Newington Green Unitarian: Punk Rocker Rebel Church

Written by: Sophie Taylor

Recently added to Historic England’s ‘at risk’ register, Newington Green Unitarian Church is in need of some serious TLC.

This punk rocker of a rebel church is a far cry from the traditionalist religious establishments we’re used to, built on over 300 years worth of radical history. From women’s rights to the Revolution Controversy, this church has been spreading the good word of progressive politics since 1708. Dr Richard Price was its most well-known minister, preaching radical politics and playing a role in the British debate about the French Revolution. Mary Wollstonecraft listened to his sermons and herself argued for the new French republic whilst fighting for women’s rights, a century prior to the Suffragette movement.

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A banner outside the church reads, ‘the birthplace of feminism’ and quite rightly so. Wollstonecroft was the first female war correspondent and paid journalist, influencing the likes of Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin.

Before the church was even built, a nonconformist minister called Charles Morton ran his academy on the site in the late 1600s. ‘Dissenters’, who were not a part of the Church of England, were not at the time allowed certain societal roles such as becoming teachers. Morton decided to make education accessible, teaching more contemporary subjects like science and politics in English rather than Latin.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the church brought communities together through Unity preacher, John Rhys Walker. He set up joint Christian and Jewish groups to repair wounds and rebuild bridges as people were coming to Islington from all over the world.

In 2008 the church refused to hold any wedding ceremonies until same-sex couples were given equal marriage rights, becoming Britain’s first religious establishment to make such a stand.

Fast forward to 2016 and the current Reverend Andy Pakula is concentrating on maintaining this radical and forward thinking history, both structurally and philosophically. Having been rebuilt in 1860, the building is now suffering from damp and starting to leak. Pakula is continuing to help raise funds for maintenance of the church as well as for community spirit. In 2008 he handed round the collection plate after his sermon and encouraged the congregation to take rather than give. He had filled the plate with 150 pound coins (from his own pocket) and invited people to use the money for ‘the good of the community’.

The beautiful Grade II listed building, bursting with history, is available to hire for weddings, concerts, rehearsals and film shoots. See here for more info. 

Newington Green Unitarian Church, 39A Newington Green, N16 9PR.

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