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What is a Congregational Church

Clarendon Park Congregational Church is part of the Congregational Federation.  Congregationalism seeks to model itself upon the principles of the New Testament.  Back in the 16th Century brave men and women took a courageous stand against what was then a largely corrupt State Church.  By becoming a dissenting church the members risked imprisonment and their leaders risked death.  Indeed many did die and whole congregations were cast into prison.  But despite the persecution they grew and spread across Britain becoming at one time the largest Free Church denomination in the UK.

The faith of Congregationalists is fairly orthodox but there are some distinctives about how our congregations are structured and governed:
  • Each local church is autonomous or self governing
  • Our churches are non-hierarchical - everyone is of equal importance regardless of age or gender
  • Our ministers are neither priests nor in authority over the congregation, though they are usually theologically trained
  • Each church is governed or run by its congregation or members who seek to be led by scripture and the Holy Spirit
The sense of mutual respect and mutual accountability resonates with the teaching and example of Jesus.  Historically, Congregational churches have not held to any written man-made code of beliefs, but we accept the Bible as God's Word and look to the Holy Spirit to help us draw truth from its pages.

Long before John and Charles Wesley started writing hymns Isaac Watts and Philip Doddridge (both Congregationalists) changed the nature of worship by their hymns.  Not only did the Wesleys build on the work of Watts and Doddridge but even today much of traditional and some aspects of contemporary worship owe much to those Congregational pioneers in worship.  Some of Watts' and Doddridges hymns remain popular today such as "When I survey the wondrous cross".

Congregationalists were radical social reformers playing significant roles in the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women, the cessation of child labour and opening up education systems.  Among people of note and significant influence that were Congregationalists are Oliver Cromwell, John Milton and Daniel Defoe.

In 1795 they were the driving force behind the development of a global missionary work.  Among those who went out from the UK through this endeavour were David Livingstone who opened up much of Africa, and Eric Liddell the famous athlete of Chariots of Fire fame.

But the story still goes on today.  We continue to be active in mission in the UK and elsewhere that proclaims the good news about Jesus and also seeks social justice.

In 1972, following a period of decline the majority of Congregational churches in England joined with Presbyterians to form the United Reformed Church.  However several hundreds of Congregational churches, including Clarendon Park, felt that the principles of congregationalism should be maintained.  This was a painful time in our history and we are glad that the URC and the Congregational Federation enjoy a healthy and happy relationship.

We are also linked with Congregationalists throughout the world through the
International Congregational Fellowship, and play a full part in partnership with other Christian traditions through the Churches Together bodies.