Back to our roots
The History of ICF begins on the great construction sites of Britain’s canals, reservoirs and railways. These were not only feats of engineering but also of physical labour, as tons of earth and rubble were shifted by the armies of navvy workers. These migrant labourers formed their own communities and in 1877 the Navvy Mission was founded to cater for their spiritual needs. The Mission became a key feature of Navvy communities and was active not only in providing for various social and physical needs, but also acting as an advocate for a sector of society that were often marginalised and scorned.
Changing needs and Changing Times
After the great war, various social and technological changes resulted in a significant decline in Navvy communities and in 1919 the mission combined with the Christian Social Union to form Industrial Christian Fellowship. This early banner says much about its roots and underlying philosophy. The declaration “Christ the Lord of all life” reflects a desire to help Christians relate the faith that they celebrated on Sunday to their everyday working lives in factories, shipyards, mines, railways and offices. Resemblent of a trade Union banner, this reflects a grassroots movement of ordinary Christians, recognising that sharing Christian faith is not simply the task of clergy
An important figure in ICF’s history is Revd. Geoffery Studdert Kennedy, better known to the world as “Woodbine Willy”. A a child he was no stranger to urban poverty and became a passionate advocate of social justice and a prophetic voice in the early part of the 20th century. After the war the popular army chaplain, decorated for his bravery in venturing into no-mans land to bring comfort and solace to the dying, became a popular public speaker. His appointment as missioner for ICF released him from routine clerical duties to become an outspoken advocate for the working classes. One of his celebrated quotes was:
“If finding God in our churches leads to us losing Him in our factories, then better we tear down those churches for God must hate the sight of them.”
ICF might not choose to express its vision in quite such outspoken terms today, but we remain committed to promoting that “market place Christianity” which was such a hallmark of Kennedy’s life