Undenominational? What’s that?

So why Undenominational?  This is an interesting question since the Mary Anne’s family were Congregationalists and attended Zion Church, Attercliffe.

The question has to be seen in the wider context of the struggle for religious freedom.  The Read family had been Non-Conformists as far back as the Civil War when Thomas Read of Kilsby fought on the side of the Parliamentarians.  The Protestant Reformation pre-dates Henry VIII’s break with Rome and the establishment of the Church of England.  The Protestants rejected Rome and the Non-Conformists further rejected the Established Church of England, refusing either to pay tithes to the Church or to attend services. They were considered heretics and many were imprisoned, executed or exiled.   As the centuries rolled by, a more tolerant climate saw the springing up of many non-conformist denominations following inspirational leaders such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Wesley, each with slightly different creeds. The Wesleyans split into five different versions of Methodism in Sheffield alone.  Undenominational New Testament Christianity was a growing movement i 19th century, America, attempting to bring all together into one Church of Christ, rejecting any human figurehead or doctrine and accepting the Bible as the only binding rule of faith or creed.  The absolute autonomy and independence of every local congregation was a central tenet.

This is very much the way things work at Upper Wincobank Chapel today, with all its advantages and disadvantages.  The Undenominational ethos is protected by the Deed of Trust set out by Mary Anne Rawson in 1850.  If it were not for that safeguard, and the absence of any dissolution clause, the chapel would probably have been demolished long ago.  For 170 years the Trustees and the congregation  have kept faith and continued to maintain an independent church, serving the neighbourhood, with little additional income beyond the rent from the house and the interest from the £400 invested in 1850.

Although the future of the chapel is once more under debate, its guiding principles are clear.



2 responses to “Undenominational? What’s that?”

  1. Alison says :

    Good stuff, thank you! It’s hard for us today to understand how central to peoples’ lives were these denominational identities/antagonisms. Some of the letters from the Reed daughters in Sheffield Archives reveal their early suspicion of Anglicans and also how this changed over the course of that generation. There is a lovely one when Mary-Anne is` at school in Mill Hill in 1816 and she writes to her mother, flaunting the fact that she’s been to an Anglican church and has also played cards. The reply is sent by her uncle in Chesterfield, urging her to ‘be on your guard’ in the company of ‘church people’! This comes out of that long-standing distrust of the Church of England. By the 1820s, however, this had relaxed and Emily (at least) was a regular at Ecclesfield Parish Church.

  2. Penny says :

    That’s really interesting. Maybe then, the Undenominational status conferred on the chapel was an attempt to heal the rift. However others were not as forgiving and the Wilson family continued to campaign for Disestablishment and particularly objected to the Church of England’s influence on the evolving state education.

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