One of my strange interests I share with a select band of like minded people is studying church history, with a particular slant toward theological perspectives and the movers and shakers, most of which will be unknown to most people today. These days my involvement is limited but I still dabble (in case you are reading Stephen, I am still wading through your PhD thesis on Cornish Baptists – ed). My own contributions are fairly modest but for any who are interested my “Who are the Brethren” and “The hearts and minds of J.N.Darby and E.B.Pusey” papers and my book “Coleman Street’s children” are all downloadable from my website. The reason for this interest, besides me being a bit of an odd ball, is that we learn from the past and are shaped by it, including the likes of today’s subject and, besides which, “there is nothing new under the sun”, and some of the issues Albert faced are what we are facing now. Knowing these things does matter, for it is part of our rich cultural heritage.
A few weeks ago, I was particularly struck (and touched) by something my pastor shared in his sermon, which was as a result of his having delved into the local history archive at Southend Library (as one does). It was a quote from one Albert Belden, the first minister appointed to Crowstone Congregational (now United Reformed) Church, Westcliff. It was to the effect that if we persist in sin, we are being disloyal to Christ. It got me thinking, but my searching the Internet and enquiring of friends who could be in the know drew a blank. In fairness, the nuggets are there to be found, but one needs the time to find them. Today I drew trumps when my pastor handed me a paper that he got off the Internet, from one of those academic libraries that most of us would be barely aware of. I append the electronic equivalent of what I was presented with. There was enough here, not just to re-awaken that earlier interest but also to add to it. I doubt whether I would take up some of Albert’s causes, especially him being a pacifist, animal rights campaigner and “Christian communist” or political activist, seen by his standing as a Labour parliamentary candidate in the 1945 General Election, but there was a time I might have done.
I particularly liked his evangelical fervor and his support for unpopular causes. Like Albert, I am a great fan of the eighteenth century revivalist preacher, George Whitfield, whose like I yearn to see again, and I have already taken note Albert’s book on Mr Whitfield can be purchased via the Internet. I am particularly fascinated that Albert breaks the mould and challenges the pre-conceptions of my early Christian teachings. Albert may well have espoused liberal causes, but it seemed he also preached an evangelical gospel. If the quote that led me on this quest means anything, there are riches to be discovered. But I do so advisedly aware that he operated at a time when the “fundamentals” were being questioned inside the church and, while he challenged his times pre-occupations, he was nevertheless still a child of them.
Whether I continue my studies concerning Albert Belden, remains to be seen, but given my desire to know more, not least because it throws further light on the history of the church in Southend, I have already made a mental note that I will read up on some of the relevant local archive material, especially his sermons, when I next visit the library, and would appreciate having correspondence with those who know something about the fascinating man. Whether he got the balance right, I cannot say; that he was responding to and influenced the needs and culture of the time, I have no doubt. If the statement in the article below is true: “(Crowstone) soon became one of the largest and strongest free churches in the country”, he must have been one quite amazing and inspirational person, and his life and teaching merits further study, especially as far as this community activist, come preacher of the gospel. is concerned.
The article – see also http://odnb2.ifactory.com/templates/article.jsp?articleid=54594&back=
Belden, Albert David (1883–1964), Congregational minister, was born on 17 February 1883 at 109 Great Dover Street, London, the son of William Belden (fl. 1850–1914), boot tree and last manufacturer, and his wife, Hester Evans. He was educated at Wilson’s Grammar School, Camberwell, before entering business at the age of fourteen in 1897. In 1902 he entered New College, London, to train for the Congregational ministry and he later gained the BD degree of London University. His first pastorate was at South Bar Congregational Church in Banbury from 1908 until 1912. Belden married Doris Hunter Richman (d. 1961) in 1909, and they had a son. In 1912 he was called to be the first minister of the newly founded Crowstone Congregational Church, Westcliff-on-Sea, which soon became one of the largest and strongest free churches in the country. In 1927 he moved to become superintendent minister of Whitefield’s Central Mission in Tottenham Court Road, London, following in the earlier footsteps of Silvester Horne. Here he exercised a great social and preaching ministry which was influential throughout and beyond his own denomination.
Small in stature, Belden was a powerful and uncompromising evangelical preacher who was not afraid to support unpopular causes. He was proud to preach from a pulpit named after George Whitefield, whom he regarded as ‘the raging flame’ of the evangelical revival. In his book George Whitefield the Awakener: a Modern Study of the Evangelical Revival (1930) he used the story of Whitefield to challenge the churches to a new understanding of the relation between politics and the churches. Belden was a socialist, and once wrote that ‘voluntary Christian communism is the ultimate economic goal of the Christian Spirit’ (Congregational Quarterly, 1926, 344). His ecumenical outlook was combined with a strong belief in the importance of the local church. He described the four emphases of his ministry at Whitefield’s as an appeal to youth, the preaching of the social gospel, opposition to violence, and the application of psychological insights to pastoral ministry. During this ministry he was awarded an honorary DD by Ursinus College, Pennsylvania.
In March 1939 Belden resigned from Whitefield’s to devote his time to writing and political activism. He was a lifelong pacifist, an early member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and founder director of the Pax Christi League. Not long before the outbreak of war he had represented the British peace societies in a lecture tour of the United States. In 1942 he published Pax Christi: a New Policy for Christendom Today, in which he attempted to formulate a policy for overcoming war altogether. He was an executive member of the Labour Peace Fellowship, and during the war was adopted as prospective parliamentary candidate for Lowestoft, though when the general election came in 1945 he was not elected.
In 1948 Belden accepted the role of honorary superintendent of the Pilgrim Fathers’ Memorial Church in south London, whose Sunday school he had attended as a boy. The church had been bombed during the war and was then meeting in temporary premises. Belden was proud to see its new building opened by the American ambassador in 1958. Belden was a great traveller, especially on preaching tours to the American continent, and was well known in Chicago. He was a prolific and effective writer. For twenty-five years he contributed a regular weekly column to the Manchester Evening News, which stimulated more correspondence to that newspaper than the writing of any other contributor. Four volumes of these articles were published. In addition he contributed articles to the journal of the Philosophical Society, of which he was chairman, and to the Congregational Quarterly. He wrote a number of religious books for both adults and children, including Prison Church and Pilgrim Ship (1958) and Pilgrims of the Impossible (1961). He was also concerned about animal welfare, and was elected a vice-president of the National Anti-Vivisection Society. In 1962 Belden married Cecily Maud Glenister, who survived him. He died at his Putney home, 1 Ulva Road, on 14 December 1964.