A Shared History - over 350 years of Christian community
The history of the church which now meets at Emmanuel Christian Centre is rooted in the movement known as Churches of Christ with a shared history interwoven with other local denominations. The first Churches of Christ meeting in Ulverston is recorded to have taken place on the 19th March 1876 in the home of Sister Sarah Woods. Most of those in attendance were previously Baptist, having made a decision to live in a 'less formal form of New Testament teaching' just a few days after attending a Churches of Christ campaign at Lindal in Furness. Churches of Christ researchers claim they have been in the Furness area since the 1600s with a direct link established between the church at Lindal and the founding of Tottlebank church in 1669 by the puritans Gabriel Camelford and Roger Sawrey. Churches of Christ, not originally a particular denomination, may also have met in the form of another dissenting group such as the early Quakers. The puritan background and evangelicalism of George Fox in the 1650s along with his rejection of state religion is similar. Records definitely show that the pastor of the Broughton Baptist church was originally a Quaker and that the church had later 'inclined to Quakerism'; the closing of the church at Broughton being a factor which led to the opening of the church at Tottlebank and in turn the Churches of Christ.
Churches of Christ Period
In 1883 the Ulverston Church of Christ acquired a building next to a coal merchants in the Ellers area. The picture (below left) shows two Christian brothers stood outside that building. As with many Churches of Christ groups, from 1920 the church began to divide as part of a national schism. Those who wanted to be part of the ‘old path churches’ left the Ellers and met at Ford Villa and sometimes the Oddfellows Hall (a former Catholic chapel, below centre). Those who chose to be part of the ‘association churches’ moved in 1925 to a vacant Primitive Methodist chapel on Union Street (below right).
Best viewed on desktop
It would be an injustice to describe the 1920 Churches of Christ split in a few sentences, but some of the reasons include views on ecumenism, whether musical instruments should be used in worship, church polity and the role of women in church. The ‘old path churches’ were generally opposed to joining the Free Church Council and resisted the use of musical instruments for worship. The ‘association churches’, from which Emmanuel Christian Centre would later be formed, aligned with the 1808 declaration ‘to strive for unity among Christ’s followers, giving full recognition and validity to their personal faith, in whatever movement or church they may be found’. The ‘association churches’ acknowledged the role of the Free Church Council and also had leanings towards the lead-pastor role in church governance, as well as embracing the use of music in Christian worship.
Ford Villa was also the home of one of the more famous ‘old path’ brothers from the original church in Ulverston, Walter Crosthwaite. He went on to be a prominent evangelist and teacher, and he edited the Scripture Standard magazine from his home. Incidentally, Walter's father, Joseph Crosthwaite, was one of those attending the first meeting in 1876. You can read Walter’s notes on his life and some interesting articles from the church on the following link:
The ‘old path’ church at Ford Villa continued its affiliation with the Churches of Christ and in 1977 they moved into a converted stable in Mill Street (left top) until closing in 2022. The ‘association’ church became known as the Ulverston Assembly and began an affiliation with the Assemblies of God (AoG). The Ulverston Assembly continued to meet in Union Street until selling the building in 1984 to buy the derelict Victoria Concert Hall (left), coincidentally also in Mill Street. After much renovation the building was officially opened in 1986 as Emmanuel Christian Centre.
The Concert Hall; sacred and secular
The Victoria Concert Hall was originally built in 1850 to be used for 'dramatic performances and public entertainments'. According to the historical directory of P. Mannex, the building could accommodate 800 people in its original layout. The first church services to be held in the building were during 1870 when William Troughton (right), later to become Bishop Primus of the Free Church of England, delivered regularly Sunday sermons with a capacity 800-strong congregation. The services created a lot of controversy at the time because of his evangelical preaching which was said to be delivered like an ‘electric force in the hearts and minds of his hearers’. Some newspapers reported his services as a 'revival'. Later becoming ‘Reverend’ Troughton, he moved to Emmanuel Church in Morecambe when he became the diocesan bishop. Our current minster's relatives were members of his congregation and next-door neighbours.
The Hall also hosted a notable commissioning service of the Baptist minister Revd Thomas Latimer who was sent in 1872 by Revd Charles Spurgeon to be the pastor in Ulverston. The Baptist church was not located at Victoria Concert Hall but the size of the building was appropriate for the occasion of the new church planted by Tottlebank (click here to read the report from the Ulverston Advertiser, 4th Jan 1872). Throughout 1882 the hall was used as the citadel for the Salvation Army who apparently were not so well recieved by the Ulverston populace. It was also used annually by the British and Foreign Bible Society for their annual meeting, the Society for the Proclamation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts for their fundraiser, and St Marys Catholic Church for their annual ball. In 1909 the Lord Bishop of Carlise licensed Victoria Concert Hall for the 'divine services' of Ulverston Parish Church while their building underwent a restoration project.
