Ongar United Reformed Church A Short History
Ongar Congregational Church was formed in 1662, in the reign of Charles II, when 2,000 Ministers of the Church of England resisted the Act of Uniformity and were ejected from their livings. Since that date there has been an unbroken line of Ministers to the Church. The present Church was erected in 1833 whilst the school hall at the rear was built in 1919 after the previous building had been destroyed by fire.
The most notable Minister to the Church was the Rev. Isaac Taylor who served for 18 years from 1811. Apart from organising a Sunday School and a week night meeting, he started a Book Club for the ‘Mechanics’ of the District which was a fore-runner of our present library. It was during his ministry that the daughter church at Stanford Rivers was opened, (subsequently destroyed by fire in 1926). His two daughters, Ann and Jane, wrote many verses for the young and Jane gained a considerable reputation as the author of ‘The Star’ – known the world over as ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’. September 2006 marks the 200th anniversary of its publication.
In this day and age, the Rev. Taylor would probably be regarded as too stern a disciplinarian, for he had no hesitation in recommending the removal from Church membership not only of those lacking in loyalty to public worship and the observance of the Sacraments, but also any who fell short of the Christian standard in home and business dealings. In a history which he wrote the Rev. Isaac Taylor said “Our freedom from such oppressions, (The Act of Uniformity and the rest) should not make us forget what we owe, under God, to the piety, zeal and fortitude of that race who fought the battle for us.”
It was the custom in those days for Nonconformists to be buried in the graveyard which surrounded the Chapel and the Rev. Taylor, his wife Ann, and their talented daughter Jane, are so interred. Their graves are now within the area covered by the floor of the School Hall and can be seen in the vestibule by the Minister’s Vestry.
During Rev. Taylor’s ministry in Ongar the congregation increased considerably and a larger place of worship became necessary. This was built during the ministry of his successor, the Rev. Isaac Tozer, who, with the Deacons, entered into a contract with Mr John Sadd of Maldon to erect the present neat and substantial chapel for under £900.
The Rev. Tozer was followed by the Rev. Richard Cecil. Mr Cecil was an accomplished tutor and it was his custom to receive into the cottages at the front of the Church young men who were to be given some preliminary education before taking up college studies for missionary work. One of these young men came from Blantyre in Scotland. He was named David Livingstone and was to become the great African Missionary explorer, probably the most noted person in Congregationalism. According to some sources the Rev. Cecil was not at all impressed with the young Scot who had a shy and hesitant manner and declared that, in his opinion, he would never make a missionary! Mr Cecil may have had good reason for saying this as one of the duties of these young men was to take services in the local village chapels and Livingstone was appointed to officiate at Stanford Rivers. However, on reaching the pulpit he was so overcome by the sight of his rural congregation that he completely forgot any of his prepared words and rushed from the Church. Some of the more forceful side of his character, which was to stand him in great stead in later years, showed through when, taking his studies seriously, he set out for London and guided only by a compass crossed over fields, hedges, ditches and streams to reach his destination and returned home in the same manner.
Ongar Church is justly proud of the small part it played in the training of this brave Scot. A small plaque above the archway leading to the Church records Livingstone’s residence in the cottages.
In 1978 the Church pews were furnished with cushioning and in the same year the Church was presented with a finely carved oak lectern by the Cridland family, in memory of their mother Mrs Gladys Cridland. This is one of the many gifts of furnishings given by members over recent years to enhance our place of worship.
The Church is fortunate in possessing a fine Walker Organ, the delight of many musicians. This instrument was originally owned by the Courtauld family, being brought from their mansion at Braintree in 1921.
In 1924 a young lady – Nellie Marie Korf – was appointed Church organist at the age of 18. She held this post for 80 years until she died in April 2003. A truly remarkable achievement. This long period of 80 years as organist in one church, remains unchallenged as a National record. This lady also served as Church Secretary from 1926 – 1990, as well as being a Church Elder. In thanksgiving for her long life, she donated the stained glass window in the porch when it was built in 1982 and her initials can be seen at the bottom of the window. She was awarded the B.E.M. in July 1992 in recognition of her service to the community. A plaque in her memory is on the north (??) wall of the Church.
On 5th October 1972 the United Reformed Church Act was passed, combining the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church in England and Wales, to form the United Reformed Church of England and Wales. In September 1981 this was unified with the Re-formed Association of Churches of Christ in Great Britain and Ireland to become the United Reformed Church of the United Kingdom.
After many years of this Church being part of a shared Ministry in the West Essex United Area, in 2006 it was decided that this no longer had sufficient resources to take advantage of the opportunities for Christian Witness that would undoubtedly arise from proposed new housing developments and changes would have to be made. Therefore after full discussions and considerations, agreement was reached and we are now part of the much larger Herts & Essex Border Ecumenical Area, which was inaugurated on 10th September 2006 and which encompasses 17 churches.
Our ptreviuos Minister – Revd. Dr. Jason Askew also had 3 other Churches in his care. His ministry also included his musical talents, with his Guitar and Banjo. Jason also supported and helped
with our GBB's.
Our current Minister is the Revd. Cecil White.
The Church is the only Free Church in Ongar ministering to the town and is proud of its past record of work for young people in the district which it endeavours to maintain.
In June 2006, Revd. MacMeekin on our behalf signed a new Covenant with our Roman Catholic and Church of England friends in the immediate vicinity, to form ONGAR CHURCHES TOGETHER. United Services are held throughout the year and on Christian Festivals to witness with maximum effect to the local community.
The names of all officiating Ministers since the Church’s foundation in 1662 are recorded on boards sited in the Church porch, and in the small hall is a photograph of every Minister since Rev. Isaac Taylor in 1811.
In 2012 the church celebrated 350 years as Ongar's Free Church.