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News Digest

Here are some recent activities that have taken place. As you'll see, we enjoy spending social time together as well as joining in worship.

Over the years we have been loved, unloved and loved again; bombed; abandoned; robbed; threatened with demolition; renovated; and restored.

It is a constant wonder what will happen next!

Winter 2014-2015

In response to the centenary of the First World War, Union Chapel, along with other churches and organisations, held a debate on issues of war and non-violence from the Christian perspective. Mennonite Prof. Thomas Yoder Neufeld led the pacifist stance, whilst Prof. Nigel Bigger, from Oxford University and author of 'In Defence of War’, led the opposing voice. The title, ‘Who Would Jesus shoot?’ drew much attention and the debate elicited a lively discussion. The audio download is now available.

Our Carols by Candlelight is a highlight of the local calendar for residents and visitors. This year's was a resounding success with over 900 people in good voice. Donations from the concert raised £2,000 for both Medecins Sans Frontieres for their Ebola efforts and for Margins, our resident charity for those marginalised, or at risk of becoming marginalised, from society.

There was room of course during the festive season for church members to have a meal together, and a Christmas party for all of the chapel's staff and volunteers, whose work throughout the year is so appreciated, from Margins, the Friends, Church, Venue Hire, Music Project and Education, and all who are involved in all that we do.

Particular thanks at this time of year are always given to the Quakers for their assistance in the winter night shelter.

Andy continues to organise walks on "George Orwell's Islington", the New Year's Day walk helping to blow away a few cobwebs. Orwell's work in Canonbury is of relevance today, his last volume of collected papers being entitled "Our Job is to Make Life Worth Living" and donations to Margins were welcome.

Our intention is to be known to engage in discussions around sensitive issues. On 4 February we held a Rainbow International Fundraiser; and on 18 February we ran a debate, ‘The Ethics of Mass Surveillance’ . Surveillance of the population by governments and others has expanded tremendously. The people who work in the industry – mathematicians, sociologists and engineers face challenging and novel ethical and legal problems. The main concern that arose from the debate was the lack of transparency that prevails around the topic. Policitians and the public need to be better informed in layman's terms how data is manipulated. Greater transparency will allow for clearer strategic thinking about how best to meet the security risks that exist.

We wish to engage more with faith communities, by meeting other traditions with a view to discussing ideas, and to combine on community events. We recently met Ministers from United Reformed Church on St Paul's Road, and from St Luke's on Penn Road. To further outreach, once a month we invite guest speakers from charities and other faiths to visit and address the Sunday service. In February we invited the charity Shape to talk to us about their support for disabled artists, and to explain from their own experiences, the barriers people face. Future speakers include a representative from Rainbow International and a Rabbi from the New North London Synagogue. Please refer to our church notice board for updates, and our web pages which this year are due for a transformation.

October-November 2014

Union Chapel Church held its 'Food, Glorious Food!'  event on 8 October where harvest songs were sung, led by the Union Chapel Community Choir, and tasty nibbles were in circulation from the Margins Training Cafe. To accompany the rousing music, heartfelt poems were read out. A memorable moment was when one of our regulars, Pat, who remembers the war years led a hearty rendition of the song Boiled Beef and Carrots.
On 19 October, we held a membership ceremony service to welcome a new member into our congregation. This was a time to reflect on the core values of the church.

In November we contined our bible study sessions which take place on the second Tuesday of the month at 8pm. We are currently studying Deuteronomy. If you are interested in attending, please let our administrator know at church [at]

On Remembrance Sunday we held a service led by Andrew Gardner, our Heritage and Outreach Worker. He gave thoughtful words on remembrance and reconciliation, and for many people in November, armistice and liberation mixed with difficulties in peacemaking. In a year of centenaries, we remembered 11 November marking the armistice in 1918, not the declarations of war in 1914. For Poland it marked the end of 123 years of occupation by three empires, though worse would soon follow.

In response to the 100th Anniversary of the First World War, several Christian organisations and Union Chapel came together to lead a debate on issues of war and non-violence from the Christian perspective. Canadian Mennonite Prof. Thomas Neufeld took the pacifist stance whilst Prof. Nigel Bigger, from Oxford University and author of 'In Defence of War’, was the opposing voice. The title, “Who Would Jesus shoot?” although at first seemingly ironic, was meant as a more serious question when considered within certain contexts. This aim of the debate was not to polarise the arguments, but to explore them closely together in order to create a better understanding of both those Christians who choose to go to war, and those who choose not to; and to ask the question whether sometimes we have a choice at all. The debate was well attended and received excellent feedback.

We ended the month on 30 November, the First of Advent, with a lovely christening for Scout. The ceremony encouraged us to learn from the innonence of children and reflect on the importance of committing to looking after one another as we face the joys and struggles of life.

September 2014

Angela writes: "The Church got its engine going in September after the summer break. We began the month with a lovely wedding and started up our Open Wednesday sessions again. Every Wednesday from 10am to 1pm we offer free tea and coffee [and biscuits - Ed.] and a programme of activities. This month we played board games, ran Reiki sessions, made interesting pieces out of clay and had The Stress Project give a talk about the different low cost therapies and counselling they offer. Come and join us sometime!"

Andy visited the Congregational Federation Centre in Nottingham for a training weekend on 12th-14th. Andy writes, "It was great as well as having intensive theological education, to meet up with two of our previous Ministers, Janet Wootton and Fionnaigh Reid. Visitors to the chapel are sometimes taken aback, sometimes even shocked by our welcoming of female ministry, and its long tradition. It's part of the Congregational Way.

