Crown Court Church in Covent Garden
Published on 27 November 2018
Rev Philip Majcher, minister of Crown Court church in Covent Garden, writes about the oldest Church of Scotland congregation in London and its plans to celebrate its 300th anniversary in 2019.
Tucked behind a theatre in the heart of London's Covent Garden lies Crown Court Church of Scotland, the oldest remaining Scots church in the city and one of only two left in London. According to our records the first service on our current site was held on 24 March 1719, so in 2019 we will be marking our Tercentenary with a series of events and activities to 'Celebrate and Renew 300 Years of Service in Covent Garden'.
As increasing numbers of Scots came to London in the early 17th century following the accession of James VI of Scotland as James I of England, Scottish congregations began to gather for worship.
By 1711 one such congregation, which may have been part of the original group from what had been the Scottish embassy in Scotland Yard of the old Palace of Whitehall, was meeting in rooms in Covent Garden under the care of the Rev George Gordon and Rev Patrick Russell.
Soon enough money was raised to build their own church on a site in Crown Court, off Russell Street, near the newly-opened Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
Work started in 1718, the building was consecrated in 1719 and our 300 years of service in Covent Garden began.
Over the years, like many congregations, Crown Court's fortunes have waxed and waned.
In the ministry of the famous preacher Rev Dr John Cumming (1832-1879) the congregation grew to over 900, but numbers fell thereafter and were further reduced in the 1880s when the new minister and many of the congregation moved west to build a new church at St Columba's in Knightsbridge.
However, others stayed true to the church in Covent Garden and Crown Court rose again.
The original church, now much dilapidated, was replaced in 1909 by the building that stands to this day, paid for by the congregation and a public collection led by Lady Frances Balfour and the Campbells of Stracathro.
By the 1950s, under the ministry of Rev Dr Joseph Moffett (1917-1962), numbers again reached 900 with a strong Sunday School and many church activities.
It was Dr Moffett who likened ministry at Crown Court to 'preaching to a procession' as young Scots came to London, established careers and raised families, moved away and - sometimes - came back in later life to the church of their early days in London.
Crown Court today is a gathered congregation, but we are proud to attract a wide range of people from many places.
Our traditional core has always been people who have arrived - recently, or decades ago - from Scotland, or people of Scottish descent.
Our membership also reflects the missionary outreach of the Church of Scotland, with people from the Presbyterian tradition of many countries.
We also welcome visitors and short-term London residents from Scotland and around the world.
Our aim is to provide worship, fellowship and sometimes a familiar flavour of home.
Our worship tends to be traditional in style, and music plays an important part in it, with an active choir and a Sunday morning anthem.
We hold morning and evening services on Sunday and a short lunchtime service on Thursdays, with a Sunday School, Guild and Rambling & Social Club all meeting regularly.
We support a range of charities including Borderline, the charity that helps homeless and insecurely housed Scots in London, and make collections at London railway and Tube stations during Christian Aid Week.
To mark our special anniversary in 2019 we have set out to 'Celebrate and Renew 300 of Service in Covent Garden'.
There will certainly be celebrations, among them a ball, a ceilidh, a garden party and other events still in planning.
Reflecting the importance of music in our worship we have launched a competition for young composers to create us a Tercentenary Anthem.
The winning entry, as a judged by an expert panel and sung by our choir, will be performed for the first time in public at a special service on Sunday 24 March 2019 - three hundred years to the day since the first service on the site.
The Moderator of the General Assembly, Rt Rev Susan Brown, will preach at that service which will be attended by VIPs, former ministers of Crown Court and many ministers with Crown Court connections.
However, we also want to leave a lasting legacy of our three-hundredth anniversary in the form of service to the community around us in Covent Garden.
We are supporting a local organisation that provides accommodation for young homeless people engaged in employment, training or education with collections of basic household items for their 'emergency' store cupboard.
We have just launched a pilot project with three London-based charities working with the homeless in Westminster, using our church hall to enable them to run regular advice sessions for homeless women.
We hope next year to develop this pilot into something more enduring as part of our legacy to the future from our Tercentenary year.
Visit our website for more information. or, better still, come and visit us as we mark our special anniversary - we'll be glad to see you.