The first article of our centenary year is a letter written by our founder, Leslie Mannering, the then vicar of St Matthew’s Church, Brixton. Writing in the Brixton Parish Church Chronicle in December 1921, Revd Mannering looks ahead to the new year, 1922.
1 January 2022
In the beginning …
BRF has its roots in an Anglican church in Brixton, south London, where, towards the end of 1921 the vicar, Revd Leslie Mannering, was talking with a member of the congregation about the spiritual needs of the church. What could be done to help people ‘get a move on’ spiritually?
The following month, January 1922, The Fellowship of St Matthew was launched with the aim of encouraging spiritual growth in the areas of prayer, Bible reading and Communion.
This letter to parishioners was published in the Brixton Parish Church Chronicle in December 1921 (pictured right). Some of the language is inevitably old-fashioned, but our founder’s insight and wisdom remain just as relevant today.
The coming of the kingdom
My dear friends,
In the providence of God we now enter upon another Christian year. It is ushered in with the ‘Reveille’ of Advent. ‘The kingdom, the kingdom, fight for the kingdom of God!’ This is the trumpet call that all the hosts of God are sounding. With the eye of faith and in the attitude of hope we look forward to that final coming of our Saviour and judge when, ‘vindicated and enthroned’, he shall return ‘with all wreaths of empire upon his brow.’
Over against that background of the consummation of his kingdom we set the coming of the kingdom here and now. ‘Lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes’ – the challenge of Isaiah still rings out today. It is the summons to intensify the evangelistic work which always must be the primary concern of the church.
We are so apt to be immersed in organisations, committees and plans, that we tend to become entangled in our own machinery. And even if the machinery is running smoothly and well, there is a danger of its being just machinery. It is the living dynamic of personal religion and personal service for Christ that really moves men and things.
‘At the beginning of another church year we all need to get back to the fundamentals of our faith.’
So I believe at the beginning of another church year we all need to get back, absolutely back, to the fundamentals of our faith.
First and foremost there is prayer: not simply for ourselves, but for the world in which we live. How can St Matthew’s be a mighty spiritual force in Brixton? Only in one way: only if our congregation as a solid whole realises that prayer and intercession is their supreme work as Christians. Evangelism is not simply the business of the clergy and a few church workers, it is everybody’s business.
Work backed up by prayer is too often the practice, if not the ideal, of the church. If the world is to be won, that order must be reversed and the church learn to depend on prayer backed up by work. Christian work that thinks and plans and bustles and toils, but forgets to pray is an almost pathetic spectacle. People who desert their prayers in order to get more quickly to what they fondly call work, are like a stoker on a liner, who should put out his furnace fires and try to tow the ship himself. When, in any parish, there is a large body of people who really pray and really intercede, there are literally no limits to the possibilities of spiritual advance.
‘When there is a large body of people who really pray, there are no limits to the possibilities of spiritual advance.’
The second fundamental is Bible reading. How many of us read our Bible daily, even if it is only a verse or two? The neglect of Bible study and Bible reading in the present day is disastrous. Bishop Gore is a man who speaks with authority and he has said:
‘There is no plant in the spiritual garden of the Church of England which at the present moment needs more diligent watering and tending than the practical, devotional study of holy scripture.’
Finally there are our communions. It is true that the total number of acts of communion have increased during the past year: our weekly average is 122; this includes the daily celebrations and of course the greater festivals.
When we think of the large number of communicants in our church, is it possible to feel satisfied with this? Numbers, we know, are not everything, and it is not frequency, but the reality of our communions that really matters. But the more real our communions are to us, the more frequent they will naturally become.
‘Do this in remembrance of me’ – the words constitute a solemn command given under unspeakably solemn conditions; it was given because in the loving heart of Christ there was a yearning desire and an express purpose to give himself thus sacramentally to all those whom he loves to call his own. This is indeed our very life: and if through laziness and indifference we refrain from obeying his command, what becomes of our discipleship?
God calls us to this
So we review the fundamentals of our faith, and the thoughts that arise call us to action. Why should we not have a great parochial fellowship which will be for the purpose of deepening the life of prayer, Bible reading and Holy Communion in each one of us? We will make the venture, believing that God calls us to this.
‘Why should we not have a great parochial fellowship of prayer, Bible reading and Holy Communion?’
This is what we propose to do
1. From January 1922, to issue each month a leaflet containing prayers and subjects for intercession, also short passages from the Bible for daily reading at home. This leaflet will be issued each month to all who will undertake to use it every day.
2. On Wednesdays at evensong there will be given a short exposition on the Bible passages for the week. I have often been asked: Could we not have a religious discussion circle, when questions that perplex people might be talked over? I hope these weekly addresses will help to meet this need. I see no reason why questions should not be asked on these Wednesday evenings.
3. On the last Wednesday evening in each month, instead of the Bible exposition there will be a preparation service for Holy Communion for all communicants. This will, I believe, also meet a real need.
The Fellowship of St Matthew formed on this threefold basis would be, I am convinced, a mighty spiritual force in the parish. It is for all you who read this to make it so, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
I shudder to think what the printer’s bill will be if this letter is much longer, but have had much to say of real importance for us all at St Matthew’s.
And now as I close, let me express on behalf of Mrs Mannering and myself our best wishes to you all for a truly happy and helpful Christmas festival.
Your sincere friend,
Leslie G. Mannering
Brixton Parish Church Chronicle, vol. V no. 12, December 1921
Despite the fact little is known about the life of Revd Leslie Mannering, his legacy still touches thousands of lives around the world 100 years later, as we seek to realise his vision through our four ministries.
BRF Centenary Prayer
Start 2022 by joining members of the worldwide BRF community, in our Centenary Prayer using our one-minute video. You may like to share the video on social media using the hashtag #SharingtheStory.