Who was Edward J Poole-Connor?
The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches was formed in November 1922 when ten churches and seven gospel missions met at the YMCA in Aldersgate Street, London.
This article was first published in Indie Issues, November 2021.
The first meeting took place just 100m from where – nearly 200 years before – John Wesley had been converted. The meeting was convened by Edward J Poole-Connor, who became FIEC’s first secretary.
Poole-Connor had been raised in a non-conformist setting, where his father served as a deacon. In his early 20s, he accepted a call to become pastor of Aldershot Baptist Church and was appointed chaplain to the Army’s Baptist soldiers whilst there.
Poole-Connor was taken along to some local Keswick meetings in Guildford which had a profound effect on his Christian life and changed his pastoral outlook.
He had further pastorates in Surbiton and then South Norwood, but it was his time as deputation secretary for North Africa Mission (now part of Arab World Ministries) in 1921 that exposed him to many other independent churches.
He became convinced of the need for active fellowship to mitigate some of the disadvantages of Independency whilst abandoning neither its convictions on church order, nor the many gospel freedoms it conveyed, and south "some association of mutual helpfulness".
Thus was founded the 'Register of Undenominational and Unattached Churches, Missions, Pastors, and Evangelists in Great Britain', later to be known as the 'Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches'.
Before FIEC was founded, pastors of Independent churches were not recognised by the state as ministers of religion "on a level with other accredited ministers" (Evangelical Unity, p185). Amongst other things, the founding of FIEC in 1922 led to many FIEC pastors wearing their dog collars with pride to show their legal status (see picture above).
In his book, Evangelical Unity, Poole-Connor said "cannot incidental weaknesses be eliminated without endangering the essential ideal? We are confined that they can. We go further. We believe that Independent churches enshrine a principle which is capable of operation far beyond their own borders" (p173).
"But the broader ground of appeal outweighs all other considerations. It is that we should help one another to draw nearer, if only by a few steps, to the divine will and to the fulfilment of the heavenly vision" (p188).
100 years and counting
Three of the ten original churches still exist and remain active members of the Fellowship: The Slade Church in Plumstead, Rotherhithe Evangelical Church (both in London) and Surrey Chapel in Norwich.
We asked them why they are still part of FIEC 100 years later:
“We are proud and privileged by God’s grace to be part of FIEC that still supports, stands for, and proclaims the truth of God’s Word. God made us for fellowship with him and with each other. Our family fellowship is a mutual and important source of virile strength and life through the grace and love of the Father in Jesus Christ.” – Pastor Folu Omilaju, Rotherhite Evangelical Church, London
“Isolation is never good for pastors or their churches. The Slad has benefitted greatly from being closely connected to a growing, devoted, and dynamic family. FIE has motivated, resources, and encouraged us during the past 100 years.” – Wes McNabb, The Slade Church, London
“Belonging to FIEC enables us to be part of something far bigger with a national gospel vision. We want to play our role in seeing local Churches reach a lost country with the best news in the world, and being a member both helps with equipping us for that task and connects us with encouraging, gospel-minded, healthy churches.” – Surrey Chapel, Norwich