St Albans United Reformed Church
Following discussions that began between Trinity and Homewood Road URCs in 2021, arrangements were begun for an amalgamation. Greenwood URC joined these discussions in 2022 and, following surveys of members and work by a steering committee and dedicated subgroups on various aspects,
church meetings of the three congregations decided on 6 November 2022 to agree an amalgamation to form St Albans United Reformed Church on two sites – to be named Homewood and Greenwood. The inaugural service took place on 8 January 2023. This page gives a short history of the congregations which have come together.
History of Trinity URC, St Albans
At the end of the 19th century, St Albans was a fast-growing town and the Congregational Church in Spicer Street needed to expand into a new building. The new Trinity church was a fine building with a 110ft spire, while the inside was a large ground-floor worship area with pews and a balcony above. A key figure in the financing of the new church was local businessman Samuel Ryder who later found fame in the Golf world as the founder of the Ryder Cup. Trinity opened in October 1903 amid great rejoicing. By 1925 Spicer Street chapel and Trinity had fully separated and in those post-war years the Sunday School was booming and a new building was needed. The Faulkner Hall was built close by on Victoria Street and named after Alderman William Faulkner, a prominent member of Trinity. It opened in 1927 and was the venue for Sunday School, Girls Brigade, Scouts, Drama groups, and more until it was sold in 1980 to fund the refurbishment of the church interior. It was decided to establish a church in the newly built-up area of Chiswell Green, and a site was acquired in 1961 for £2,000. It grew well, and by 1971 Chiswell Green Church was fully independent of Trinity, so it is interesting to note that in the current times, we are now coming back together again.
In the 1960s, Trinity was an early adopter of the new idea of a ‘Family church’ without a separately structured Sunday School but with children and young people as an integral part of church life. In
1972 Trinity Congregational Church joined the new United Reformed Church along with Homewood Road, Chiswell Green and Bricket Wood. Innovation continued in the 1970s with a new emphasis on addressing global poverty and introduction of the 1% appeal. 1975 brought the start of ‘Worship in the Round’ at Trinity, an informal, experiential, all-age alternative to the traditional church service. This was very successful and ran for over 30 years, eventually evolving into the interactive worship pattern enjoyed most recently. During major alterations in 1981, the church caught fire, gutting the interior completely. The place was rebuilt with a new style interior without the old Edwardian features but a new, open, multipurpose worship space, plus a refurbished parlour and meeting rooms. After 18 months of worshipping at Marlborough Road Methodist Church, Trinity’s doors were reopened on Christmas Day 1982 to great rejoicing. The external appearance of the building was unchanged but the church now had a new energy and sense of possibility for the future. One important user of the new space was the Trinity Community Project which was set up in 1986 to meet the needs of various groups, elderly, homeless, those experiencing mental health issues or with a learning disability. Run on a professional basis, it has continued to the present day serving the community in many ways, engaging with members and volunteers. Trinity was also host to the offices of many charitable groups over the years, Bangladeshi Women’s Group, addiction support groups, Housing charities, St Albans Bereavement Network and notably the Trinity PreSchool.
A visit to Trinity in 1988 by Iona community musicians, John Bell, Graham Maule & Christine Reid kindled a strong interest in using their songs in worship. The connection was maintained with several visits to Iona by church groups and the Celtic tradition became an important part of Trinity’s worship.
The centenary in 2003 was marked by a whole year of celebrations and special services including a mass outing to Clacton! Between 2004 and 2011 Trinity offered a series of lectures with eminent speakers from many fields, including science, history, journalism, politics, and theology. These were very well attended by a broad cross-section of people from the area and grew Trinity’s profile in the town. Those who have shared in the church’s life have experienced a warm and supportive community in which to explore the complexities of life, challenging all to hold on to faith through the sea of doubt and to express that faith in care and concern for others.
History of Homewood Road URC, St Albans
The congregation began as a Presbyterian Church of England. Establishing Presbyterian services in St Albans was first discussed in 1941. Four or five St Albans residents attended Presbyterian Church in Watford but wartime made regular attendance difficult. The first service – held in Marlborough Road Methodist Church on 9 November 1941 – had 64 attending. Such afternoon services continued until 1946 when services moved to the upper floor of the Adult School at the corner of Stanhope and Granville Roads on Sunday mornings.
