The 1880s were times of theological ferment in the Baptist denomination in England.Through a series of articles in the Sword and Trowel, the magazine of the Metropolitan Tabernacle whose pastor was the famous Charles Haddon Spurgeon, it had been made apparent that there was a serious departure from fundamental, Biblical truth in a number of churches in the Baptist Union.
To quote Spurgeon, ’The atonement is scouted, the inspiration of scripture is derided, the Holy Spirit is degraded into an influence, the punishment of sin is turned into fiction and the resurrection into a myth and yet these enemies of our faith expect us to call them brethren and maintain a confederacy with them.’
Because of its failure to deal with these doctrinal aberrations, both Spurgeon and his church withdrew from the Baptist Union in October 1887. This great controversy, known as ’The Downgrade’, caused much heart searching among many Baptist ministers, one of whom was F.B. Monti, pastor of Willesden Green Baptist Church and friend and supporter of Spurgeon.
Francis Monti had been brought up a Roman Catholic, but through reading the scriptures had come into a saving knowledge of Christ. He subsequently entered the Baptist ministry and was called to Willesden Green in 1884. After a fruitful ministry there he left in 1889 to become assistant pastor of Avenue Road Baptist Church, Hammersmith. Two years later a number of members withdrew from the Avenue Road church and, being interested in the extension of the Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith, they met at 79, Devonport Road on Friday, 29th May 1891, to consider the advisability of opening up a work with a view to retaining the services of Mr. Monti, and the possibility of ultimately securing a permanent building in the neighbourhood. Further meetings were held throughout the summer of 1891 and an official invitation was extended to Mr. Monti to become pastor of this infant work. After certain initial difficulties had been overcome he accepted the invitation, believing that ‘God was in the proposal and would bring the movement to a successful issue.’
The first public services were conducted by the new pastor on Sunday, 6th September 1891 in the Athenaeum Hall, Godolphin Road and the church was formally established on 13th November 1891 at the first business meeting when fifty names were placed on the church register. At that same meeting a location for a permanent building was considered and a site in Bloemfontein Road agreed upon.
Thus was formed a church, based on the Word of God, independent and therefore separate from compromised association with those who denied fundamental truth and preached another gospel, of Baptist principles and reformed in doctrine. In 1891 F.B. Monti, together with C.H. Spurgeon and 28 other London ministers, had signed a ’manifesto’ clearly setting forth the doctrines of grace.
Those same beliefs and principles have continued to be maintained and proclaimed by the church throughout a century of gospel testimony and, as long as they continue, in the life and power of the Spirit, to be the foundation upon which the church stands, we may look to God to preserve and prosper this work according to His sovereign will.
When the first members of the church met together in 1891 and decided to look for a site for a permanent building, Shepherds Bush was already a thriving and busy suburb. The area south of Uxbridge Road was built up with terraces of large houses, some occupied by professional and business people, others in multiple occupation. To the north there was a similar development with a Board School in Ellerslie Road, Old Oak and Wormholt farms with their fields and some disused brickfields. Beyond them lay Wormwood Scrubs prison, built of bricks made by the prisoners on the site.
The church members spoke of ‘ten thousand souls where little or no evangelical work was being done’ and the first problem was to find a place for services. As a temporary measure the Athenaeum in Godolphin Road was hired and services began in September 1891. A Sunday School had already been started some months before then.
A site in Bloemfontein Road was soon secured from Mr. Callender for a £10 ground rent and because of the expense of a permanent building, a temporary iron one was decided on. This cost £98 to erect and was crowded out when opened in November 1892. It was said to be ‘small, close and draughty’ and to discourage young people! Nevertheless services were held there twice on Sunday and also during the week.
Arrangements were made for baptisms in neighbouring Baptist churches. Pastor Monti was determined to put up a permanent building in order ‘to set up a testimony against Roman ritualism and other errors’. It was decided to build in two stages with the lower floor comprising assembly hall, vestry and ’offices’ first and the foundation stones were laid in 1897.
At long last, after much prayer and effort on the part of all the members, the second and final stage of the church building was undertaken, with Pastor Monti performing the ’topping out’. The building was opened on 1st May 1906 by the Mayor of Hammersmith, Mr. J.J.R. Green, J P.
By 1907 Pastor Monti was expressing concern about poor attendance at the services. A programme of visits to church members was worked out and people were to receive a handshake on leaving the building after the services. Tenants of the new houses behind Bloemfontein Avenue and Adelaide Grove were invited to services, and the open-air work was ’stepped up’. In May 1912 the 21st Anniversary of the church was kept with a special Souvenir issue of The Magazine. The following year the Tabernacle was renovated and electric lighting installed.
