158 Years of History in East London
East London Tabernacle Baptist Church was founded in 1861 (originally in Stepney until moving to its present site, Burdett Road, in 1871). When looking for a minister the church consulted the well-known Victorian preacher C.H. Spurgeon, who recommended a young man named Archibald Brown.
Brown had been pastoring a church he had started in Bromley in Kent. Within a few years of coming to Stepney the number of people joining and attending the church had grown so much that it was necessary to build a larger building.
Consequently, the site on Burdett Road was purchased and a new building was constructed that was able to seat 2,500 people. The church that met in the East London Tabernacle was modelled after Spurgeon’s church at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in Elephant and Castle. By the end of the 19th century, East London Tabernacle Baptist Church had the second largest congregation in the United Kingdom after the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
Doctrinally and spiritually, Archibald Brown was unified with Charles Spurgeon and during the “Downgrade Controversy” in the Baptist Union, East London Tabernacle was one of a few churches that withdrew with Spurgeon from the Union. Brown’s preaching was expository and firmly rooted in a Calvinistic evangelical faith. The church was very active in evangelism and undertook a number of social ministries in what was --and still is-- one of the most socially deprived areas of London. These included orphanages, soup kitchens and even a holiday home in Herne Bay in Kent. Key to the life of the church was its well-known weekly prayer meeting on Saturday afternoons when 1,000 people would gather.
Brown retired in 1898 in order to become minister at Chatsworth Road Baptist Church in West Norwood. Later he was minister at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. As is often the case after a notable ministry the church found it difficult find a successor. But eventually John Scroggie, brother of the well-known preacher Graham Scroggie, became minister. He was succeeded by D.H. Moore. Moore’s successor in 1934 was Geoffrey King who built up the congregation and led the church during the difficult years of the Second World War. He was succeeded by Paul Tucker in 1954. Tucker was well known for his expository preaching and towards the end of his ministry the church saw considerable growth. In 1974 he was called as minister of the Baptist Church in Portadown in Northern Ireland and was followed four years later by Steve Brady. Brady also was well-known as a preacher and was particularly concerned to strengthen the church evangelistically. During the last two years of Brady’s ministry the church called Kenneth Brownell as associate minister. When Brady was called to Lansdowne Baptist Church in Bournemouth, Brownell was called as minister, and he continues to lead East London Tabernacle to this day.
At various points in its history East London Tabernacle has belonged to the Baptist Union and the London Baptist Association. A number of years ago the church withdrew from both organisations and became affiliated with the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) and Affinity (formerly the British Evangelical Council). In this way the church works with other classical evangelical churches to advance Christ’s kingdom in the nation.
From the beginning the church has been involved in world missions. Hudson Taylor’s daughter, Geraldine Guinness, and her husband were missionaries from this church. In recent years we have had missionaries serving in Mali, Peru, Brazil, Djibouti, Pakistan, Eritrea, South Africa and Lesotho. Presently, the church supports Josh and Cathy Hooker in Namibia as they serve with Crosslinks where Josh co-ordinates the training ministry of East Side Baptist Church. ELT also supports Alex and Nadia Richardson in Russia where Alex works with young adults in Baptist church in Novosibirsk in Siberia. ELT has developed links with churches and ministries in other countries, including the Christ Church Care Centre (a hostel for children) in Johannesburg, South Africa; the Good News Hospital in Mandritsara, Madagascar; and the Andrew Orphanage in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). In addition to this our minister Kenneth Brownell visits Myanmar and Madagascar every year to teach pastors and church leaders about expository preaching. He does this under the auspices of Pastor Training International (PTI) of which he is a trustee and chairman of its Ministry Board.
The twentieth century was challenging for East London Tabernacle. The original building was destroyed by a bomb in 1944 and only replaced with the present building in 1954. The seating capacity of the new auditorium is now 500 as opposed to 2,500 which indicates the impact the last 100 years changes have produced on the church. However, the new building is much better suited for all of the activities that go on in a church like ELT. It is not just the building that has experienced great changes in the last century, though. The area around the church has changed. After both world wars many people moved out of London. London’s East End in particular has always been home to successive waves of migration and the 20th century was no exception. Due to this, during much of the early 20th century the church was involved in reaching out to the large Jewish population in the area. More recently its concern has been for the large number of Bangladeshis, Somalis and other predominantly Muslim groups that live around the church. Consequently, the church is a very diverse ethnic community with people of many nationalities and a wide social mix. While one ward near the church is one of the most socially deprived in Britain another has one of the highest concentrations of university graduates. With a number of universities the area is also home to many international students. Also affecting the church is the shift of London’s centre of gravity eastward with the development of the financial district in Canary Wharf and the Thames Gateway. Increasingly, the church is a centre-city as well as an inner-city church. In all this we believe that God has put the church where it is, in exactly the right spot to advance his kingdom. London is one of the world’s most strategic cities for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ and by God’s grace ELT will continue to build on its good history in London in order to reach the world for Christ in the 21st century and beyond!