Founded in 1898 by members of the Church of England as The Churchmen's Union for the Advancement of Liberal Religious Thought, it was part of the modernist movement that defended biblical scholarship and new scientific findings – especially evolution – against fundamentalism. By 1902 when objects were finally agreed, the name had become The Churchmen's Union. This was changed to The Modern Churchmen's Union in 1928, The Modern Churchpeople's Union in 1986, and Modern Church in 2010.
Also in 2010 a new constitution was adopted. Objects remained unchanged from those in place in 1986 but procedures for electing trustees were revised and management responsibilities clarified.
In the years following its formation 'the Union' established a journal and an annual conference. The first issue of The Modern Churchman was published in 1911, edited by Henry D. A. Major. Major continued as editor until 1956 and was considered the moving spirit of the organisation until his death in 1961. The journal, renamed Modern Believing in 1996, is published quarterly and indexed in the ATLA Religion Database.
Conferences began in 1914. With the exception of the war years these have remained a significant annual event for members. The 1921 conference 'Christ and the Creeds' caused controversy in the national media over the range of views expressed. This was a factor in the creation by the Church of England of a Doctrine Commission in 1922 to investigate and in 1938 report that such views were compatible with Christian faith. The 1967 conference 'Christ for us today' organised by Norman Pittenger was as controversial as 1921, but times had changed and it was regarded as "less earthshaking". In 2008 the 'Saving the soul of Anglicanism' conference chaired by the Archbishop of Wales included the Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson as a speaker shortly before the Lambeth Conference to which he had not been invited.
At the end of April 2011 Modern Church had 520 members.
- Registered charity no. 281573
- The Church Gazette, 4 November 1899
- Lambeth Palace Library archives
- See charity framework
- Pearson, Clive R. 'Major, Henry Dewsbury Alves 1871 - 1961'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
- A. M. G. Stephenson, The Rise and Decline of English Modernism (London, SPCK, 1984)
- Annual Report published 2011