The demise of the Methodist central halls

Today I find an article on the BBC website about the way that the Methodist Church in Britain has sold off many of its central halls.  It’s not a hostile article, and displays awareness of how important the Methodists were to the working poor in the last century. 

 It was a Methodist central hall and, in stark contrast to its recent use as a nightclub, was designed largely to try to keep the urban working classes away from alcohol.

Around 100 were built in major towns and cities across Britain between 1886 and 1945.

At the peak of the central halls’ popularity, thousands of people would pack in on Saturday nights for cheap concerts, comedy shows and films, interspersed with hymns and prayers.

At the end of the evening, attendees were often encouraged to sign a vow not to drink alcohol.

But no longer.  Most have been sold off.

One of the central halls still controlled by the Methodist Church is at Westminster. It’s an impressive building that doesn’t look out of place alongside grand structures like Westminster Abbey, and was the site of the first meeting of the general assembly of the United Nations in 1946.

Now also used as a conference centre, there was reported to be some dissent among Methodists when, in 2005, the church applied for a licence to sell alcohol on the premises.

Reverend Stephen Hatcher says that decision is recognition that the Methodist Church has had to adapt to the modern world.

“We have to recognise the kind of world we live in, lots of people drink responsibly,” he says. “We have to look at it in a balanced way.”

And that is why the Methodist Church has had to sell its halls to become taverns.  It has been so busy “recognising” the world that it serves no heavenly or earthly purpose.

This summer I spent a week at the Treloyan Manor hotel in St Ives in Cornwall.  It too was once a Methodist establishment.  There I found copies of the Methodist Recorder, which I read with some curiosity and then disbelief.  It too evidenced an organisation without a soul, that had no reason to exist any longer.  I find the following “headlines” in this week’s issue:

  • CONCERN that the “Olympic Sunday” could become the norm, with longer Sunday shopping hours continued after the Olympic and Paralympic Games, have been expressed by Church, union, retail and campaign groups.
  • A BOYS’ Brigade delegation headed by BB president the Rev the Lord Griffiths has visited the Queen at Balmoral in honour of her Diamond Jubilee.
  • AN MHA (Methodist Homes for the Aged) housing sch­eme has celebrated its 25th anniversary with a visit from the Rev the Baroness Richardson.
  • A CHRISTIAN charity has demonstrated against unmanned aerial weapons or drones outside RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

Those are the concerns of the Methodist Record in August 2012.  The first of these is a legitimate concern, although part of a wider issue.  The others display parochialism and foolish politicisation.  But where in all of this is God?  Where is the concern to save the lost?  Where are the initiatives to bring Christ to a godless nation, sunk in vice and drink?  The needs remain what they always were; but meanwhile the Methodist Record tells us, as a “headline”.

A CHRISTIAN charity has demonstrated against unmanned aerial weapons or drones outside RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

Members of the SPEAK network for young Christian adults held up banners highlighting the risk of civilian deaths from the remotely-controlled weapons. This was followed by a peace vigil, naming civilians who had died in recent drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

Following the demonstration, protesters took part in a sponsored cycle ride to Nottingham and gave a presentation on peacemaking during the service at Lenton Methodist church.

Whether we agree with the silly-left politics or not, the point is that this is not preaching the gospel to the world, but preaching the world to the church.


4 thoughts on “The demise of the Methodist central halls

  1. This reminds me of the famous quote by Wesley where he wrote, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.” (Thoughts Upon Methodism, 1)

    His fears sadly came true.

  2. In today’s UK, there’s a fairly obvious need for people to either learn to drink like normal, reasonable people, or to take some kind of teetotaling pledge. I don’t even live in the UK, and I know how crazy stupid things get there, so it must be a lot worse than I know.

    So why, in such a time, would the Methodists back away from a part of their heritage? What’s wrong with providing a safe social gathering place for the poor and bored? Is it because they’re scared of today’s poor and bored?

  3. The political establishment has encouraged public drunkeness over the last 20+ years, for its own purposes. And yes, the Methodists ought to be in a position to respond.

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