Make or break for Hampstead church with congregation of eight

A Hampstead minister has admitted it is “make or break time” for his historic church - which has one of the smallest congregations in the capital.

By rights Heath Street Baptist Church should already be up for sale, with the once-mighty flock of 800 reduced to a paltry eight at Sunday services.

The deeds to the 1861 building state the premises should be sold if fewer than 12 people took communion three times in a row and the proceeds handed back to the London Baptist Association.

In centuries gone by believers from across London would pack into the cavernous church to listen to leading thinkers preach from the grand pulpit and the impressive choir, which filled the stalls on the second floor.

But minister Ewan King, 32, admits that “nobody has a taste for sermons these days” and compares his position to that of a football club manager “clinging on to the lower reaches of the third division”.

“If there are a dozen of you rattling around in an enormous building it feels wrong,” said Mr King, who chooses to deliver his sermons from the church floor rather than the raised pulpit.

“Physically the space is too big for the congregation to look after, it feels empty when you are all there, environmentally we are heating a massive barn of a place for people who could equally meet in a single room.

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“Long-term if the church does not grow numerically from its present state then it’s probably irresponsible of us to stay where we are.”

But the minister is determined to reverse the church’s recent misfortunes, embarking on a series of projects to get people back through the door.

An art instillation, featuring hoax letters from Joe Orton to a past minister, saw almost 1,000 people cross the threshold.

A new free nursery club is also expected to draw a crowd from further afield and Mr King is using his piano-playing skills to jazz up his Sunday services.

The Cambridge-educated minister hopes to draw on the church’s history to inspire a revival.

“I took this on because I had a feeling that some of the embers of history are still glowing,” he said.

“If the church were to close it would be a lasting source of regret for the congregation but it would also be the extinguishing of a candle in this place that would be irreplaceable.”