Dear Friends,

This coming Sunday, February 27th, we will celebrate the Church’s 112th Anniversary. The building itself was not built until a year later, but the group of people who had been meeting together elsewhere since November 1909, in February 1910 decided to formalise their covenanting together by constituting themselves as a Church. After that, plans were made, firstly to call a minister, and then, under his leadership for a building to be constructed during 1911. A lot has happened since then. The world today is very different from the world as it was then. Hampstead Garden Suburb, as it was designed to be by those who envisioned it, very different today to how they would have imagined it to be. And the Free Church too has changed over time. Inevitably so. Anniversaries are best understood as ‘milestones in time’. They guide us from then to now. They allow us to reprise the journey in time that has brought us from there to here. They remind us that the present moment is best described, understood, appreciated and appropriated in terms of the unfolding history that is the story of the Church. But that was then, and now is now. And we live in ‘the here and now’. It is not good to fall into the trap of comparing the present with the past. That would be tantamount to trying to compare apples with pears. The past really is ‘another country’ – one through which the church journeyed on its way from then to now – but ‘another country’ nevertheless. The Bible contrasts chronological history with salvation history. There is a sense in which the chronological history of the Church, any Church, is to be contrasted with its spiritual history. And that is so for the Free Church. For over 112 years, regardless of whatever else might have been happening, women, men, children have been encountering God within its walls. And that remains the challenge to us today, as we move forward out of the past and beyond the present. To see to it that regardless of what the future holds for any of us – individually, collectively, socially, politically – that this church remains true to itself. Always available to whosoever that they might encounter God in this place. We, the present generation of worshippers, have been entrusted with the awesome responsibility of safeguarding the ongoing spiritual history of the church. There is no ‘text-book’ as such to tell us how this might be done. Neither should there be because we ‘learn as we go’. The church is not an abstraction, set apart from us. Its spiritual history comprises the stories that each one of us is ‘writing’ for ourselves as we too continue to encounter God in this place. That is why we need to be reminded that ‘the people come first’. Those earliest congregants had embarked on their own particular spiritual journey together, encountering God in their meeting together. In the light of which they discerned the need for a building to be constructed so that what they experienced among themselves might be shared within its walls. It is in that Spirit that we celebrate this latest ‘milestone’ as the Church’s Spiritual history unfolds among, within, and even beyond ourselves.

The Church’s 112th Anniversary