How we got here
We are part of the United Reformed Church which has brought together English Presbyterians, English, Welsh and Scottish Congregationalists and members of the Churches of Christ, through unions in 1972, 1981 and 2000. There are over 100,000 members in the United Kingdom made up of 1600 congregations with nearly 800 ministers, paid and unpaid. Worldwide over 70 million Christians are members of the Reformed family of churches.
The United Reformed Church continues its commitment to the Reformed tradition with a passionate belief that all God’s people should be one. It seeks to work with Christians of all traditions and rejoices in being part of more than 400 Local Ecumenical Partnerships.
The church here in Newport Pagnell was founded in 1660 by Rev. John Gibbs following his ejection as Vicar of the Parish Church for refusing Holy Communion to certain undesirables. His preaching did not accord with the new order of the time and together with a number of parishioners who agreed with his views he started meeting in a barn which was situated at the back of the current church site. The new church was founded on “Congregational” principles and a beam from the barn can be seen in the remains of the chapel which was demolished to make way for the current church building.
The founding of this church in 1660 predates almost all “Congregational” churches, the majority of which began to develop from 1662.
John Gibbs, a close friend and advisor of John Bunyan, was at the forefront of the social upheaval of the mid 17th century and influential in dissenting church circles. He was imprisoned on several occasions and continued his ministry in the town until his death in 1699.
One of the other key figures in the history of our church was Rev William Bull who was ordained minister in 1764. Together with his son Thomas Palmer Bull and his grandson Josiah Bull their ministry to the town spanned 105 years. In 1782 William Bull founded the Newport Pagnell Theological College, also known as the Academy. When it closed in 1859 it had trained over 100 ministers for the wider church. The remaining students and funds were transferred to Cheshunt College and later Westminster College Cambridge. William Bull was a great friend of the hymn writer John Newton, curate of Olney, and the poet William Cowper.
The first purpose built chapel on the site was built in 1702 and alterations and extensions were made many times as the congregation grew. The current church building was constructed in 1881 and the architect was John Sulman (later Sir John) who emigrated to Sydney in 1885 and became Australia’s foremost architect. Apart from restoration work associated with a fire in the roof in 1979, the building remained largely unchanged until January 2006 when a major redevelopment of the building began. The redevelopment, which cost over £300,000, was aimed at equipping the building for the church’s mission in the 21st century. Funds for the redevelopment have been raised mainly by the congregation and the finished building is already much in demand.
The redevelopment has been the springboard for the next stage in the life of our church as we seek, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to deliver our recently expressed mission for our church in the 21st century which is to be:
“In the centre of the town - at the heart of our community”
Whilst being conscious of the rich heritage which this church has, we seek to recall it not as a piece of sentimental history but as a spur to continue the great work which has been done in God’s name thus far and which we are challenged to continue in the years ahead if we are truly to be a community church in the 21st century.