New minister for Hampstead Garden Suburb Free Church

An account of the induction service on 2nd September 2023 and some notes on links between the Free Church and Heath Street.

When Ewan announced over the Summer that a new minister had been appointed by Hampstead Garden Suburb Free Church and would be inducted on Saturday 2nd September, my ears pricked up. Why so? Well, despite living in the Hampstead area for over 40 years, I had only ever passed through the Suburb, the model community founded by social reformer Dame Henrietta Barnett in 1906 and later described by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as the most perfect example of a garden suburb. Consequently, I had never visited either of its two Grade 1 listed churches, both designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens: the Free Church, or its neighbour across the green, St Jude on the Hill.

Moreover, Heath Street has links! Ewan started his ministerial training at the Free Church before transferring to Heath Street, where he completed training, was inducted as Minster in August 2012 and ordained a year later.

When, in 2022, the post of Minister at the Free Church became vacant on the retirement of his mentor, the Revd Dr Ian Tutton, Ewan was invited to step in as interim Moderator pending the appointment of a new minister, assisting with services, chairing meetings and generally helping to steer the church through the appointment process. So, I determined to attend on 2nd September and, together with deacon Annie (who kindly provided a lift) and Susan Le Quesne, arrived at the church on what turned out to be an increasingly warm afternoon for which I was not appropriately dressed!

Early on in his ministry, Ewan drew Heath Street’s attention to more historic links between Heath Street and the Free Church. On my way in to the Induction Service, I spotted an inscribed stone dated 16th March 1911 recording the names of dignitaries who laid particular stones of the new building, including a Herbert Marnham. This name was already familiar to me from the Minister’s chair at Heath Street, where it is also inscribed, having been presented in his memory following his death in 1935.

Marnham was an important figure at Heath Street (as well as in the wider Baptist movement): he was appointed Sunday School Superintendent in 1889 and Deacon in 1892; he and his wife were also associated with the Heath Street Working Lads’ Club.1 A stockbroker and philanthropist, active in local politics (and later Mayor of Hampstead), he was already an Executive Member of the Heath Extension Council when, in 1906, he was asked by Henrietta Barnett to join the Board of the newly instituted Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust. By early 1908, Marnham was involved in planning discussions for Central Square and the provision of a new Free Church building, corresponding with Henrietta Barnett on the subject. He subsequently made a personal contribution of £3,000 towards the cost of building and persuaded the London Baptist Property Board to accept the gift of the site, with the responsibility of erecting the church and manse. (It probably helped that he was he was BU Treasurer at the time!)2

Ewan has drawn my attention to another name inscribed on the above-mentioned stone: The Reverend James Henry Rushbrooke. Rushbrooke, having been Minister of Archway Baptist Church, became the first Minister of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Free Church. He was an associate of Newton H. Marshall, Minister of Heath Street from 1906 to 1914. These two aspiring Baptist ministers, both strongly influenced by John Clifford, studied together at the Midland College in Nottingham and contributed significantly to a conference of European Baptists held in Berlin in 1908. In the run up to this conference, Marshall even preached a sermon at Heath Street with the title: Europe: the desire of Christ. (Note. I am indebted to Ewan for pointing out an image in the Hampstead Garden Suburb Virtual Museum of a silver trowel used for the laying of the memorial stones of the Free Church on 16 March and manse on 3 April 1911, bearing the names of Herbert Marnham and James Henry Rushbrooke.) 

As we entered the church for the service, we were greeted by a friendly member helping to set up the generous tea that would follow and told to sit anywhere we liked. We picked up our orders of service and headed in to find seats. Though we were early, the church was already filling up nicely, despite a rail strike: by the start of the service, it was more or less full.

I was immediately struck by the interior and soon to discover the excellent acoustics. The church is much larger than Heath Street and surmounted, not by a spire, but more unusually, by a large dome. A large elevated choir stall faces the congregation. The dais accommodates a communion table, surmounted by a cross and chairs for participants and visiting clergy.

The new minister is the Revd Aled Jones, previously minister of Carmel Pren-gwyn, Saron Llangeler and Soar Pen-Boyr Independent Pastorate and recently National Director and Coordinator of the Welsh Independents’ College. At this point, I should make it clear that this gentleman is not the Welsh singer and TV presenter of the same name, who was catapulted to fame as a boy chorister in the mid 1980s! The Free Church Secretary, Dr Penny Trafford, speaking later in the service, mentioned her initial surprise on receiving an application from Aled Jones!

Revd Jones is a native of Brynaman, Carmarthenshire. He followed up a degree in Linguistics from UCL with a theology degree (BD) from the Welsh Independents’ College, Aberystwyth and an M.A. in African Christianity from the School of Oriental and African Studies. Revd Jones has pastored in Wales, Canada (Toronto) and South Africa (where he also studied for his MTh in Systematic Theology at the University of Stellenbosch). He is married to Pauline, a music and instrumental teacher, with whom he has four children, currently students.