Then came the 1914-18 war. One of the ironies of war is that it tends to widen people’s horizons, whilst at the same time bringing communities closer together. It is reported in the minutes of Church Meetings that some ex-Sunday School scholars were doing munitions work whilst some members of the church had joined up to serve King and Country in the Armed Forces. No sooner was the Armistice signed than Pastor Monti was proposing a Home Mission. Increased congregations were reported.
Open-air work continued with groups going north to the LCC Old Oak Estate then in the process of being built, where 2000 tracts were delivered in December 1921.
Work among the young took a different turn. In addition to the continuation of the Bible Classes and singing at open-air services, many other activities for children and young people were organised at the Tabernacle in common with other churches throughout Britain. Men returning from the forces imparted to the young the drill and discipline they had learned. Moreover there were many women who never married because of the loss of young men in the war and were therefore freer to help in the work. Mr. Cornelius started a gymnastics club for boys and girls. It was very popular and gave displays for church funds. In 1928 Major Browning started an organisation for boys which later became affiliated to the Boys Brigade, and for the younger boys the Life Boys were started in about 1933. As a result of these contacts parents were visited and poor families helped. The children went to new surroundings at camp and on visits, and learned things not taught in school. Regular attendance at church was expected but not compulsory except at church parades where, resplendent in their uniform, they felt rather special and their parents were pleased.
From the early years the church has been associated with missionary work. A number of members, some of them teachers in the Sunday School, became missionaries and reported regularly to the children and the church. Many of them were trained nurses, others were schoolteachers and their letters home reveal some of the primitive conditions with which they coped in caring for people to whom they ministered.
Those living in Shepherds Bush and the neighbourhood were not neglected either. Open-air work, including singing and preaching on street corners, with the aid of a portable harmonium and the giving out of tracts, went on for many years. This was a common sight on the streets of big cities until the advent of the mass media. In 1926 visits were made to the lodging houses of Notting Dale, the ’Broken Earthenware’ district, where there were ’sordid scenes’ and ’nowhere is the gospel more needed’.
Then came the Second World War. Many schoolchildren were evacuated. There was full employment again as men, and soon women also, were called-up into the armed forces or assigned to civilian war work. Blackout regulations were enforced and air-raid shelters built. Sandbags and other signs of war appeared on the streets. 1940 saw the Battle of Britain when there was much bombing of London and the south-east. On Sunday 13th October, at a time when the evening service would have taken place had it not been changed to the afternoon because of the blackout, the main part of the church building was destroyed by a bomb. The members recognized the hand of God in this remarkable deliverance. Negotiations went ahead for a hut to be erected on the site and the basement rooms were roofed in to make temporary accommodation for services.
After the war the church endeavoured to carry on as before although it was some time before the rebuilding of the church premises was permitted. Once again there was fund-raising for a new building. Although the War Damage Commission contributed £23,410 there was £5000 to be found for improvements including rebuilding the lower halls without pillars. Pastor Monti (friend, guide and counsellor to so many’ for sixty years) received his home-call in 1952 at the age of ninety-five.
With a fine new building soon to be opened in 1956 and the call of David Middleton, a young minister straight from London Bible College, the church members once again took on the responsibility for evangelising the surrounding district including help for the many immigrants who were settling in the neighbourhood.
When Pastor Middleton was called to another church in 1962, the Rev. John Savage, Deputy Secretary of the Evangelical Union of South America, became Pastor. His wife Dorothy, nee Franks, was a former church member who had become a missionary in 1926. Mr. Savage retired from the pastorate in 1968.
Rev. F.J. Harris, previously a London City Missionary serving in different areas of London for some years, during which time he became increasingly conscious of a call to pastoral work. He began his ministry at the Tabernacle in April 1968. While adhering firmly to the doctrines preached by Pastor Monti and C.H. Spurgeon, Pastor Harris introduced a number of new features into the life of the church. Perhaps the most significant of these is the change in the government of the church , with the appointment of Elders in 1970 to share in the spiritual leadership, thus leaving the Deacons free to concentrate their efforts on finance, maintenance of the church building and manse and practical help to members as needed.
In 1994 Richard Mayhew came to the church from Watford where he had been pastor of Derby Road Baptist Church. Prior to that he had been pastor at the Strangers Rest Mission in East London. Pastor Mayhew had a great interest in India and brought the church into contact with Christians in that vast country. His particular interest was in training the Indian pastors so that they could become effective ministers. He also set up a web-site containing bible courses aimed at new Christians and anxious enquirers. These courses were translated into several languages with the aim of being able to distribute them in their own language. In October 2007 Pastor Mayhew retired from the pastorate and is now pursuing his interest in teaching ministers in other countries, especially India and China.
On July 18th 2009 Jeffery Avery became the pastor of Uxbridge Road Tabernacle. Pastor Avery came to the church from Colchester where he had been Pastor of Artillery Street Evangelical Church (formally ’Spurgeon Memorial), which is the church of C.H. Spurgeon’s new birth. He has a passion for the Gospel and a desire that all may hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.