London North Presbytery agreed a preaching station in 1942. It became fully-sanctioned, able to call a minister, in 1945. Services were also held in Harpenden forming a branch church of “St Albans and Harpenden Presbyterian Church of England”. In 1946 a freelance Sunday School in Marshalswick Lane was “gifted” to the congregation, a church magazine, “Notes and News” was established – the predecessor to the “Homewood Herald” – and purchase of a site at the corner of Homewood Road and Sandpit Lane was agreed, subject to planning permission, for £1,200. Miskin, builders, secured the contract to build a church hall, permitted by the Ministry of Works, for £6,297. The foundation stone was laid in 1949 by a member who was, in all, City Mayor four times. This building, now the Main Hall, became a dual-purpose church and hall. That year Scout, Guide, Cub and Brownie companies began. The building opened in 1950 with 125 members. A hall (now the Small Hall) was added in 1955.
The congregation was outgrowing its accommodation. 244 attended communion service in the October 1960. A new church , at the right angles of the existing one, was proposed. Built, again by Miskin, for £22,000, it opened on the 13 June 1964 with a Presbytery grant of £15,000, a long-term loan of £5,000 and the rest raised by the congregation.
8 October 1972 saw services at Trinity (morning) and Homewood Road (evening) with members from Chiswell Green and Harpenden marking the URC’s formation 3 days previously – one denomination for Congregationalists and Presbyterians.
During the 1970s and 80s the church continued to thrive and a new kitchen and foyer were added. Junior Church was expanding and more accommodation was needed. A front extension of a new foyer and Upper Room was built in 1989 for £85,000. In the mid-1980s the church was the venue for rehearsals for “Peter” – a musical on the life of Jesus through Peter’s eyes. This hugely
successful production – with music composed by the then organist – involved most of St Albans’ churches.
The 1990s saw visits and exchanges with churches in Northern Ireland, Illinois and Hungary, very successful summer Holiday Clubs for kids in the neighborhood and elaborate annual summer festival services. Homewood Road was consistently successful in the inter-church Scripture Knowledge exams in which, astonishingly, the congregation’s children willingly took part, winning the Samuel Ryder shield which remained when the competition ended. To celebrate the 60th anniversary at the start of the new century, a tree tapestry was made and remains on display in the church.
During subsequent years, the church linked at times with others – Wheathampstead and Chiswell Green. More recently it has been part of a “cluster” with Chiswell Green, Bricket Wood and Trinity. The pandemic brought those congregations together as we worshipped in “virtual services” using Zoom software. The choir, which for decades led the congregation’s singing from the balcony, transformed into the Homewood Singers. Ecumenical links with churches in St Albans and, in particular, Marshalswick are very strong.
The congregation’s age rose and so had, until recently, the benefit of two incumbents as Youth and Families worker, maintaining links with families. A successful weekly Toddler group has run for many years, and Summer, Easter, Autumn and Winter Fun days for local children have been overwhelmingly well attended. Installation of an Audio-visual system in 2022 allows services to be livestreamed. The church halls are used by all manner of organisations and, as a result, many locals know of the church as a community hub. All these give us hope for renewed life as part of St Albans URC.
History of Greenwood URC, St Albans
In October 2019 Chiswell Green and Bricket Wood United Reformed Churches amalgamated to form Greenwood United Reformed Church and continued to worship at the Watford Road site in Chiswell Green. Our aim remains to continue to provide the centre for Christian worship and community service that has been so valuable to both villages in previous decades, as our individual histories show. In 1884 the church in Spicer Street, St. Albans, decided to set up a mission room in Bricket Wood. Eleven years later, in 1895, a chapel was opened in Station Road, Bricket Wood. This was in constant use until 1966, when it was decided that a more central position for the church, in the rapidly expanding Bricket Wood, would be sensible.
Since the site on the corner of West Riding and Ashridge Drive was already owned by the church for the Sunday School, a hall was built and opened in 1966 with the dual function of church and hall. Then in 1974 the church itself was added. Right from 1884 the church always had a flourishing Sunday school, various women’s groups and social events.
However, from the 1980s onwards the membership gradually declined and the Sunday school vanished. In 2018 it was decided that the church was no longer viable and it was agreed that it would merge with Chiswell Green URC to become Greenwood URC. The origins of Chiswell Green URC are to be found in the early 1950’s decision of Trinity Congregational Church, St Albans, to take part in the post-war development of new churches on the 4 outskirts of the city. As a result the first service was held at Killigrew School on the afternoon of Sunday 8 September 1957. By 1962 the church had its own hall on the present site in which to hold its services and provide a meeting place for local community organisations. In 1965 Chiswell Green Congregational Church was formally constituted independent of Trinity, with 35 members. In 1971 the current church building was opened and, in 1973, following the national union of the Congregational and Presbyterians Churches of England and Wales, the church was re-named Chiswell Green United Reformed Church.