Visiting the American (Whitefield Memorial) Church, London, England: History at 79A Tottenham Court Road
A strong memory of Anglo-American soul-searching and thanksgiving
To give it its most recent name, the American International Church — for decades known as the American Church — in London, England, and centrally located at 79A Tottenham Court Road, meets in a building referred to as the Whitefield Memorial Church.
This building dates from 1957/58. Its features include an elevated entrance way executed in stonework, the clean lines of which give a sense of solidity. This entrance way is topped by a large Syrian (or Romanesque) window archway.
A previous building in which the Whitefield Memorial Church met was destroyed in bombardment during World War Two. It is known that the Methodist preacher John Wesley preached at this site in 1770. The original chapel was built in 1756.
The building is named for George Whitefield (1714-1770), the Methodist preacher who has been described as "the first Anglo-American celebrity" (1). He preached the Gospel to vast crowds — often in the open air — in both the British Isles and North America. While culturally it must be emphasized that 18th century notions of what might now be referred to as a 'celebrity' would be hugely different from what the term means today, the importance of George Whitefield (and other preachers of a similar persuasion) to life in both the British Isles — in the Methodist Revival — and North America — in the Great Awakening — should not be underestimated (2).
During World War Two and afterwards, an influx of US military and diplomatic personnel led to regular services conducted by US Navy Chaplains, firstly at Grosvenor Chapel, and subsequently at other venues; for the past few decades the American Church in London has used the Whitefield Memorial Church building at 79A Tottenham Court Road, close to the London University area in Bloomsbury.
St. Paul's Cathedral is the regular venue for the annual American Thanksgiving Day Service sponsored by the American International Church and the US Embassy in London, usually addressed by the US Ambassador to London. Historically, this annual event's antecedent was the Great Thanksgiving Day of Novermber 23, 1944 held at the Royal Albert Hall, as World War Two started to draw agonizingly to its close, and attended by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and American Ambassador John G. Winant (1889-1947)(see below)(3). In preparation for this annual American Thanksgiving Day Service now held at St. Paul's on the last Thursday of November, there is a strong tradition of choir practice at the American International Church; the musical repertoire typically emphasizes African-American spirituals and American hymn tunes (4).
March 23, 2019
(1) See also: http://amchurch.co.uk/history/
(2) See also: https://static2.businessinsider.com/ap-former-governor-wwii-ambassador-to-britain-getting-his-due-2016-7
(3) A statue of George Whitefield stands today at the University of Pennsylvania. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Pennsylvania#Seal )
(4) See also: http://amchurch.co.uk/thanksgivingservice/
Some sourcing: Wikipedia
Also worth seeing
London has such huge numbers of visitor attractions that I will refer to only a small fraction of the principal ones; these include: Trafalgar Square; the Houses of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster; Westminster Abbey; St. Paul's Cathedral; the Royal Albert Hall; and many others.
How to get there
United Airlines flies from New York Newark Airport to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Underground and train services link Heathrow Airport with Central London. 79A Tottenham Court Road is close to Goodge Street Underground Station on the Northern Line. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada
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