The John Bunyan Baptist Church started in March 1882, as a split from Union Street Baptist Church in Kingston, and will close on the 23rd July 2017.
The history of the church in many ways follows the pattern of so many until 1967. It was housed in an enormous Victorian Building designed for a congregation of hundreds, and for a period it attracted large congregations with great optimism for its future. As a footnote in its early days there was an awareness of drug issues, with the establishment of the anticigarette league in the early 20th Century. http://www.jbckingston.org.uk/history.htm
In 1967 Eric Blakebrough arrived to a church in serious decline, with a small and dwindling congregation. The building was also in serious decline, with no ability to renovate it. The church asked Eric to be their Minister – not to lead any ambitious Evangelical mission but to serve the needs of its community. Out of this, Kaleidoscope was born. The Kaleidoscope was a night club and from this was able to provide services to young people aimed at their needs rather than seeking to tell people the good news of the Gospel.
The church lent its buildings for the club, and its on-site manse for a hostel. The building was once more used by hundreds of people. The church grew but was never going to need such a large worship area, therefore, the needs of the church and the Kaleidoscope meant ambitious plans for a redevelopment of the site.
The John Bunyan Baptist Church had undergone huge change, not least in its congregation, who attended in large part because of the mission of the church. They were not however Baptists and thus the church theology and practices moved to become very ecumenical.
Eric Blakebrough describes the new church in ‘Called to be Giants’ – “The modern chapel has an irregular 8 sided shape. The congregation faces a central communion table, which stands beneath the cruciform, concrete ceiling. The lighting is designed to emphasise further the central place of the Eucharist in the life of this congregation. The pinewood furniture was constructed out of the wood from the old church. Two of the vertical windows are stained glass with abstract design commemorating the life of John Bunyan” (p120).
The centrality of the Eucharist (normally called Communion in Baptist Churches) was what set John Bunyan apart from the Baptist family. The Eucharist was celebrated 4 days a week, rather than the once a month of Baptist Churches. The importance of this was kept at the heart of the church and indeed Kaleidoscope, that we not only shared in the pain and brokenness of others, we had a duty to respond because Jesus acted by even sacrificing himself to show Gods love.
“The Eucharist is something we are commanded to do together: to reproduce Christ’s fourfold action of taking the bread, thanksgiving, breaking and sharing. In this way we share in the work of Christ who consecrated himself to God’s will, accepted his sacrificial role, gave himself to others and entered into covenant with all those present…. the invocation of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic prayer is vital. In this way it is possible for us to speak of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist” (p123).
The Kaleidoscope has continued to develop its services and in many ways the mission overtook the life of the church. In Kingston the hostel grew and staff that used to live in moved to their own accommodation. A significant number of live in staff and volunteers contributed to church life and this came to an end, but probably the most notable change was Kaleidoscope establishing itself in Wales. It was at this point Kaleidoscope formally separated from the church and became an Independent Charity. The Minister of the Church no longer was the Director of Kaleidoscope either, creating an even more apparent divide.
The church of course continued and kept a link with Kaleidoscope, as well as been a big supporter of local and overseas work. However, it struggled to attract enough members who could ensure the church remained a vibrant presence in Kingston, and although financially viable, felt it did not have a congregation to take it forward. Its closure is also one with a commitment to supporting vulnerable people because of Kaleidoscopes Housing Association and Projects desire to re-develop the site to create a purpose built residential service for those suffering from mental health and substance issues.
Rev. Ken Walker has led the church in difficult times, but has always believed in a mission to vulnerable people. He served the Kaleidoscope Board and has presided over a church that still supports a number of organisations by using it buildings for either worship or community service. He, with the congregation, have sought assurances from Kaleidoscope that while discussing a re-development of the site those groups can continue to use the church buildings and we will work with any new developer to ensure community space in the borough in maintained. The church may close but the mission and the spirit of its sacrificial giving will continue for many years to come.
Exerts in relation to the church life and build were taken from; Called to be Giants, Eric Blakebrough, published by Marshall Pickering ,1987.
To end each service people were charged with the words, “Let us go now, we are sent into the world to serve”.