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October 16, 2023

Christian Union celebrates 100 years of House Parties in inimitable style

The bare facts of the 100 Years celebration can only scratch the surface of the spirit of the occasion. Laughter was the prevailing sound rising up from all conversation as old friendships were rekindled and stories of house party experiences retold.

All agreed that 100 years is far too long to wait to do it all again, and that it’s clear that house parties and the Christian Union have played, and continue to play, a massive role in creating and fostering a sense of fellowship and community at St Paul’s, rooted in a shared exploration of the Christian faith.

The reason for this get together? A Centenary. The first St Paul’s School Christian Union summer house party was held at Ardingly in the summer of 1919 and these house parties have been held every year since, including throughout World War II, at various locations, mostly in the South of England.

When the Covid pandemic hit in 2020, understandably house parties could not be held for two years, and the centenary celebration was postponed for the same reason. And so it was that our centenary service came in October 2023, celebrating 100 years four years late.

And what a celebration it was. Over 200 people, from current pupils and their families to octogenarian Old Paulines who attended their first house party back in the 1950s, took part in the event. The day began with a game of podex (a kind of rounders and cricket hybrid which has been played on house parties throughout their history) for the more athletic, but this was only an appetiser to the main event.

Wathen Hall was packed for the celebration service. We heard an inspiring mix of readings and personal testimonies; we joined in singing much-loved hymns and songs; we were informed and entertained in equal measure by a video from the 2022 summer house party and a wonderful slide-many show with an overview of the past 100 years complete with photos from that first ever house party and documents from wartime house parties; and we listened to an insightful sermon from Richard Atkinson, former house party ‘officer’ and current Bishop of Bedford. He drew on his own experience of attending house parties to encourage us all to continue to ‘aim at the bull’ in all our endeavours.

After the service, we shared a delicious tea and looked over a collection of photographs taken at house parties through the years, showing that while many things have changed considerably over the last century, it seems that a number of house party activities have remained largely constant, and are still enjoyed as much today as they ever were.

The proceedings concluded with a traditional house party ‘sing-song’, with the Dining Hall resounding to the strains of perennial classics such as We Shall Overcome, Jerusalem, Bridge Over Troubled Water and, of course, John Brown’s Body.

Huge thanks to the School for putting their premises at our disposal and to all the staff from the Development Office and the Catering Team who looked after us so well on the day. Chaplain Matthew Knox welcomed everyone to Wathen Hall and continues to give great support to all Christian Union activities, including house parties. Special gratitude is due to Richard Atkinson for his time and wisdom, and to Olly Paish, Ed Fryer, Ali Neilson, Tom Bradley and others who put together such a fantastic collection of photographs and memorabilia for the photographic displays and the amazing slideshow.

See more photo and video highlights here.

Written by John Howard (1971-75)

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