Janet reminded me in the opening statement at the top of the page, that we've been robbed more than once: on one occasion (and it must have taken monumental effort) of the lightning rod. We were duly struck a fortnight later. To add to that, Fionnaigh recalls a halogen lamp in one of the chandeliers exploding with tremendous effect on the Day of Pentecost!"

Open House, on 20-21 September saw us welcome over 450 visitors to the chapel to view and learn about its architectural and historical setting, and many others for the regular free Saturday Daylight Music concert. The spirit of Open House continues all year round, with Daylight Music and with our Open Wednesday.

Summer 2014

Karen writes: "Here at Union Chapel we enjoy lots of social activity when we are able to stop ourselves from working from time to time!
We have staff lunches once a month and a trip to the local pub, usually the Myddleton Arms.
In June we enjoyed singing along to summer songs at our summer concert, with the choir and the Union Chapel Band. And in July we had our summer BBQ, where the whole community of Union Chapel were invited to a social evening in the garden. Many people attended and we said a sad goodbye to Laura, our Margins manager. Laura has been working for the chapel for over 3 years and is leaving us to go back and live in New York. We sent her off with some tearful tributes and a rousing rendition of New York, New York!
There is less activity over August as people travel off on their holidays, but we look forward to our AGM's on 24 September."


It has been a time for contemplation, too.

We held a service of respect and remembrance on 22 June to mark the 70th anniversary of the V1 'flying bomb' that struck Compton Terrace, killing and injuring neighbours, destroying and damaging homes and shops, and badly damaging the chapel itself. In July we took part in the Council for British Archaeology's annual activities and included the organ restoration, and outdoor explorations of the area including surviving architectural fragments.

Andy writes: "Visitors to the chapel have noted the 1914-1919 memorial tablet. 1918 was an armistice, not a treaty. There is a strong pacifist tradition in nonconformism, although those who felt they should go went. There were torments too: does driving an ambulance make you complicit in war?

A brief postscript from the March posting: significant cleaning and restoration work is now taking place on the Euston memorial."

Angela adds: "On Wednesday July 2nd, Union Chapel held a Christian/ Atheist debate entitled: ‘Everyone thinks they're Open Minded until they meet someone they disagree with…’

Live music kicked off the evening and delicious homemade dinner from Margins was also on offer.

The evening was a chance to bring friends of humanist and faith perspectives for an evening of diversity, dialogue, discussion & ditties to explore areas of common ground.

The debate was led by Rev Dr Simon Perry, chaplain at Robinson College at the University of Cambridge and Professor Richard Norman,Vice-President of the British Humanist Association.

The debate was well received, but as Dr Perry has a decidedly modern take on the bible, the two protoganists concurred a lot of the time. This disappointed those who were after a heated verbal battle, but was gratifying in that it shows modern Christian thinking can find understanding in a secular milieu."


April 2014

On Maundy Thursday, 17 April around 140 people attended Beware of Your Ears - Close Your Eyes - a music and light spectacle by our Music Director, Claire M Singer. In traditional fashion, many of us shared bread and wine in the Upper Hall afterwards.

Good Friday saw hundreds attend a performance of Seven Last Words From The Cross, as part of the Passion Festival with Highbury Opera Theatre. This event featured the Opus 20 String Ensemble and included a premier piece commissioned by the Organ Project. On Holy Saturday we presented a Macmillan Double Bill, Clemency and Seven Last Words Fron The Cross.

The Easter Egg hunt on Easter Day was much enjoyed by children, and also by the inner child in all of us! After some rest we all enjoyed a staff social evening at the Myddleton Arms.

Our thanks to the staff and curators of the Dr Williams's Library for a wonderful tour of their building and guided exploration of their holdings and archives on 25th.

February - March 2014

February flew by as we prepared for Lent and Easter. Guided tour groups included architecture students, and postgraduate journalism students with assorted projects on the go.

On 1 March Andy attended the Council for British Archaeology one day conference "Looking at War Memorials" at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL. Themes discussed included the continued strong influence of classicism in architecture, and the use of outmoded language; and how we approach language now. A site visit was made to examine closely the monument at Euston, its state, and its additions.

Andy was kept busy, attending the Anabaptist Network Communities Day at the E1 Community Church on 8th, with the theme "From Seed to Sharing". With songs, scripture and prayer we looked at community building and discussed forms of outreach.

We welcomed visitors from the Angel Association on 19th; and the National Churches Trust to the chapel on 21st, and look forward to their return in greater numbers for tea in the autumn.

January 2014

Open Wednesday is now extended for coffee, conversation, activities (and biscuits) to 1pm every week. That's a long morning for those of us who come in for early prayers at 7.15! Conversation from 10am continues to be varied and entertaining - anyone can bring a topic to the table. Some firm friendships have been founded, with several regulars encouraging people to go with them for lunch and walks afterwards.

New Year's Day this year fell on a Wednesday, and whilst the Chapel wasn't open as usual Andy with author and historian Petra Laidlaw led a fully booked walking tour on New Year's Morning - yes, some people were up and about!

The theme of the walk was the Jewish Communities of Islington, 1730s - 1880s, which Petra explores in her book (of the same title). That launched on 30 January at Islington Museum and Local History Centre in a room filled to capacity. Questions were good, and informed, on themes of dissent and education. An interesting parallel was drawn between the establishment of Reform Judaism and its departure from Orthodoxy, and the parting of Nonconformists from the Church of England at about the same time, and for remarkably similar reasons.

A half-page review of Petra's book appeared in Islington Tribune on 31 January.

A further walk is already fully booked for 30 March, and another is scheduled for September.