History at 125 years in 2007
The reason for naming the church after the famous dissenter and author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is not known but on
There is no direct link to John Bunyan but there had been a significant event in
It was from this
During the months that followed, Sunday and weeknight services were held regularly at the
With 40 members and a sizeable Sunday School it was decided to seek a minister as this was considered “conducive to the stability of the Church”. The position was advertised in “The Baptist”, but it was locally from Teddington that Rev Joseph Clark of the Metropolitan Tabernacle County Mission offered to serve “at trifling expense”. He was accordingly invited unanimously to become the first pastor commencing his ministry in the month of the chapel opening.
Under Mr Clark’s ministry the church membership grew significantly and by 1889 the existing building was no longer adequate, but a solution was to hand. The adjacent plot on the corner of
The church is built
A Building Committee drew up plans for a new chapel on the corner site. By the time local residents had had their say and difficulties with the local authority’s Improvements Committee had been overcome it would be February 1894 before the opening of the new church. The cost of £2950 had brought its own problems but it was with “heartfelt gratitude to Almighty God for permitting us to be his instruments in raising Bunyan Baptist Tabernacle” that the opening of the church was recorded.
Joseph Clark’s ministry had already ended but his influence had been profound in the early days. It then fell to Rev Douglas Thompson to oversee both the move into the new chapel and the ensuing development of church life which saw membership advance to 240 by his retirement due to ill health in 1897. He was succeeded by the Rev Isaac Stalberg whose twenty year ministry established a pattern that was to continue into living memory.
The founders and early members had included local businesspeople, some names familiar in the town until quite recently, alongside domestic servants and laundry workers. Around 1894 the death of Samuel Collins the first black member is recorded and in 1901 a Russian born gentleman became a member. Membership was not taken lightly. We read that Mr X and Mrs Y were disciplined “for disorderly walking” with Mr X being asked to resign. In 1896 there is reference to a Cricket Club Committee and subsequently the captain of the team was replaced because he was not a member of any church organisation. The deacons are recorded as taking a dim view of the Band of Hope inviting a conjuror to its Winter Treat and asked that “endeavours be made to find some other form of entertainment”.
The heyday of nonconformity
It was during Mr Stalberg’s ministry that many of the hallmark Nonconformist organisations were set up and flourished. Christian Endeavour, Band of Hope, the Mothers’ Meeting, Men’s Meeting, Young Men’s Bible Class and a branch of the Anti-Cigarette League as well as the weeknight services were among the marks of a thriving Free Church in the heyday of Nonconformity. The Sunday School was strong numbering about 300. Church membership remained fairly constant at around 350. As an open membership Baptist church, members included those with other Free Church or indeed Anglican backgrounds alongside those baptised as believers by immersion.
Nor was the church solely inward looking. It gave financial and practical support to a range of causes and took interest in the issues of the day. The Sunday opening of shops, the Education Bill of 1902, atrocities in
The latter years of Mr Stalberg’s ministry were overshadowed by the First World War. Members were called up for military service and a plaque would record those killed, but services and activities appear to have been maintained. However, the stability that the church had provided came to an abrupt end with the sudden death of the long-serving pastor on Christmas Day 1918, and an uncertain period was to follow.
During one of the ministries of this period a controversy led to the resignation of all the deacons. A Board of Management was appointed but some members transferred to the
Although the Second World War affected many of the members personally it does not appear to have disrupted the worship and witness of the church. There were again those called up for military service, among them the organist who lost his life, and another member was killed during an air raid. Having guided the church through this time Mr Stickler moved on to the
The transition from war to peace brought the desire for a return to the ordered and familiar life of earlier times. The church maintained a membership of over 200, a strong Sunday School, Youth Club, Girls’ Life Brigade, and a company of the Boys’ Brigade was added in 1953. A new successful Sunday School was started at the Tudor Hall in north
The times change
But attitudes were changing. Local churches were ceasing to be the lively social centres for Sunday and weekday activities now that people came to have many more leisure options. Theological thinking was trying to adapt to the challenges of a less assured social context. Bunyan ministers were taking account of new trends towards inclusion, and ecumenical and community co-operation. From 1952 women could serve as deacons. The church participated in Kingston Christian Council which introduced a united service and Good Friday procession of witness. From 1954 Tiffin Boys’ School used the church for morning assembly and the halls as classrooms. But the general direction was not encouraging and three of the ministers from the post-war years moved from local church ministry to pursue their calling in the context of education.
The reducing membership was more mobile, less tightly knit, and it was ageing along with the deteriorating church buildings when Rev Eric Blakebrough was invited to become the minister in 1967. Eric, a determined colourful character with radical views and a singular vision was in the next 25 years to bring a remarkable change to the life and mission of the church. Eucharistic worship and an ecumenical style became central to a renewed church life that found a fresh opportunity in the decline of the old structures.
The church had space it could use for community needs that were quickly identified. The Kaleidoscope Youth and Community Project emerged alongside new youth cultures in
The growing needs and reputation of the Project led to a complete redevelopment of the site. The new buildings comprised a modern chapel in the round with a hall above and club below, together with a hostel to accommodate both teenagers in need of support, and the growing staff of volunteers. After the inevitable planning delays the buildings, constructed at a cost of £500,000, were opened by the Speaker of the House of Commons George Thomas in 1977, the church now taking the name
The premises had been designed to enable an open community to form and for some years this operated successfully. Alongside Kaleidoscope’s own life, the hall became for a time home to a playgroup, a ballet school and to annual Hindu celebrations! Recognition of the Project’s contribution to pioneering methadone and needle exchange work among people with heroin problems however brought the need to professionalise, and though the church remained thoroughly bound up with the Project the trend began towards Kaleidoscope becoming an independent charitable company in its own right. This move was hastened when in an exciting development the Project was invited to set up a similar methadone service in Gwent, and the new company would finally come into being on
A further ambitious building scheme has stretched the Project and there is a possibility that some land might be sold off in another redevelopment. Though this would be likely to affect the church it might offer the opportunity of a further new start. Rebuilding on the site or indeed elsewhere in
As it was put at the time of the centenary, “
The church currently values its relationship with the
Queen Elizabeth Road
(entrance up slope in Hardman Road)
Kingston upon Thames