History of American International Church

Our history begins with members of the U.S. military gathering to worship at Grosvenor Chapel during the Second World War led by U.S. Navy chaplains. After the war, the congregation grew from the ranks of State Department and Defense Department families while still relying on military chaplains for leadership.

In 1969, the church launched independent of that support, enacting by-laws as the American Church in London and calling its first settled minister, Rev. William Schotanus. After worshipping in several different church buildings, the American Church landed at the Whitefield Memorial Church on Tottenham Court Road in 1972, where we have been ever since. In the mid-1990s, we formally joined the United Reformed Church, who own building.

In 1986, the church launched The Soup Kitchen, serving a hot meal to people in need. Still housed in the church, The Soup Kitchen now serves meals six days a week. Our community outreach has expanded to include a seasonal night shelter staffed by volunteers from the congregation in partnership with C4WS Homeless Project.

In the new century, our congregation has become more international, bringing together people from every continent who share a desire to unite as one Body of Christ. In 2012, the congregation voted to change our name to the American International Church to reflect the broad range of our membership and engage people from across London and across the world. In 2022, we adopted our new welcome statement and registered for same sex and opposite sex weddings, as a clear sign of inclusion to the LBGTQ+ community.

History of Whitefield’s Tottenham Court Road Chapel

Evangelist George Whitefield founded a chapel in Tottenham Court Road in 1756, having been driven from his chapel in Long Acre by the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Whitefield, a contemporary of John and Charles Wesley, was renowned for drawing crowds of thousands when preaching in open fields and for his many missionary tours of the British colonies in America. Whitefield was the first Anglo-American celebrity, preaching the grace of Jesus Christ for all people.

Unfortunately, Whitefield’s legacy is marred by his complicated history with enslaved people. In 1739, Whitefield published a ground-breaking open letter condemning slave owners for their cruelty, and he offered baptism, scriptural study and pastoral counsel to enslaved people, a radical act at the time. However, Whitefield did not reject slavery as an institution. In later years, he advocated for the use of slave labour at the orphanage in Georgia, never understanding that his theological claim that all people are children of God free to be baptized also means that all should be free from slavery.

In 1857, the chapel was nearly wholly destroyed by fire, and the London Congregational Society erected a new building. The building was then taken down again and rebuilt as Whitefield’s Tabernacle or Whitefield’s Central Mission in 1899. During this time, it served as a model of the institutional church movement.

This Victorian church was almost completely destroyed by the last V-2 rocket to fall on London on Palm Sunday, 25 March 1945. After a long campaign to rebuild the church, the current (fourth) building was opened in 1958 with a footprint similar to the previous church.

The Whitefield congregation, part of the United Reformed Church, disbanded in the late 1970s, and the American Church has been the main occupant ever since.

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