The web can be a confusing place, so if this page has come up in your search engine, please understand that ionatoalpha.com is NOT designed to teach you how to pray, it does not tell you how to worship Jesus, nor does it tell you which church to join. However, I very much hope that as you explore the story of how the church evolved in Great Britain and Ireland, you will catch a glimpse of the passion that gripped the men and women who became pioneers of the Christian faith in these islands. People as different as Ninian and Saint Patrick, William Booth, George Cadbury, and Nicky Gumbel were prepared to sacrifice their personal dreams, careers, and family lives to do what they perceived God was asking of them. Often in the face of ridicule and loneliness, they established new ways of serving God that suited their time and circumstances.
This website explores the long history of Christianity in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, the differences between church denominations, and how they began. It is interesting to discover that many of the main Christian denominations that have now spread all over the world – Baptists, Quakers, Methodists, Congregationalists, the Salvation Army, and the Anglican Church – all have their origins in the UK. Just as interesting is the fact that the origins of each denomination can usually be linked to one person and one location, a fact which sent me traveling from Iona to Winchester, from Ironbridge to Dunfermline, from St David’s to Whitby, and from Belfast to Clonmacnoise.
Christian monks were probably already established in certain areas of Wales, Ireland and south-west Scotland when the Romans arrived in England in the first century, just a few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Early church leaders like Ninian, Patrick, Columba, David and Aiden took their commission from their mentors and teachers and the Bible, and established houses of prayer that combined study and worship with missionary journeys out into the countryside around them.
After representatives of the Roman Church arrived in England in 597 AD, Celtic Christianity was pushed to the western fringes of Britain, to be replaced by an organised, bishop-led church administration that managed to survive unchallenged for nearly 1,000 years. During that period, until the mid-16th century, the whole of Great Britain and Ireland was Catholic.
But when the Reformation began to disturb ecclesiastical traditions in Europe, England’s unhappy King Henry VIII, who saw it as his duty to produce a son and heir for the Tudor royal line, broke his country’s connections with the pope in Rome, launched into a string of marriages, and appointed himself ‘Supreme Head’ of the newly-formed Church of England. Catholicism became illegal.
The Reformation sparked 400 years of questioning as gifted scholars and theologians searched the scriptures for ‘the truth’, and brave pioneers, who claimed to have discovered new ways of worshipping God, risked imprisonment, persecution, exile and death to establish new churches. In fact, the first Baptist church, although led by two Englishmen, was founded in Amsterdam, and they became just one group among many from all over Europe who found themselves adrift in this season of rejection, exile and daring theology.
The questioning lasted for another 400 years until significant Revivals took place in Wales and the Hebrides in 1904 and 1949, but it was the ‘arrival’ of the Holy Spirit in 1962 that transformed many churches of all denominations and heralded a new age of spiritual awareness. The life-or-death questions put to 16th-century church leaders at their heresy trials, such as ‘Does the accused agree that the pope is the supreme head of the church?’, were replaced by debates on what it means to be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’. Meanwhile, the 20th century saw the quiet arrival of ministries of reconciliation in Coventry and Corrymeela, and many other places. As the 1990s dawned, Christ-followers turned to a more practical search for answers and the Alpha course took off in churches of all denominations, preparing the way for yet another move of the Spirit in the 21st century whose story has not yet been written or told.