There were many other events held in the Hall including operas, horticultural shows, county court sessions, auctions, public inquiries, and events from Britain’s contentious past which would be considered offensive by modern standards. Later becoming Ulverston's first cinema, films began to be screened in the Hall from 1909 and in 1935 it was re-named as the Old Vic Cinema, closing at the start of World War II. Before becoming derelict it was also used as a factory for packing eggs. The image left shows some operatic advertisements, below left is from an advertisement for the adjacent Queens Hotel depicting the Hall in 1850, and below right shows the Emmanuel Christian Centre in 2006.
The Emmanuel Period
It was under the leadership of Pastor Keith Tipple, now of the Ocean Wings ministry, that the building was renovated for the Lord's use. The name 'Emmanuel' was chosen because it means 'God with us' and the church at the time felt God was with them in the vision and purpose of the centre. The vision was for a multi-faceted Christian development close to Ulverston town centre. The vision for the church which met there was for each individual to have a personal knowledge of God, to learn to hear His voice, then be equipped and encouraged to move out in their God-given ministries. Emmanuel Christian Centre was officially opened on 28th June 1986 by the Mayor & Mayoress Newby. Please take time to read though the introductory letter (right) written in 1986 by the founding pastor. Underneath you can watch the opening day service recorded in VHS (although our current theological position is different to the Pentocostalism of those days).
The church at Emmanuel Christian Centre continued to be associated with the AoG until 2013, after which the leadership was led to return to a more independent form of governance. This was in response to what may have been perceived as an increased hierarchical approach from the AoG and a local awareness of extra-biblical excesses within Pentecostalism. A link was then formed with a non-regulating free-church body called Churches in Communities International (CiC). The church is grateful for the seeds planted in the Churches of Christ era and, even though it has taken a very different path since 1925, the faithfulness of those who went before is recognised. The awakening during the AoG affiliation is appreciated, as is the fervour of the church members during the 1980s. The dedication of the leaders throughout is commendable. It's a blessing to now function as an independent church and to be represented nationally by CiC. We also continue to receive input from Servants of the Lord Ministries who's focus is about 'knowing God'.
Nowadays, the building known as Emmanuel Christian Centre is used for Christian service in a variety of ways described throughout the website; from community meals to Christian education, from mental and spiritual wellbeing courses to Sunday worship. The building is also used as a polling station during government elections and a number of community groups hire the hall.
The desire of the church now at Emmanuel Christian Centre is to be worthy of the name; that God would be with us, that we may bear Christ’s name, and to be a centre of Christian life in Ulverston. Our position within the various denominations might now be described as an independent, evangelical, free-church with a moderate charismatic influence. Unsurprisingly, in a town associated with George Fox and so steeped in Quaker history, 'some' of our beliefs may be similar to those Fox originally presented; but only insomuch as they line up biblically. For example, the idea that God’s presence can be felt anywhere (Psalm 139:7), and that the Church is the people rather than a building (1 Peter 2:5). Since 2001 we have been intentional about being a place where people can develop a real relationship with God. We're still continuing this 350+ year journey of faith, in a move of God founded over 2000 years ago through Jesus Christ. Our desire is that others would come to know His love through relationship.
- As Jesus Christ is the One we serve, when all is said and done, to simply be known as Christians would suffice.
References, with thanks
Soulby's Ulverston Advertiser 1850 - 1900; British Newspaper Archives.
A Church of Christ at Tottlebank; https://www.therestorationmovement.com/_international/england/tottlebank.htm
The Scripture Standard; Churches of Christ Magazine : http://www.scripturestandard.eu/
History of the Baptist Churches in the North of England (Quaker links): Free link on Google Books
The Encyclopedia of the Stone Cambell Movement by Douglas A Foster (Reprint 2012) - ISBN-13: 978-0802869753.
The Story of Christianity in Cumbria by Henry L Widdup (1981) - ISBN-13: 978-0900811135.
The Directory of Furness and Cartmel 1882 by P. Mannex: http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/LAN/Ulverston/history.html
The Old Vic Cinema (Ulverston): http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/48811