Honor Oak Christian Fellowship Centre
|Honor Oak Christian Fellowship Centre|
The Honor Oak Christian Fellowship & Conference Centre, generally known as the Christian Fellowship Centre or Honor Oak, was a Christian conference and training facility located on Honor Oak Road in south-east London. The centre was the ministry base for its founder, the British evangelist and writer, T. Austin-Sparks, who had previously been the minister of the Honor Oak Baptist Church from 1921 to 1926.
Austin-Sparks was sought as a conference speaker in England and the United States because of his involvement with the Overcomer Testimony of Jessie Penn-Lewis. This, coupled with the fact that the Baptist Union frowned on his "interdenominational" efforts, created the need for a large enough facility to accommodate Christian gatherings, as well as the future publication work of The Witness and Testimony Literature Trust, Austin-Sparks' publishing operation.
In 1926, Austin-Sparks and part of the congregation of the Honor Oak Baptist Church moved to Forest Hill House on Honor Oak Road, which had previously been a boys' boarding school. The new facility was called The Honor Oak Christian Fellowship and Conference Centre. The purpose of the facility was as a “Bible Training Hostel and Conference Centre.”
From 1926, the new facility was a centre for long-weekend preaching conferences for the "deepening of the spiritual life". These conferences took place monthly in the first few years, and later five times a year, drawing people from Britain and Europe. In this work Austin-Sparks was joined full-time and long-term at the Centre by a team of men from other church backgrounds, ranging from Anglican clergy to Baptist and Plymouth Brethren ministers.
Hospitality and catering for the conferences were provided by the adjacent Guest House and neighbouring homes. The assembly hall was expected to accommodate for the public meetings “between 150 and 200 persons somewhat cramped,” but the lower figure of 150 was in fact the upper limit and the success of the conferences soon called for more space, and in 1932 a small extension of the hall eastward added some 30 more seats.
The conference speaking was preserved and widely circulated in the magazine, A Witness and a Testimony, which was published at the Centre. This was mailed out from the Centre six times a year. It was sent gratuitously on request and was supported by unsolicited gifts from its readers. It would in due course grow to a worldwide distribution of 3000+ and would continue in demand until the editor’s decease in 1971.
In 1927, the Witness and Testimony Publishers was formed at the Centre. The Publishers issued transcriptions of conference addresses and sermons, mostly by T. Austin-Sparks, but included also titles by some ten of his co-workers. From 1932 to 1965, printing was done on-site by Gordon Thompson (died in 2007) in the Centre's basement. Eventually a total of 140 titles in all were published, about one third being substantial books, many of which are still available. Like the magazine, the operations of The Witness & Testimony's book publishing also ceased with the Editor’s death in 1971.
Algernon J. Pollock wrote a critique of the Honor Oak Christian Fellowship. Copies available from the two Brethren archives: JRULM CBA and Edwin Cross' archive Chapter Two.
E. J. Poole-Conner as wrote a critique called "The Teaching and Influence of 'Honor Oak'" prefaced by Stephen F. Olford and Tom Rees.
Before long a group of young candidates came into residence for full-time study and practical training. The programme would from time to time be extended to include also non-resident part-time students or employed people on shorter and less formally structured intensive courses. Many of these trainees went on to Christian work in Britain, or overseas in Africa, Asia and South America. Some were specially privileged to work supportively under national leaders in areas where new and original Christian work was developing. Trainees from Europe returned to ministry in their homelands.
One vital ingredient in student training was felt to be regular participation in church life, a feature unavailable in more established Bible School training. Thus, Sunday worship and other ’church activities’ were maintained at the Centre, as a spiritual backing in prayer and testimony for the Centre’s larger work, and as a provision for more than locally-resident worshippers.
Because the Trust’s interests majored in this way on wider parties and movements, the ’local’ church remained ill-defined. As a matter of agreed principle it had no formal membership and no written constitution. For the next 30 years its ’members’ were content, by prayer, giving and hospitality, to serve the Centre’s overriding world vision and ministry.
With the death of Austin-Sparks in 1971, the Centre's activity was greatly reduced. The Witness and a Testimony magazine was terminated, as well as the printing of books under that imprint. From 1972 to 1987, a similar magazine Toward the Mark, edited by Austin-Sparks colleague Harry Foster, was distributed from the Centre. To this day, a complete archive of Austin-Sparks' publications, magazine, books, and booklets is preserved there by the Witness and a Testimony Literature Trust.
- "A Brief History of Honor Oak," Angus Kinnear, Witness and Testimony Literature Trust, date unknown (Note: Most information in article derives from this book).