The Lenham United Reformed Church building in Maidstone Road closed its doors in 2013 and has now been knocked down to make way for new housing. The final URC minister was Rev Andrew Mills who many will remember for the numerous childrens holiday clubs he led.
The photograph shown here was taken in 2012, sixty years from the date the building was erected and 350 years from the date that the Reverend Thomas Shewell founded the first independent church movement in Lenham in 1662.
Thomas Shewell had been Lenham's vicar but in that year had made a stand against the second stage of the current Act of Uniformity. In May that year every clergyman had to formally declare his acceptance of the revised liturgy. Thomas Shewell was one of the twelve hundred who refused to do so, preferring to resign. He chose instead to preach the gospel at his own private school
Little is known about the next hundred years or so, but by the late eighteenth century and often to much opposition, travelling preachers would give sermons in the market place. Their popularity, however, led to the establishment (through the determination of a lady from Harrietsham) of the first actual Lenham Congregational Church building here in 1784. So many crowds flocked to it that the chapel had to be rebuilt in 1824 to seat 500 worshippers. This became an Ebenezer Chapel (meaning 'stone of help').
Attitudes have changed much since Victorian times when its minutes recorded the expulsion of a member 'for running footraces for money' thereby bringing ‘scandal upon the cause' – especially as the culprit refused 'to promise the church that he would discontinue ‘these disgraceful activities’.
In 1940 the Lenham Congregational Church, as it then was, and its school hall were completely destroyed by a bomb accidentally dropped from an Albacore biplane from 826 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, based at Detling. The aircraft was returning from a raid on Nieuport Harbour, where the bomb had failed to drop. Luckily the church and school hall were empty at the time, although Lenham resident Beryl Wiltshire remembers that her mother had a narrow escape. She was the cleaner and had only just finished her job there.
Undaunted, the church continued to function and a new building opened in 1952, the United Reformed Church. In front of the church there was a Memorial Garden of Remembrance. In the late 1960s two cottages standing in front of the chapel were demolished, and in their place the Memorial Garden was established in the early 1970s with villagers donating rose trees in memory of their loved ones. Behind the church lay its former graveyard which was in use until late in the nineteenth century. Many of the names in the early Congregational Church register are still familiar in Lenham today.
Only the building of the church has gone, however. The church itself continues, as the former URC members have joined with some Jubilee Church members to form the new Pathways Church. The new opportunities that have come through our link with Jubilee are already having an impact on village life, for example the popular Creative Arts Academy students helping at the Lenham family festival.