RELIGION AND THE PEOPLE
In 1900, many of Dartford's residents had close links with one or other of the wide range of religious denominations represented in the town. Church-going on a Sunday was still common among the middle classes. Many children of all social classes attended a local Sunday School. The Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Methodist Church played a direct role in the provision of education by establishing denominational schools in the town.
Churches also undertook a considerable amount of charitable and welfare work in the town, provided a venue for social and community activities and spiritual comfort in times of national crisis. National days of prayer were particularly well supported during the First and Second World Wars. Sunday was generally regarded as a day of rest. All shops closed on Sundays and, at least in the early years of the century, it was forbidden to play organised games in Dartford's parks on the Sabbath (Sunday).
The role of the Church in the local community diminished considerably after the Second World War. People attended church less regularly and fewer town residents claimed links with any religious denomination. Sunday became a day for family recreation and enjoyment rather than a day for attending church. The increasing ownership of cars by ordinary people meant that many families could escape to the country or the coast on a Sunday.
The marginalisation of Christianity at a national level produced a secular society with secular ideas. By the end of the twentieth century, most people had no specific religious beliefs and therefore regarded Sunday as just another day. New Age beliefs, agnosticism and atheism challenged traditional religious beliefs. Many of the town's shops opened on Sundays during the 1990s. Most local sporting and social events were also held on a Sunday, providing all sorts of distractions as an alternative to church attendance.
THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN 20TH CENTURY DARTFORD
Faced with the increasing secularisation of society, the churches in Dartford struggled hard to maintain a Christian witness in the town. The minority who still attended mainstream churches showed a greater commitment to their faith and got involved in planting new churches in areas that had no church, initiating outreach projects in the local community, spreading belief by the introduction of Alpha courses for curious non-believers, and showing faith in action.
Tent missions were held in Dartford during the early decades of the century aimed at bringing the Christian message to the poorer and needy parts of town. New churches were established close to the town centre and in the middle of the new housing estates which sprung-up around Dartford, particularly after the Second World War. The 1980s and 1990s saw the evolution of new kinds of evangelical charismatic churches that met in school and community halls. These lively churches, such as Dartford Christian Fellowship (founded in 1986), were particularly attractive to younger people. Their emphasis on personal commitment and joyful dynamic worship with modern music offered an alternative to traditional liturgical services.
It would appear that Highfield Road Baptist Church was the first church in Dartford to have a service broadcast live on national television. The church celebrated its Centenary in 1968 by organising a special Thanksgiving Service broadcast live by the ATV network. The service was conducted by Re. Dr. J. Ithel Jones, President of the Baptist Union.
On occasions, Dartford's churches had to be bold in confronting the local authorities over issues that they regarded as contrary to the ethics of the Christian faith. Members of the Salvation Army were imprisoned for breaking a local bye law which made it impossible for open-air services to be held in Dartford High Street. In March 1946, the Dartford Free Church Federal Council asked the council to reverse their resolution authorising the playing of games in parks on Sundays - they were unsuccessful. Local Christians also lobbied against reputedly blasphemous films and plays being shown in town, and against Sunday trading.
Holy Trinity Church in Dartford High Street continued to play an important and highly visible role in the spiritual life of the town, hosting civic services, organising special services in times of acute national crisis and keeping its doors open for the passing public. The complete restoration and redecoration of the interior of the church in the 1990s gave the church the opportunity to expand its facilities including the creation of an Internet Café.
The twentieth century also saw the establishment of other denominations
and faiths in the town including Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians,
Brethren, and a temple used by the local Asian community.
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