This month we are delighted to feature another contribution by Dr Jennifer Freeman.
Bethesda Strict Baptist Church,Kensington Place, Kensington, London
Strict Baptists form a distinct group among the many interwoven strands of the Baptist denomination.
The Church in Kensington Place was built in 1866 for baptised believers who subscribe to ‘Restricted Communion’ ( i.e. with communion being exclusively available to professing, baptised Christians), to ‘Particular Redemption’ and to the teachings of the Authorised Version of the Bible, under the oversight of a Pastor.
These founding doctrines remain core values. The Church is governed by its pastor and deacons, the present pastor at Bethesda being Jared Smith (Note 1).
The current congregation is thriving, with regular Sunday services, monthly talks, an annual lecture – the most recent given by Dr Tim Grass, Chapels Society Chairman, a library and bookstall.
A previous lecturer has been Kevin Price, who spoke on the life of Benjamin Ingham (Note 2), the C18 preacher whose sole extant church at Wheatley Carr, West Yorkshire was visited by the Chapels Society in 2015. There is also a programme of counselling and outreach.
The Church stands on its original site with its understated, gently classisizing, white rendered facade opening onto one of Kensington’s narrow residential streets. It catches the eye, immaculately presented and maintained, unexpectedly close to worldly Kensington Church Street and three minutes from the busy Notting Hill tube station. In the evening delicate floodlighting pinpoints the building.
The interior is dignified modest and reverent, in spirit with Baptist thinking. The furnishings are crafted with patterned tongue-and-grooved timberwork that lovingly respects the character of the natural material. There are brass-handled umbrella stands on the pew ends.
A prominent rostrum has been lowered to facilitate modern usage. The baptistery stands in front of it, now covered over. Touches of stained glass provide light and variety.
Originally the Church had traditional galleries but in recent years the space has been reconfigured to allow for extended use. A new, lower chandeliered ceiling has been created with the space above it converted into a meeting-room, with a kitchen and modern amenities. The historic timbered ceiling still floats over the new space. The gallery fronts survive in a well-judged acknowledgement of the original design. Happily these changes have enabled the Church to widen its activities successfully.
The writer receives a warm welcome from those present on her visits and extends her thanks to Jared Smith and to Kevin Price for their assistance.