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Twickenham United Reformed Church
Our History: Morning worship 1873
An account printed in the Richmond and Twickenham Times, Saturday October 11, 1873:
CHURCH AND CHAPEL
[Each week a part of our space will be devoted to descriptive notices of the Sunday services at the various churches and chapels in the neighbourhood. In giving these reports a fair and impartial spirit will be maintained ; at the same time they will not be restricted to a meagre and dry statement of facts, but an endeavour will be make these sketches not only truthful but interesting. We trust that our readers (and especially those to whom these reports particularly relate) will regard them in the kind spirit in which they are written. Ed. R.T.T.]
A strict Independent Congregation is a complete spiritual republic, all other republics are incomplete. In those they act by their representatives ; but in this . . . . all act for themselves . . . . The minister is the speaker and only the speaker in this spiritual House of Commons. - Rowland Hill.
They [the Independents] conceived that every Christian congregation had, under Christ, supreme jurisdiction in things spiritual ; that appeals to provincial and national synods were scarcely less unscriptural than appeals to the Court of Arches or to the Vatican ; and that popery, prelacy, and presbyterianism were merely three forms of one great apostacy. - Macaulay on the rise of the Independents (circa 1643).
These were the opinions which Macaulay tells us the early Independents held.
These were the tenets contended for by Pym, and Hampden, and Cromwell (the great leader of that religious body, "the soul of the party" in the House of Commons, at a period-
When civil fury first grew high,
and these noble men were the staunch and sturdy supporters of the sect whose tenets, handed down from generation to generation (but largely tempered with Christian charity and forbearance), are firmly held by the Twickenham Congregationalists. It is hardly necessary to say that Congregationalism and Independence are identical. Why there should be a strong leaning towards a general adoption of the former name amongst most of the newly-formed churches in this body, I am at a loss to determine, and why the old fashioned name of Independent is going out of date I am unable to explain. It would be interesting to know the why and because of this very evident fact, and I leave the solution of the problem to those of my readers who are learned in the lore of the sects, as it is more my province to write of Twickenham Congregationalists, their chapel, their preacher, and their service last Sunday morning.
Had Solomon been an architect and seen the Congregational chapel on Twickenham Green, I question if even "the wise man" would not have been sorely puzzled to define its architecture correctly. The gentleman from whose very original brain the design emanated need not fear a charge of plagarism in matters architectural. In appearance the building is unique, and, as a matter of taste, it is a question whether it would not be well for it always to remain so, seeing that the elevation, which is Mediaeval-Norman-Gothic-&c., is as heavy as it is inartistic. On so good a site, with the broad open Green before it to lend effectiveness and beauty to a pleasing elevation, it does seam a matter for regret that the chapel is not as pleasing to the eye as it might have been, had a little more taste been displayed in its design. As it stands, it is a kind of architectural sphinx, for it remotely suggest a Rhenish castle in miniature, a one storied ecclesiastical villa, an attempt at a church, and a churchified chapel. Were it possible to speak in terms of praise, consistently with truth, of this curious conglomeration of bricks and mortar, it would give me pleasure to do so, but, I have to write what I think, and therefore I am bound to confess that beauty is not an element in the design of the Twickenham Congregational Chapel. Nor is its interior any more pleasing than its outward appearance. Both are wanting in finish and completeness. The pews are not even painted and in consequence, time has left its mark upon them in many grimy patches. Mischievous little hands have exhibited their artistic powers by sundry pencil sketches of the heads of ladies and gentlemen which forcibly display the appreciation of the grotesque in juvenile minds and their ingenuity in extemporising drawing boards in the most unlikely places, even on the back of pews, underneath the shadow of the pulpit. It will not, however, be long before the chapel is thoroughly renovated (or perhaps it would be more correct to say completed) as one of the announcements made at the morning service was to the effect that a special meeting would be convened during the week to take into consideration the improvements and repairs which were necessary. The chapel has an open roof, and over the entrance is a deep gallery, the seats being well arranged so that all the congregation, both there and in the body of the chapel, can see the preacher. The place he occupies it is not easy to describe. It is not exactly a platform, nor is it exactly a pulpit, but perhaps it is more the former than the latter. Elevated on a structure of red and white bricks, and partly polished wood and partially painted, after the Mediaeval style of decoration, it presents a most singular appearance, an idea of which it is not possible to convey in words. It excites some wonder in the mind of the visitor, but whether wonder and admiration are combined depends entirely on the taste of the stranger in matter relating to architecture and ecclesiastical decorations.
