Christian Endeavour in Basingstoke c.1893-1939
In seeking to find an effective means of bridging the gap between their Sunday schools and full church membership, from the 1890s onwards many of Basingstoke’s Free Churches established a Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavour (YPSCE). Having been founded in 1881 by the Revd Francis Edward Clark, the minister of Williston Congregational Church in the state of Maine, the innovation quickly spread. By the last decade of the 19th century it had been adopted in many countries including Great Britain where it was reported, in November 1894, that 1860 Societies had already been established. The aims of YPSCE were spelt out its founding constitution as: “To promote an earnest Christian life among its members, to increase their mutual acquaintance, and to make them more useful in the service of God.” These clearly resonated with a large number of church leaders who saw in YPSCE a way of harnessing the idealism, enthusiasm and commitment of the young in the service of the Church. In pursuing these aims, there was a very heavy emphasis on young people pledging themselves to follow Christ’s example.
The first of Basingstoke’s Free Churches to establish a YPSCE was London Street Congregational Church in November 1893, with Immanuel Church (Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion) following suit in January 1895. By the end of the century the Primitive Methodists had also started a Society and the Wesleyans had set up their equivalent, a Wesley Guild. In the early years, the anniversary celebrations of these Societies, at which there were frequently challenging addresses delivered by visiting speakers, were faithfully reported in the Hants and Berks Gazette. A notable characteristic of such Societies was their desire to forge close links with each other in order to encourage and to share ideas. Such networking was formalised in late 1897 with the setting up of the Basingstoke and District Christian Endeavour Union, which, in addition to the Basingstoke Societies, included those from Andover, Whitchurch, Overton, Odiham and Fleet. Consequently, by 1900 YPSCE had established firm foundations in Basingstoke and the surrounding area.
In terms of progress the years leading up the First World War were, in many respects, the most productive. Initiatives included providing meals and entertainments for the elderly; organising an Eisteddfod; and fund raising for good causes. Moreover, new Societies were established at the Working Men’s Mission in George Street and the new Baptist Church on Sarum Hill. There were, however, various concerns regarding the resilience of YPSCE, such as its ability to attract and energise young people.
After the War, Societies continued to promote what can best be described as ‘practical Christianity’. Although a number closed or were replaced with other provision for young people, the Primitive Methodist and Baptist societies, as well as the Wesley Guild, were still in existence in 1939. Looking back over the previous 30 to 40 years, there can be little doubt that Christian Endeavourers made their mark both within their churches and the wider community. As it was put by Mr J.B. Holmes the speaker at London Street’s seventeenth anniversary in 1910: ‘He believed in the Christian Endeavour Society because it recognised the young life in … [the] churches and gave them their opportunity of witnessing for Jesus Christ; and next because it did not despise their humble efforts … which perhaps most people looked down upon … [but] were accepted and blessed by Jesus Christ.’
(For the sources of the quotes, please see the asset)
Content derived during research for the new VCH Hampshire volume, Basingstoke and its surroundings.