Historic UK Church to Remain House of Worship

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LONDON -- More and more historic British churches are being sold and converted into office buildings and hotels. But some are fighting the trend.

A London planning commission recently ruled that a London developer cannot turn St. Marks Church into a women's wellness center.

The old Anglican church has been a battleground between those who think it should remain a place of worship and the Church of England.

A Rich History

In the 1800s, St. Marks church, located in the Mayfair district on London's West End, echoed the sermons of some of Britain's great preachers. It was also the church where Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower and his staff worshipped during World War II.

The church building was abandoned in the 1970's and left to decay for two decades before an international congregation led by Rod and Julie Anderson discovered it as they walked down the street.

"We had a prayer meeting 17 years ago, walked out on the street and I said 'What's the matter with that building. Why can't we have church there?'" Julie said. "And through a series of amazing events, God opened up the door all those years ago."

"[I] got the doors opened and walked inside of this beautiful, beautiful church to find all of the pews pushed to the side and literally two inches of pigeon droppings in this entire church," Rod added.

"Through a series of amazing events, God opened up the door all those years ago," Julie said.

Commonwealth Church became a vital part of Mayfair, meeting the needs of the poor and elderly.

The Battle for St. Marks Begins

However in 2008, the Commonwealth Church was evicted from by the Church of England, so that the building could be sold to raise cash.

A fence was put up shortly after Commonwealth was evicted. It was intended to keep out the homeless, the very people Commonwealth was trying to serve.

The congregation now worships in a hotel convention center and is thriving there. The Mayfair community has rallied behind them, creating a public campaign to fight the sale of St. Marks.

Kirk Mitchell, who said he is not a Christian, headed the effort.

"For 14 years, the Commonwealth Christian Fellowship has been interacting with our local community in ways of practical assistance, in ways of spiritual assistance," Mitchell said. "There is not another church in Mayfair that reaches out to the community and offers the kind of practical assistance that's ever been offered to them before."

The developer who wanted to buy St. Marks had already turned one historic London church, Holy Trinity, into a so-called "events center" where a recent art exhibition featured Christ in an electric chair, a gorilla on the cross and the levitating head of John the Baptist.

And a few months ago, after the church was fenced in to keep out the poor, it was opened up to the wealthy for a fashion show.

Church of England 'Sent a Terrible Message'

Mitchell says the Church of England has sent a terrible message to the poor and elderly in the Mayfair community.

"What's striking and ironic, it would appear that as a Christian organization they're telling the local community, 'Actually we don't want to serve you,'" Mitchell said. "'Go and find another church,' or even another faith, in the extreme view."

Rod says the Church of England continues to sell off buildings to developers at a time when many British congregations need a building to worship in.

Everywhere you go in this nation there are literally hundreds and hundreds of incredibly anointed men and women who have no place to meet," Rod said. "And the thought that they continue to sell these buildings off to people for strictly commercial situations is so 'anti-Christ,' it's unbelievable."

One Web site shows a number of converted churches that are up for sale in the UK. For instance, the site shows an old Scottish church that is now a bed and breakfast.

Ruling: St. Marks to Remain House of Worship

In December, London city officials stepped in and decided St. Marks would remain a church. It may not be returned to Commonwealth, but the Andersons say the important thing is that St. Marks remains a place of worship.

"This church literally soaks up worship and praise," Rod said.

Julie added, "God's here in this building. And we are being contended for by all manner of darkness. God has kept this since the 1800s."

"The purpose of this building?" she said. "It's a holy house of prayer to His glory in London. There's a restrictive covenant that says this shall be a place of worship forever. What do we not understand about forever?

*Originally published February 5, 2010.

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