THIS PAGE WAS PRINTED FROM THE TOUCH 2000 HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN TONBRIDGE WEBSITE
PLEASE VISIT http://history.touch2000.org.uk
For some time prior to 1866, a small group of people who worshipped at the Independent Church found that the practice of baptism of infants (similar in principle to a "christening" ceremony) did not go along with their beliefs. As a result, they broke away and began holding their own meetings in an upper room at the Town Hall and in 1868 they formed their own church. On 8th April that year, the Baptist Congregational Church was founded and the Rev. J Turner was invited to become their minister.
It was in that same year that 29-year-old Frank East moved into Tonbridge and bought a store in the High Street. He became trustee and Deacon of the Baptist Church and was Superintendent of the Sunday School for 35 years. In 1872, the Baptists were able to build a new church in the High Street. Their first service was held on Good Friday of that year. The work of building the church was undertaken by Messrs. Powell and Everest of Tonbridge. The expected cost of £1,500 for the building work was raised by fund-raising activities which included a bazaar and a concert.
The new church (below left), which was built in a Gothic style, could seat 400 people. It had a gallery at its east end and also had gas lighting. Heating was probably installed around the turn of the century. When the first service of full-immersion baptism was held on 8th May 1872, the church was filled with people who witnessed this unusual sight. At this service, 31 people were baptised.
Pictures of old Tonbridge Baptist Church © Courier Newspapers
In 1968, severe flooding occurred in the Tonbridge area, which badly affected the High Street including the Baptist Church building. Although the building had been damaged, services continued to be held there until 20 September 1970. A new site was found in Darenth Avenue on the Longmead Estate in the north of the town, and this is still the home of Tonbridge Baptist Church today.
A brand-new building was constructed in Darenth Avenue (see below) and the first service was held there on 20 September 1973, some three years after the old church was closed. During this time, services were held at Longmead School on Sundays and Douglas Road Evangelical Church during the week. Various other churches also allowed their premises to be used for the church's other activities during that period. The old building in the High Street was demolished (above right) and the site redeveloped; it is currently occupied by the Somerfield supermarket.
Youth work, such as the Boys' Brigade and Girls' Brigade, continues to expand today. A relatively new venture is "CTBC", a club that meets on Saturday mornings for children aged 5–11, and is primarily aimed at kids from the local estate who do not normally attend the church. There are also a number of other youth groups that meet on Sundays, including a monthly evening youth service, 15 'cell' groups meet weekly, and the church organises an annual week-long camp during the summer holidays for around a hundred 11–18 year olds. In early 2004, it was estimated that around 130 adults help or lead children's and youth work, and over 400 under-18s attend at least one of the activities.
The church is also a strong supporter of mission work, and many members of the church have been involved in the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) organisation.
Tonbridge Baptist Church started its major "Foundations for the Future" extension and refurbishment project in August 2001. More than £1.5 million has been raised to allow the church to improve its facilities for its 500 members, as well as for a similar number from the local community who attend one of the twenty clubs or groups that meet there. The largest parts of the work comprise construction of a new two-storey youth annexe, and a complete revamp (and rotation!) of the main sanctuary, including a new baptistry. The reception area and main entrance to the church have also been moved to face the neighbouring Longmead housing estate that the church particularly seeks to serve.
UPDATED! The first services were held in the refurbished sanctuary (right) on Sunday 9 June 2002 and the final phase of the work was completed in September 2002. A weekend of celebration and thanksgiving events was held on 14/15 September to allow the members and especially the local community to see the work that has been carried out.
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