The Nikaean Club Collection

The Nikaean Club archive has recently been catalogued and made available for viewing at Lambeth Palace Library. The papers, which date from the Club’s foundation in 1926 until 2008, largely consist of event organisation, alongside AGM and committee minutes.

In 1925, a service was held at Westminster Abbey to commemorate the 1600th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, followed by a banquet attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, various members of the Orthodox churches, including the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem, and the Reverend John Douglas.

Group photograph from the original Nikaean service at Westminster Abbey in 1925, including Archbishop Davidson, John Douglas, visiting clergy and Westminster choirboys
Group photograph from the original Nikaean service at Westminster Abbey in 1925, including Archbishop Davidson, John Douglas, visiting clergy and Westminster choirboys [NC/5]

John Douglas was a major figure in ecumenical relations with the Orthodox churches, and it was through him that the Nikaean Club was founded. The Club’s purpose was to provide entertainment to foreign guests of the Archbishop in the form of a banquet or reception.

Originally, Club membership was by invitation only, and, although the Club had a President and a Committee, it was very much run by Douglas, the Entertainment Officer. It operated separately to the Council on Foreign Relations, which was founded in 1933, even though Douglas was Secretary for the CFR. For Douglas, the fact that the Club was separated from the official organisation of the Archbishop of Canterbury was its strength. It was a social club. He also cofounded the Society of the Faith alongside his brother, Charles Douglas, which was used to help fund the Nikaean Club events.

The Nikaean Club endured throughout the Second World War with the Club still managing to hold sandwich lunches for guests despite rationing. One file of documents reveals how hard Canon Douglas fought for the Club to be exempt from rationing but, unfortunately for him, the Ministry of Food disagreed with his argument that the Nikaean Club was more than a social club, and vital to relations between churches.

However, it was after the War that difficulties began to arise. At this time, the Committee started minuting their meetings, adding an air of officiality to proceedings. The costs of running the receptions so regularly had become too high, and a subscribed membership was introduced. There was also a call for a more structured approach to the running of the Club, so that officers were better in control of finances. However, Douglas, as a Club’s founder and Entertainment Officer, still had a large amount of influence in the group. He argued that the casual nature of the Club was why it worked. Other members of the Committee argued that the Club needed more structure, otherwise financially it would not be able to continue operating.

In 1948, at the age of 80, Douglas finally decided to resign from his position in the Committee. This did not appear to happen on good terms, as a book that was given to him as a retirement gift was quickly donated to Lambeth Palace Library. Fortunately, his relationship with the Club grew more cordial again before he died in 1956.

Most of the Nikaean Club’s archive relates to the many dinners and receptions they enjoyed over the years. As well as an annual dinner, they held an annual lecture and Eucharist, whilst also holding special receptions for guests of the Archbishop. Whilst most of the events took place in London, there was also an annual dinner in York to coincide with the beginning of the General Synod. The Nikaean Club also holds a commemorative dinner for the enthronement and retirement of each Archbishop of Canterbury.

Archbishop Ramsey’s retirement dinner [NC5]
Archbishop Ramsey’s retirement dinner [NC5]

The collection demonstrates the relationships between the Church of England and other churches around the world and how international politics affected those relationships. The collections also includes correspondence by John Douglas and other prominent members of the Club.

Further Reading

Huelin, Gordon, The Nikaean Club 1926-1986 : a history of these years, given by the Reverend Dr. Gordon Huelin at the Annual General Meeting of the Club held at Lambeth Palace, 10 March 1986 (1986)

Hough, Brenda, Times past : Notes towards a history of the Nikaean Club (London : Church House Publishing for the Nikaean Club, 2001)