The church was made by W. Browne of Messrs Tupper and Co. (formerly Tupper and Carr) of Moorgate Street. From the 1860s Tupper & Co. iron church and house builders, were among the leaders in the field of iron churches. Tuppers and Co .may have provided the physical foundations but the church’s spiritual base was laid down by Reverend Thomas Udall. By 1871 worshippers describe themselves as Congregationalists rather than Presbyterians. Under the leadership of Reverend Thomas Udall the church had its most successful period for thirty one years, the congregation grew from 50 to a 300 membered Sunday school, hosting 250 members of the Temperance League and listed 520 members of a Social Guild. After 1909 Revd Thomas Udall died but despite the church suffering from roof leaks and hygiene problems the congregation continued but inevitably dwindled. In 1971 the congregation merged with Trinity Chapel on Lauriston Road. That same year the Sight of Eternal Life Church took ownership of the church. Despite Adam Mornement and Simon Holloway’s excellent study dispelling some of my made up myths it lacks a contemporary depiction of the current congregation and a commentary on the present state of the building’s interior. The interior and the congregation did not disappoint in surpassing my vivid imagination yet they inspired new fantasies due to their quirky and strange atmosphere.
The Sight of Eternal Life Church’s most ecclesiastical features are its 48 feet high belfry and the pointed Gothic style windows; these are the only characteristics that move the corrugated iron shed towards a more spiritual shape. Inside the structure of this giant shed the congregation have compensated for its lack of Christian iconography with an amazing array of religious treasures from across the ages. The corrugated iron has a wooden interior painted white but peeling, wood had never seemed so rustic. The church was populated with dark varnished wooden pews separated into three rows all pointing towards the church’s main central attraction, its giant broken organ. Positioned behind the altar, the large pipes of the 19th Century organ loomed over the congregation. Unheard but seen by all who entered the nave, the organ’s sheer stature means it must have been constructed within the church. Decorated with rows of synthetic flowers bunched in baskets across the organs skirting, the central platform is home to two rotating tinselled mini crucifixes, one red and another white, placed on either side of a draped flag of a white crucifix on a red background. The juxtaposition of the tasteful wooden furnishings and the plastic robotic crucifixes marked two very distinct ages brought together through a love of god. The church’s grandeur lacked a cohesive style so that its adornments could never be perceived as vain. The empty wooden pews had to their front right empty rows of chairs for an absent choir and to their left was a large blanket covering an assortment of disused instruments, drum kit, guitar, electric organ peeking out from their cover. The massive collection of material objects compensated for the church’s small but most prized asset, its congregation.
The congregation fitted the building perfectly, like its material content they were all unique, antique treasures. I attempted to unlock the church’s recent history of the last 40 years but was greeted by answers that merely put all developments down to the glory of God. It was like the congregation were shushing me with praise the lords and hallelujah every time I asked a leading question. The congregation seemed happy to wrap themselves up in the mystery of God and not be interested in their own history but instead celebrate their own spiritual salvation in the present and eagerly wait for the salvation of the future. Maybe if I had been forceful in my questioning I could have gathered some recent local history but like the congregation I enjoyed a good mystery. The congregation contributed to my own personal mystery creating an atmosphere and community that seemed so separate and unique that it could not exist outside these corrugated iron walls
The Sight of Eternal Life Church / The Shrubland Road Church is a listed building due to its great history but the members of the congregation cannot be there forever despite their church’s name. The apocalyptic service implied that all the members are aware that their mortality and that their own day of judgement is not far away. But where does that leave the church? Surely the church will need to find some new owners. The new owners will have to understand the church’s great history but also realise that the church’s strange and stunning architectural power comes from not just celebrating God but also inspiring mystery.