Visit any town or city in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland and you will notice that there are many different buildings called ‘church’. Pride of place will go to the parish church with its beautiful spire or tower dominating the townscape. In the city, a huge and glorious 800-year-old cathedral, busy with tourists from all over the world, will be the focus. Walking down a side street in search of a pub or teashop, you might notice a sign to the Catholic Church and there, unexpectedly, you will find an intriguing modern building, its concrete walls cut with jewel-like stained glass windows.
At the end of the High Street, a still lovely but smaller, traditional-looking church will be found, with a sign inviting you to join the Methodists for coffee. Later, while waiting in your car for the lights to change, you might see a little sign pointing to a ‘Friends Meeting House’. The sign is indeed pointing to a friendly-looking house, but who meets there and why?
On a visit to your hometown you notice, as if for the first time, the United Reformed Church, and then remember that when you caught the school bus on the pavement outside, it used to be called the Presbyterian Church – why the change? On holiday in Scotland, you realise that the little cottage next to your holiday let is in fact a church; while in Wales it seems that there is an imposing chapel in every village, but many seem to be closed – why were they all built in the first place? In Ireland the well-maintained ruins of a monastic settlement dating back to the 6th century is still celebrating the recent visit of a pope! How did this remote place become so significant? Were all these different places founded by people who share the same Christian beliefs?
Influence of the Romans
Christianity probably came to England and Wales with the Romans, who first arrived in 43 AD, only a few years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Recent research suggests that the faith was well represented as early as 84 AD, when Britain began to be administered as a Roman Province. The North African scholar, Tertullian, wrote that Christianity had become firmly established in Britain by 200 AD, and one hundred years later, in 312 AD, the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity while he was based at York.
By the end of the 4th century, all other beliefs and pagan practices had been swept aside by the Spanish emperor, Theodosius I (347–395 AD), who decreed that conversion to ‘Nicene Trinitarian’ Christianity was obligatory throughout the Roman Empire.
Meanwhile, a strand of the Christian faith known today as Celtic Christianity took root in Ireland and travelled with St Columba to Iona and from there across to Lindisfarne on the north-east coast of England.
Since those early days, different forms of Christian worship have evolved, many emerging for the first time in Great Britain (the people of Great Britain and Ireland are nothing if not creative). Methodism, Quakerism, the Baptist Church and our special claim to fame, the worldwide Anglican Communion, all have their origins in these islands.
These different denominations have grown and spread around the world: the Anglican Communion currently has 85 million+ members in 165+ countries; the Baptist Church claims 75 to 105 million members; the Presbyterian Church, 40 to 50 million members worldwide (although Presbyterianism is not a completely British development, as it owes much to 16th century reformers in Switzerland and Germany) and the Methodist Church has 80 million+ members.
In this book, my intention has been to focus on key turning points in the history of Christianity in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Therefore, except for the Catholic Church which claims the Apostles as its fathers and Rome as its home, I have focused on Trinitarian churches that have their origins in these islands, so there is hardly any mention of rapidly-growing denominations like Hillsong, Vineyard or the Pentecostal movement.
Travel guide to the churches
I have visited almost every one of the recommended places to check that there is parking, and a café or a shop in which to pick up local guidebooks and more information. In fact, travelling around and visiting places as dissimilar as a ‘Wee Free’ chapel on Skye, the Ironbridge museums in Shropshire, the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland and Westminster Cathedral in London has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life, and I must thank my husband for driving me to most of the locations mentioned in this book during the many years it has taken to gather the information.
There is so much more to discover. My research has only just skimmed the surface. Every book referenced in the text is worth reading, every personality and footnote is worth following up. Please take these chapters as a starting point from which to discover much, much more about the riches of God’s kingdom in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. And pray for reconciliation: the night before he died, Jesus asked his heavenly Father that his followers would experience such ‘perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me’.
 In 2014, archaeologists in Bishop Auckland found a 3rd-century Roman ring that pre-dates the time of Emperor Constantine. The silver ring is set with a red stone showing the image of two fish hanging from an anchor – a common symbol for Christianity in the Roman Empire. See www.culture24.org.uk
 The Prevalence of Christianity in Roman Britain to AD 410, Janka Dowding. See Hirundo, the McGill Journal of Classical Studies. See www.mgh-bibliothek
 Tertullian (c 155–240 AD) was from Carthage. In Adversus Judaeos he refers to ‘Britannorum inaccesa Romanis loca’. See www.mgh-bibliothek
 See the story of St Patrick, Archdiocese of Armagh
 Anglican Communion website
 John 17:23 (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust