbrough; and co-director of the Centre for Church Growth Research, which can be followed on twitter @CCGR_Durham.
John Wallace is researching a doctorate in theology and ministry at Durham University, exploring new forms of church within the Anglo-Catholic tradition.