At the chapel door was a circular containing an appeal in reference to the removal of the debt on the building. It was dated September 5th, 1873, and the names of contributors, and the amounts of their donations were preceded by the following notice:-
This chapel with commodious Sabbath and day schools, being re-erected in the year 1866, at a cost of £2,800, it is desirable that the debt of £1,100, standing on the building, should be removed. The time has now arrived when to realize such an object a strenuous effort should be put forth. The pastor (the Rev. S. Fisher) and his friends have been much encouraged in this movement by the response it has called forth. As a stimulus to exertion, E. Nicholson, Esq., of Colne House, Twickenham, has promised £50, providing the entire liability be met in three years. Since that liberal offer, S. Morley, Esq., M.P., has offered £100, if in two years the amount due be paid ; and that this latter sum, as well as the former may be secured, no appropriate means will be left untried. Hence this appeal, which is recommended by the Revs. J Kennedy, D.D; J. Stoughton, D.D; E. Paxton Hood; R.D. Wilson, Craven chapel; J. Raven, Felstead (late of Ipswich) ; R. Berry, Lambeth; H. Davies, Lavenham ; and Mr A. Fountain, of Ealing. Will you kindly aid us by a donation, or promise conditional upon the completion of the enterprise?
This appeal has been nobly responded to. Since the settlement of the Rev. S. Fisher, at Twickenham, only two years since, in addition to the clearing off of heavy interest and other arrears, something like £985 has been secured by promises and contributions towards the debt of £1,100 on the chapel and the Sabbath and day schools adjoining, and so well do the pastor and his church work together that it is hoped that the entire liability will be cleared off by the end of the year. There is an old proverb to the effect that "God helps those who help themselves," and certainly a more pleasant illustration of its truth could not be readily found than in the resolute and successful endeavour of the Twickenham Congregationalists to rid themselves of debt. Contributions towards removing the small balance of the debt will be thankfully received by the Rev. S. Fisher, 7, Nelson-terrace, Twickenham Common, or by the deacons of the church.
But at the chapel doors, there was another notice which should have an especial interest for the young men of Twickenham. It was headed, "Twickenham Mutual Improvement Society," and if I remember rightly, below was an intimation to the effect that its meeting are held weekly in the schoolroom adjoining the chapel. Such institutions merit success. Their indirect value to the congregations with which they are associated cannot be well over estimated ; and properly conducted they form a very useful auxillary to the church. It is then on such grounds that the Twickenham Mutual Improvement Society, commends itself to the young men of the neighbourhood, and more especially to the youthful portion of the congregation with which it is identified. The society, being one of recent formation, it is all the more desirable that its members should receive every encouragement in their good work, and additions to their ranks of young men, who may be quite sure of a hearty reception, pleasant evenings, and rational and intellectual enjoyment.
One of the uppermost thoughts in the minds of most Dissenting deacons in reference to church matters is the kindly welcome of strangers and their comfortable accommodation in the house of God. There is Here much of the wisdom of the serpent, combined with that other attribute, enjoined by the Saviour on his followers, the harmlessness of the dove. First impressions, in religious as well as worldly matters, are sometimes everything. To be welcomed with a kindly smile, to be place in a comfortable seat, and provided with a hymn book is pleasant ; but to be left in a draughty aisle, to be jostled and pushed by seat-holders' who must parade their puny pomposity before the Most High, and at last to be shunted into an uncomfortable seat by a consequential pew-opener is being "stroked the wrong way" to such a fearful extent that a second visit by the "sat upon" stranger to a sanctuary where such treatment of outsiders is tolerated is, to say the least, a doubtful event. Dissenters are keenly alive to the sensitive feelings of visitors, and are fully aware what an ecclesiastical "Jack-in-office" a pew-opener may become, and how he may, by his injudicious conduct, disgust his betters, and drive the timid from the church they fain would make their home. Who is there among us who has not experienced a pew-opener's withering scowl, his unspoken "stand back there, " and his unmistakable snub ; who has not waxed wrath at such treatment, and felt that the pleasures of the service have been completely marred by such ugly reception? Aware of these little peculiarities of no insignificant portion of the pew-opening community, there are many chapels which the deacons perform the duties of this office, at the loss of no dignity to themselves and to the undoubtful comfort of the chapel-going public. This practice obtains at the Congregational Chapel at Twickenham, with a result which is in every way satisfactory, and productive of that which has been very happily called "the home feeling," in the minds of strangers.
