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A new chapter

23 August 2013

WHEN Michael Chamberlain, the chairman of the Corporation of The Church House, Westminster, closed the Minute Book at the recent AGM, and handed it to the Secretary, Christopher Palmer (pictured), he remarked that it was the last page of a venerable book that had first been opened on 21 July 1888.

The first page records that the first meeting of the body that was to own and administer the headquarters of the Church of England in London had been held in a marquee in Dean's Yard. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward Benson, in the chair, told the gathering that only the previous evening he had signed the contract for the site of the Church House-to-be, and the meeting took formal possession of it. There was opposition to the expense of it all, and funds were hard to come by.

The first Church House was partially built, but by 1930 the Corporation decided that it was so unsatisfactory that it would be demolished and rebuilt. And so it was. The present building was completed just in time to give hospitality to both Houses of Parliament when their own premises were bombed in the Blitz.

By 1987, the need for refurbishment looked so expensive that the General Synod agreed that its administrative offices should move in with the Church Commissioners on Millbank, and Church House be disposed of - only to have its mind changed at the next session.

Substantial works followed, plus the setting up of the award-winning Church House Conference Centre to provide a useful income to subsidise the running of the House. In the past year, the Corporation has got off to another fresh start with its new Secretary, Mr Palmer, who flew Royal Navy helicopters in the Falklands War, and finished up as Commodore and CO of the Royal Naval Air Station at Yeovilton.

Now it is time to open a new Minute Book, and who knows about the future?

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