Why has the name of our church changed FOUR times?
The idea of starting a new ‘Free Church’ came when the new Mendip and Treecot council estate was built in Westcliff in the early 1950s. The possibility became more than just a dream when a local farmer and landowner, Mr. Hugh Bentall, gave all the land on which our church now stands, together with all the land comprising Cockethurst Close, ‘in Trust’ to the Essex Congregational Union. Mr. Bentall had benefited from the Christian help of a minister in a local Congregational Church and showed his gratitude in this amazingly generous way. There was a lot of enthusiasm for a ‘Free Church’ on the estate so the first service of the ‘BRIDGWATER DRIVE CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH’ (BDCC) was held in St. Cedd’s Building (courtesy of the vicar) at 3.00 p.m. on 9th October 1960. Bill Whitney, one of the original deacons of the BDCC, records in his history of the church, that, during the first month, the congregation averaged 45 adults and 20 children. Offerings averaged £5 a week (a lot in those days). Furthermore, in the first year, the Sunday School and uniformed organisations (Scouts, Guides and Girls Brigade) recorded a membership of 85 youngsters.
With land available, the church spent several years planning for the future. One plan was not just for a church but also for a Manse for the minister, a garden and a tennis court! Eventually common sense prevailed. Houses were built on the land which is now Cockethurst Close, a manse was bought some distance away and a multipurpose church was built. Loans were paid off from the sale of some of the houses in Cockethurst Close and rent from the others. Sadly Mr. Bentall didn’t live to see the new church completed. It was dedicated at a special service on 26th February 1968.
In 1972, when The United Reformed Church (URC) was established, most English and Welsh Congregational Churches joined with Presbyterians to become part of this new denomination. The BDCC became ‘BRIDGWATER DRIVE UNITED REFORMED CHURCH’ (BDURC).
For many years The BDURC and St. Cedd’s went their separate ways until, in 1991 two like-minded leaders came to the two churches, Rev. Graham Steel at St. Cedd’s and Rev. Marlene Schwoebel at BDURC. They worked to bring the two churches together, eventually in 2007 signing a covenant, a complete joining together as a Local Ecumenical Partnership. We were unusual because we had two buildings, but we were one church with one bank account, one governing body – and another new name, ‘THE BRIDGWATER DRIVE CHURCH’. St. Cedd’s building kept its name and was used as the main community centre while the URC building became known as The Hilltop (never it’s official name but still often used).
The most recent change came about in 2018 when the LEP came to an end. We became once again a United Reformed Church, so that is now added to our name. We are ‘THE BRIDGWATER DRIVE CHURCH (A UNITED REFORMED CHURCH)’. In November 2019 we received a new minister, Rev Naomi Young-Rodas, who is 30% with us and 70% minister at Christ Church URC, Rayleigh.