A History of Preaching
F. R. Webber

It is difficult to know whether to name Alexander Fletcher among the Scottish preachers or those of England. He was born in Bridge of Teith, Scotland, where his father was clergyman. He was educated in the grammar school at Doune, Stirling. In 1798, when but 11 years of age, he entered Glasgow College, and in 1802, when but 15, he entered the theological hall. In 1806 he united with the Associate Synod, and because of his youth he acted for four or five years as assistant to his father at Bridge of Teith.

In 1811 he was called to Miles Lane Chapel, a well-known Nonconformist congregation in London. The group was small and the salary meagre, but Fletcher's preaching soon drew a congregation that overflowed the little chapel. A large chapel was built in the street known as London Wall. This Albion Chapel, as it was called, soon became crowded. In was built in 1816, but in less than ten years it was found quite inadequate, and a large church was built in Finsbury Circus. In London Alexander Fletcher quickly gained fame as a preacher of extraordinary appeal. He had trained himself to express weighty truths in simple, clear language, which even the uneducated could understand without effort. He was one of the most successful children's preachers of his generation. His special sermons for children became extremely popular, and often drew a many as 3,000.

During the second quarter of the nineteenth century, Finsbury Chapel was called the Nonconformist Cathedral of London. To a large proportion of the children of London it was known as Fletcher's Chapel, and they looked upon him as the children's pastor.

The interior of the chapel was unusual, for it was in the form of an elongated octagon, with radiating aisles, a sloping floor and two galleries running around the building. Dr. Fletcher anticipated the old-fashioned American "theatre-plan" church by more than 40 years. Writers of that period describe the Sunday mornings in Finsbury Circus in picturesque language: whole regiments of children converging from every direction, some of them in charge of Sunday-school teachers, and even entire Sunday-schools headed by their superintendents. As the hour of 11 approaches the circular area is packed with children, and all are trying to crowd into the short street just off the Circus, where stands Finsbury Chapel. Inside the large church every seat on the main floor is filled, and the two horseshoe galleries are filled. Dr. Fletcher comes in. He is a tall, stout man, with grey hair and beard, and his accent betrays his North Country origin.

Even in his early days in the little Miles Lane Chapel, Dr. Fletcher had declared that children cannot be drawn to a church or chapel if the sermons are expressed in weighty, theological language. He studied the art of expressing evangelical truth in the simplest of language. He visited the playgrounds of the children, made friends with them, and studied their expressions and their mental processes. With a few children gathered around him in a side street or on a playground, he would tell them Bible stories, striving to use words and illustrations that they could grasp without difficulty. In this way he learned to preach the celebrated sermons that drew children by the thousands from all over the Greater London area.

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