Presbyterians in Commuterland

By John Ellis

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St Paul’s URC, South Croydon

Missionary endeavours by Presbyterians have shaped two recent visits. At the start of the twentieth century a church was planted in the developing area south of London which is now the Borough of Croydon. St Paul’s grew so quickly that the initial church soon become relegated to being the hall and a much larger building in the Edwardian style was erected.

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St John’s URC, Orpington

A generation later it was clear that a substantial new community was growing not many miles away around Orpington railway station, on the newly electrified commuter line to London. St John’s Presbyterian Church was founded on a prominent site a few minutes from the station. The congregation also out grew the first building and it became one of several halls when the premises were expanded and a new church in the style of the 1950s erected.

Both congregations for the first half of their history attracted Scots from a wide area, a useful proportion of whom were wealthy. Although both congregations still speak with something of a Scottish accent, they have had to face major changes in churchgoing patterns in suburbia, while the arrival of the United Reformed Church has meant there are several other churches of the same denomination not far away.

Now each church has a community role for the residential areas around their extensive, busy and well-maintained buildings. At St Paul’s this includes hosting a congregation who use the church building for worship in a different style on Sunday afternoons.

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“From earth to heaven” by TGIS

A visiting Moderator also notices the very substantial contribution St John’s has made to the wider United Reformed Church. Two former ministers, Andrew Jamieson and Alasdair Pratt, have served as Moderators of General Assembly. A long list of former members have entered the ministry and a current member, Jo Patterson, is training to be a Church-Related Community Worker. They are currently the sixth largest URC by membership and a new generation were represented by the TGIS (=Thank God It’s Sunday) group of young people who presented their striking visual images of recent sermon series.

South London can seem a long way from Antioch or Patmos, but St Paul and St John both knew something about the challenge of making the Gospel come alive in different cultures. They would appreciate the efforts being made under their names to continue the story.

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