Before the sermon there was a short introductory prayer, and two other extempore prayers of a moderate length. The hymns sung were 313th, the 440th, and the 787th (Congregational Hymn Book) and the morning lessons were Psalm lxxxiv. and St. John ix. As a set-off against indifferent architecture, the service was in every respect a most pleasant one. The prayers were simple, earnest, and impressive ; the reading of the lessons was effective and careful ; and the unpretentious choir, in many respects, a model one. It consisted of twelve voices equally divided between the sexes. Common-sense had evidently been employed in the selection of the tunes, which, while they were not humdrum and full of antique "repeats," were, on the other hand, not of that outré character which delights the ears and tickles the fancies of some choir-leaders, to the botheration of old ladies who "hate your new-fangled music," and the total confounding of old gentlemen who love the good old-fashioned tunes of their Sunday school, and youthful days. As an illustration of how little this choir cared for the fuss and mystery in which many choirs seem to delight, I may mention the fact that there was no noisy flutter of tune-books, no low-toned whispers with the leader, or solemn confabulations with the gentlemen who played the harmonium. When the minister announced the hymn all was orderly, decorous, and reverent. For really good congregational singing, a more compact little choir could not be desired. While they sang well, they sang with no effort ; there was no painful straining after effect, or screaming out high notes, to the murdering of the harmony. Nothing was affected, and in consequence the tunes went pleasantly and well.
There are some preachers whose faces are an index to their sermons. Of this class is the minister of Twickenham Congregational Chapel. It did not require any great amount of intuitive knowledge to tell the character of the discourse which was to close the engagements of the morning. I anticipated a written, carefully thought-out, logical, and at the same time, earnest sermon ; nor was I deceived. It is a curious and debateable question whether a face of this kind is an advantage, or the reverse, to a minister when he is in the pulpit, for the most superficial student of physiognomy and general believer in the teachings of Lavater, would look as a matter of course for a thoughtful sermon from its owner. Mr Fisher is not an eloquent speaker. He aims at a better characteristic of the good preacher; his words have weight because they are well considered. He prefers sound doctrine to elegantly turned periods, and logical arguments to flowing theological nothings. He avoids the common platitudes of the pulpit that he may not weary his hearers with an oft-told tale, but he is nevertheless earnest in advancing the one plan of salvation through the death and mediation of the Redeemer. He is also a preacher who uses his head as well as his heart in the composition of his sermons, and consequently, the faithful words he utters are as " nails fastened in a sure place," as they commend themselves to the understanding as well as to the hearts of his hearers. As good Master Thomas Fuller says (in his sketch of The Faithful Minister), "He will not offer to God that which costs him nothing, but takes pains aforehand for his sermons. . . Indeed, if our minister be surprised with a sudden occasion, he counts himself rather to be excused than commended, if, premeditating on the bones of his sermon, he clothes it with flesh extempore. [Thus] having brought his sermon into his head, he labours to bring it into his heart before he preaches it to his people." In the matter of action Mr Fisher follows the example of Earl's "Grave divine" (see Micro-Cosmographie, 1628) " whose speech was not helped with enforced action, but the matter acted itself." To give a just idea of the sermon, Mr Fisher preached, from the words " The night cometh when no man can work," it would be necessary to report it more fully than the length of any "Church and Chapel " notice would permit. Each thought so clearly followed its predecessor in proper sequence that to summarise such a sermon would be almost impossible. If my readers desire an illustration of Mr Fisher's preaching the means to the end is most simple. Let them pay a visit to Twickenham Congregational Chapel and hear for themselves. There every attention will be shown them that courtesy can suggest, and if they spend in the chapel as pleasant a morning as did the writer of this notice last Sunday, they will be amply repaid for their visit, I should add that the singing of the 566th hymn -
A charge to keep I have,
- and the benediction closed the service.
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To those who are unacquainted with the fact, it may not be out of place or uninteresting to state that -
The Independents or Congregationalists are the most ancient body of Dissenters. They maintain that each church is its own ruler, and thus dispense with both bishops and presbyteries. They first appeared under the reign of Elizabeth, under whom they were very harshly treated. In consequence great numbers repaired to North America ; but their principals triumphed under the Commonwealth. In 1831 the majority of their churched were formed into the Congregational Union, which numbers 70 associations at home and in the colonies, with 3,665 churches, of which 3,069 are at home, and 596 abroad, 300 being foreign mission churches; their ministers and missionaries are 2,080. There are also Congregational Unions in Scotland (102 churches) and in Ireland (28 churches). The number of membersis supposedly to be about 340,000, and the whole number of persons connected with the body may be probably set down at about 1,200,000. The Countess of Huntingdon's connexion have 33 chapels.
From these statistics it will be seen that the Independents represent a great power in the religious world. Speaking broadly, the teaching of their preachers, as a rule, appeals to the intellectual rather than to the poorer classes of society.
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Our thanks to Annie Morris for transcribing this account
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