Friday, February 10, 2017

The Horsingdon Transmissions No.41: An Ecumenical Matter

The 1950s and 1960s marked a decline throughout England of traditional forms of religiousity, with the cosmopolitanism of the time having bred a burdgeoning interest in new religious movements and alternative spiritualities. Nowhere was this more noticeable than in the Horsingdon area. This is, perhaps, understandable: strange places are, afterall, prone to producing strange creeds. Horsingdon locals have, in any case, only ever offered lip-service to the more pedestrian forms of Christianity that have attached themselves to the region,

Even so, the recent religious history of Horsingdon encompasses something of a revitalization of Christianity (even if that history is one of doctrinal non-canonicity and rampant non-denominalationism), with a significant number of evangelical churches and congregations appearing throughout the district during the 1960s.

Roland Franklyn, however, raised concerns at the time regarding the spiritual 'authenticity' of many of these churches, claiming that the espoused Christianity of these institutions was, in fact, simply a veneer overlaying other, more disquieting beliefs: beliefs which had, in fact, an unimaginably vast history in the Horsingdon area, along with very deep roots in the culture and consciousness of its local communities.

One such church was the Church of Starry Wisdom, whose congregation ensconced itself in St. Ormunds; another was the Church of the Throne of Light, which (according to Franklyn) was closely affiliated with the Starry Wisdom congregation, and which prospered to such a degree that by the mid-1960s it was able to build a dedicated place of worship along Eastcote Lane (not far from Burn Hill). For the new construction, Church elders commissioned a stained-glass window in a spectacularly-ugly modernist style as a frontispiece to their worship. In his letters, Franklyn denounces criticisms that the window - apparently depicting the very 'Throne of Light' that was central to the Church's doctrine - was nothing more than a cynical appropriation of abstract art as a means of appealing to an increasingly jaded and secularised audience; instead, he claims it is a literal representation of the Throne of Light as congregants typically percieved it whilst in the throes of religious ecstasy: a crazed and crooked morass of angles and jarring colours, roiling within vast abyssal chambers normally hidden from human sight at the centre of all creation, and the seat of a  nameless and pandaemoniacal numinosity from which all things flow.

That a nominally Christian sect should conceive of their God in such a confusing and tumultuous fashion seems remarkable - although Franklyn draws parallels with far older, lesser-known mythological and cosmological systems concerning Those Who Wait. For my part, I lack the theological authority to comment on whether there genuinely exists a link between the Church of the Throne of Light (which continues to operate in Horsingdon to this day) and older forms of local religiousity; for that, as the saying goes, would be an ecumenical matter.

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