The First Hundred Years Extract

Extract from Hubert Smith's book on the history of Christ Church

For many people in Rayleigh, Christ Church has become known simply as "the church on the hill", because of its position on the main road leading down from the High Street to the railway station. They are not always fully aware of its correct name - in fact, they frequently refer to it by the name of the adjoining building - Caley Hall. However, the church itself was built several years before the hall. It began as the spiritual home of a small group of Baptists, who had separated from the Pilkington Memorial church in the High Road after an internal dispute, and erected their own place of worship on Crown Hill, which was at that time little more than a lane. They called it "Rayleigh Tabernacle", and that name can still be seen high up on the front wall. The foundation stones were laid in 1898, inscribed with impressive Hebrew texts taken from the Old Testament, all proclaiming confidence in the power of God to support and provide for their cause:

Jehovah Jireh "The Lord will provide"
Jehovah Nissi "The Lord has promised"
Jehovah Tsidkenu "The Lord is our Righteousness"
Jehovah Shammar "The Lord is there"

The original building, erected at a cost of £1,800, was a simple and very plain rectangular construction, with a central main door facing the road. Inside, sunk into the floor, was a large tiled font (baptistery), designed to accommodate the practice of baptising adult believers by total immersion. That original baptistery has long since become derelict, and is now covered up beneath a platform, but it still remains as a hidden reminder of the church's beginnings.

Things did not go well for the members of the Tabernacle, and after only a relatively short time they were forced to disband because of serious financial difficulties. A small group continued to worship there, no longer as a Baptist church, but instead following the Countess of Huntingdon's tradition, a movement which had originated in the late eighteenth century and had links with both Methodism and Congregationalism. Many of the original Countess of Huntingdon chapels later joined the Congregational Union, and today there are just over twenty remaining in England, with a small number in Sierra Leone. Until relatively recently there was one still in Rayleigh, and its former pastor, the late Mr. Albert Syrett, became a member of Christ Church in September 1977.

The Tabernacle's premises were repossessed by the builder, Mr. Edward Watts, and an offer was made to him to purchase the building for business purposes, but he had a different plan in mind. He was one of several people who had been looking to establish a new Independent or Free church in Rayleigh, and on 15th December 1909 a group of men, including Mr. Watts himself and a few others from the ill-fated Tabernacle, met together in the vestry to discuss the possibilities……