In 1972 most of the Congregational Churches and all of the Presbyterian churches in England UNITED to form the URC. In 1981 most of the churches of Christ joined. The URC aims to be the catalyst for greater union.
We trace our roots to the REFORMATION in Europe in the 16th century when Christians tried to get ‘back to basics’ in the faith. The URC is part of the world wide REFORMED Church.
We are one of the mainstream Christian CHURCHES sharing the same faith as the other Christians in following Jesus Christ, but our worship and organisation maybe different. This church tends to have a more informal evangelical worship. Our organisation is democratic recognising the reality of the priesthood of all believers.
Here is some history:
Christianity spread after the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost. It eventually came to Britain through missionaries. The Medieval church grew strong, but tended to loose sight of the true faith. From 1548 there were secret meetings worshipping with the intense belief in the Bible as the living Word of God and the only authority for the church. Various independent Puritan groups were formed and their history is intermingled with the great events of the time. Oliver Cromwell was an independent; the settlers on the Mayflower who went to America were Puritans.
The non-conformists were a diverse group who kept few records, as they were illegal. In the 16th century the Reformation greatly affected religious life and was fundamental to the origins of this church.The reformers reacted against the church of the time and wanted to start again, to re – form more closely to what they felt Christ would have wanted. 1662 was a decisive date, as a law was passed which many didn’t feel able to abide by. It was the ‘act of uniformity’ which called upon every clergyman and schoolmaster to conform to the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. Those who would not were non-conformists. In that year, the Act of Uniformity was passed; insisting that all clergy gave assent to and conformed to the (Anglican) Prayer Book.
Amongst those ministers who found that they could not do this was a certain Fellow at Oxford called Thomas Risley, a man of deep conviction who joined the ranks of ‘the nonconformists’.
He therefore had to leave his living and return to his estate in the country.
For a while, all ‘Dissenters’ or ‘Non-conformists’ were persecuted and forbidden to preach. But a small group met in secret, often in the fields around Risley. Thomas devoted himself to visiting
the sick, and ‘applied himself to the study of physic’ (medicine) – this practical, pastoral care becoming the basis of relationships that led to an ever-growing congregation. As Toleration increased, Richard Jackson’s barn was licensed, in Thomas Risley’s name as a ‘Chappell’ for the ‘dissenting interest’. Then in 1706 a permanent chapel was built on Cross lane – five miles from Warrington and five miles from Leigh (according the ruling of ‘The five mile act’).
This long, single story brick building was built by local people on land given by Thomas’ father, and stood for some 250 years. Made to seat 200, the congregation often numbered 250 in Thomas’ day- so overcrowding is not a new issue! A bell, cast in Wigan in 1718, called the faithful to worship. (It still hangs outside today)
Risley Presbyterian Church continued to serve the local community, and not just its spiritual needs. In the reign of Queen Victoria, in 1850, Risley Presbyterian School was opened, providing education for many people in the community. The two stained glass windows, now mounted
upstairs, were given by the local people in memory of one of the schoolmasters.
Until the outbreak of the Second World War, Risley remained a small rural hamlet with most of the population involved in agriculture. But in 1938, large-scale development of the area took place to
house ordnance works, and later the Risley Nuclear Power Development Establishment (AEA). Development of the area as a science and business park has continued to this day. But growth in the area had its downside for the church, bringing with it the motorway, and the enforced demolition of the historic church building, which lay in its route. For many this was a painful loss, but the then small congregation made the brave decision to move forward in faith. In fact it was the AEA which came to the rescue, providing buildings for the church to meet in for most of what turned out to be ten ‘wilderness years’.
Plans for a New town development opened up new possibilities, and members of the church were actively involved in the Birchwood Project. Part of that development was to include a new church building, providing for all the Free churches, on Glover Road (so named in recognition of what
one minister of this church and his family had done for the local area)
So, the Thomas Risley Church, as it now became known, moved into Locking stumps, meeting firstly in the Locking Stumps CP School, and then in its own building on this site. The ‘new’ church building was limited in size under compensation agreements to replace a village chapel, and
it soon began to prove too small for a growing church in a growing community. Boys Brigade, Guides and other youth activities began to grow, and Junior Church soon had to move back into the school, because they could not be accommodated in the church buildings. The need to
extend became obvious, and several aborted attempts were made. In 1994, the elders of the church met to seek a vision for the church as we moved into a new Millennium. The vision was of a church engaging with the community of Locking Stumps, not as ‘strangers, but shepherds known to care’. The doors of the church would be flung open, and our concern would be not only for church members, but also for the whole community. As a result of this vision, the church vegan a cycle of prayer for every household in the community, new activities that served the community were started, and others strengthened. But the buildings were severely limited, and if the vision was to be fulfilled it was clear that the buildings had to be re-developed.
At this point in the story, the church has to give acknowledgement to God’s provision. It is quite remarkable to think how the church moved from what seemed like a hopeless pipe dream to having the plans drawn up and funding found, all within the space of a year. But that is what happened. And when God’s ball started rolling, it was amazing to see!
People with the right skills joined the church or were unexpectedly given the time they needed to work on this project. Others were moved to be deeply generous, such that on Gift day in
November 1999, the congregation pledged an amazing £62000 towards the project. Birchwood Town Council, local businesses and trust funds also backed us financially, so that very rapidly half the cost was found. Then Synod broke its own rules and, together with matching funding from the national URC, provided the rest.
The extended church is now in full use and in January 2004 the church launched its fresh vision shown below.
Here to Care
So you might think thats the end of the story but over the last year or so, the church has been listening to God about “Up Front Church” which may lead to more changes to the building. We are still praying to discern God’s plan but watch this space!
Let us pray that all who are called are able to play their part in living out God’s plan for our church and community.
Want to know more ?
You can find a short biography of Thomas Risley on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Click here to read it. You will need to log in using your library card number with a ‘w’ in front of it. e.g. w24143001234567