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History

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The Parish and its Church

St James Church, Wednesbury, is the principal place of worship in a newly created parish, separated off from the ancient parish of St Bartholomew's, Wednesbury, in 1844. Like many Victorian churches of that period, the materials and construction processes were neither the most expensive nor the most elegant. A relatively soft sandstone was used for the construction of the building in 1847/48 and this takes effort to maintain.

Originally, the building was very much the shape of a preaching box with a small apse for the communion table. It is likely that the church had a central pulpit. The shape of the building and its constituent furniture would have proclaimed the prevailing theological and liturgical insights of the day. A vastly enlarged chancel was added in the second half of the 19th Century very much in the gothic style which reflected a change of theology and liturgy at a time when the church became an early expression of Tractarianism.

Catholic Evangelicalism

Dr Deiter Voll, writing in 1962 after completing a PhD studying in part catholic evangelicalism in the Church of England, points to St James, Wednesbury, as the original focal point for a school of theology which truly integrated evangelical and catholic theology.

This movement, according to Voll, began in Wednesbury during the time of its third incumbent, Richard Twigg, who, along with Charles Boddington and Dr George Body, was subject to criticism from the diocesan bishop for illicit evangelical practices - for example, holding extempore prayer groups in the homes of workers in Wednesbury. The same three clergy were subject to episcopal censure for such practices as having a cross and candles on the holy table! It is a great irony that, on the altar in the cathedral church of St Mary and St Chad in Lichfield, there is a beautiful set of cross and candlesticks finished in sterling silver which were presented to the cathedral by Colonel John Bagnall, churchwarden of St James Church, Wednesbury.

The catholic evangelicals from Wednesbury were heavily involved with the preparation for the London mission of 1869 and it was at Wednesbury that the first parish mission was devised and delivered in 1854. Similarly, the first diocesan missioner, Dr George Body, was a founder member of the Wednesbury school. The missionary zeal that infused George Body was that same zeal which enabled Richard Twigg to train curates and send them out into the parishes of the Black Country such as Tividale, Caldmore, Palfrey, St Anne's, Willenhall, St Andrew's, Wolverhampton, and others. These parishes became centres of catholicism with an evangelical pitch and acquired for Richard Twigg the notorious claim of being "The Apostle of the Black Country".

Towards the end of the last century, the worship at St James became more ritualistic and, while Richard Twigg probably never celebrated the eucharist in anything other than a surplice and stole (though he was buried with a chalice in his hands), vestments were introduced formally no later than 1885. It was about that time that the daily eucharist was established although there had been daily morning and evening prayer since the incumbency of Richard Twigg. The blessed sacrament was reserved in the church by the turn of the century or very shortly afterwards and the church became, during that part, firmly entrenched in the catholic tradition with a ritualistic expression but also retaining a strong evangelicalism.



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