Unlike his predecessor, the new Minister is not a Baptist but from a Congregationalist background. Congregationalists are similar to Baptists in many ways but allow infant baptism. The Free Church is not tied to the Baptist denomination. Though Baptists accepted initial responsibility for the buildings, the Free Church Trust deed declares it is to house ‘a church of Protestant Dissenters or Free Churchmen irrespective of denomination.’The present church is a member of the United Reformed Church (formed in 1972 by the union of the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church of England and Wales) and affiliated to Baptists Together (formerly, the Baptist Union of Great Britain). Revd Jones has ministered previously in both Congregational and United Churches.

A series of organ preludes preceded the induction service. These were played by the excellent organist Paul Joslin on what sounded to my untutored ear like a fine instrument. The organist sat facing the joint choirs of the Free Church and St Jude’s conducted by Nicholas Chalmers, Director of Music at St Jude’s. Pieces by Vaughan Williams and Percy Whitlock were followed up, appropriately, by two Welsh items: a meditation on a Welsh lullaby by Caleb Jarvis and an arrangement of All through the night by Edwin Lemare.

The service opened with a Call to Worship delivered by the Presiding Minister, the Revd George Watt, Moderator of the Thames North Synod of the United Reformed Church. The opening hymn God is Love, Let Heaven adore Him was then introduced by the Revd Robin Sims-Williams, Convenor of Churches Together in Golders Green and District. Prayers of Approach and Confession followed, led by the Revd Derek Lindfield, a Free Church Elder. The Old Testament Reading was from Isaiah 61, 1-4 (the servant announces the year of the LORD’s favour.)

The choir then sang Mozart’s beautiful setting of a 13th Century eucharistic chant, Ave Verum Corpus. This was followed by a reading from Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 4, describing the beginning of Jesus’s ministry in Galilee, then a modern hymn Be still for the presence of the Lord, introduced by the Revd Sally Thomas, Ecumenical Officer of the Thames North Synod of the URC.

Then came the sermon, which was delivered with great passion by the Revd Beti-Wyn James, Immediate Past President of the Union of Welsh Independents. The text was taken from the opening of Chapter 4 of the Second letter of Paul to Timothy, setting out his charge to Timothy to […] preach the Word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke and extort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching (v2).

This is also the charge to the new Minister, in different but, in their way, equally challenging times. We all appreciated the preacher’s words and her occasional use of Welsh expressions seemed to go down well with the Welsh speakers present.

Another favourite hymn, Jesu lover of my soul, introduced by the Revd Emily Kolltveit, Priest-in Charge of St Jude’s, led us into the Induction of the new minister. This part of the service was conducted by the Revd Josh Kane, Regional Minister of the London Baptist Association. It started with a brief outline by Dr Penny Trafford, Free Church Elder and Secretary of the circumstances leading to the Call to Ministry. In this, Dr Trafford recorded thanks to Ewan for his services as Moderator and his guidance through the appointment process. There followed various testimonials, which led into the Minister-elect’s statement of faith. Various promises were made by the Minister and by Church members and, finally, by all present, who stood to affirm their promises. This most important part of the service was extremely moving!

Ewan then led the induction prayers, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer, spoken by all present. After these prayers, the Regional Minister declared Revd Jones duly inducted as Minister of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Free Church.

A further hymn Lord of Light, whose name shines brighter, followed, introduced by the Revd Rob Nicholls, Minister of the Welsh Church of Central London, then words of welcome, from the Free Church Congregation, delivered by its newest member and on behalf of various church associations and local Christian churches. The choir then sang John Rutter’s setting of Numbers 6, 24-26: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Presiding Minister delivered a Vote of Thanks, after which, Father Paul McDermott, Parish Priest of St Edward the Confessor Catholic Church, Golder’s Green introduced the final hymn, that wonderful example of ‘muscular’ Victorian hymnody, Who is on the Lord’s side? To close, the new Minister delivered The Blessing.

As the organist played the postlude, people started to drift off towards the tea tables, though quite a few stayed quietly seated until he had finished and then applauded his efforts. Tea was generous, with a wide selection of cakes and sandwiches. Trays of tea were kindly circulated to make sure no-one missed out and there was convivial conversation. Annie, Susan and I chatted amongst ourselves and with others, including Ewan, before departing for a quick photoshoot on the Green (suggested by Annie), then home.

I enjoyed the whole afternoon immensely. I loved the service, the music (including lusty congregational singing) and general atmosphere. It was good to see some familiar faces, not just from Heath Street but from other churches and to meet new people. In researching this article, I have been delighted to learn more about this wonderful church that has links to Heath Street. If this has whetted your appetite you will be pleased to know that the service was streamed and can be viewed in its entirety on the Hampstead Garden Suburb Free Church website.

Theresa Thom

1. Heath Street Baptist Church Hampstead: Jubilee Souvenir 1861-1911, pp.35, 36, 38
2. IKIN, C.W. Hampstead Garden Suburb: dreams and realities. New Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust; Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents’ Association, 1990 pp. 13, 22, 46-7, 52
3. IKIN. Ibid p.52

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