Union Congregational Church

(Independent Evangelical)


The first meeting was held (officially) on Sunday 12th December  1897 in the Leigh Council Chamber – in those days Leigh had its own Urban Council. The Rev Josiah Foster whose church was at Victoria Dock, London had come to spend a holiday at Leigh that Summer and 16 men who longed to see a Dissenting church in Leigh asked him if he would form one. He responded to their earnest wish by coming down to preach as often as possible, and he eventually settled here.


For a short time the services were held in the council chamber, then in an iron building subsequently known as the Tin Tabernacle which stood in the garden of Mr Foster’s home in Oakleigh Park Drive.  Mr. Foster would have liked to have built the church on that very spot but the land was too expensive, so this plot in Pall Mall was bought.

Old Chapel 1897

The iron building was moved on rollers by an enterprising man who had heard of a similar removal in Canada. There are pictures of this amazing move still in the vestry today. According to the report not a single gas mantle was broken during the move made by steam traction engine.

The main church was completed in 1910 just as the second minister, Rev Thomas Davies, retired.

When the church was built, the main roadway between Leigh and Westcliff was hedged on both sides and the roads south of the Broadway were plotted only – just wastes of mud in the winter. Between the church and the Broadway was a village green complete with a fair and merry-go-rounds. Leigh Hall itself must have stood in this vicinity.

The funds for the new church were raised by special efforts like the ‘sale of work’ week held in 1909, for which a hall in the Broadway was hired. Cliff Town Church had challenged our fellowship to raise five hundred pounds, which they promised to double if we succeeded. That amount was raised, and their promise was kept.

During the early part of the 1914-1918 War, Welsh troops were stationed in Leigh, and our minister, the Rev T Rees Richards, was frequently seen on open spaces leading groups of soldiers in hymn singing in their native tongue. In those dark war years the congregation sadly diminished and eventually Mr Rees Richards resigned with the object of allowing a successor to be found who might revitalise the church.

In 1917 the Rev G Hartley Holloway was inducted and began a four year ministry which included some of the brightest years in our church’s earlier history. Every seat in the church was occupied; the preaching was popular; the music was excellent. During the next ten years we had a remarkably fine choir which gave many first class performances. The organ in the main church was given as part of our War Memorial and is still playable today. The church secretary at that time formed a most successful Guild which met on Monday evenings for all kinds of cultural and entertainment purposes. The Guild ran for 21 years and there were many happy times in the old tin hall.

As the years sped on, the activities of the church increased to include Guild, Life Boys, Young Peoples’s Fellowship, Boys’ Club, Country Dancing and the Mid-Week Service.After Mr Holloway went to Southampton, his place as minister of Union was taken by the Rev Alun Roberts in 1921. He stayed seven years but because of ill health and doctor’s orders he had to resign.

Then began the ministry of Rev Herbert Wood and after he had been with us for eight years, the new halls were built. Many were the efforts made by all societies to raise the monies and finally in 1934 the halls were opened. During these years the church had a flourishing Operatic and Dramatic Society. Soon the Second World War started and within a few days, members of the church were scattered all over the country. The early days of the war saw the disappearance into H M Forces of the large Bible Class which had filled the gallery on Sunday evenings.

The evacuation of the town during the invasion scare of 1940 almost closed the church. In spite of the congregation being reduced to a handful, Mr Wood was busier than ever, having to act as caretaker and stoker as well as the minister. But for his devoted service it is doubtful if the church could have remained open. He kept in touch with many of the members by writing monthly letter which his wife duplicated. Troops  used our halls for reading and writing and by the time the War ended, our new halls were shabby but intact. Some of the families returned but many stayed in their new homes and numbers were very depleted. Mr Wood by this time was a very tired man and in 1946 went into semi-retirement. The Rev Jason Wright came to us the next year and was faced with the task of building up the church. Gradually the membership increased and Mr Wright stayed with us until he was called to Nottingham.

Our next minister was Rev George Hemming, and his great desire was to see a praying and united church. This was achieved over the years as three main prayer meetings were established, as well as home meetings. Bazaars and Sales of Work which had been such a big part of the church’s life were abandoned and by the giving of God’s people, the accounts were balanced each year.

In 1955 after much prayer, a Sunday School was opened at Blenheim School in the north end of Leigh. This outreach flourished and won many trophies in the Borough. Work amongst the young people was growing at this time through such means as Junior and Young Peoples’ Christian Endeavour. It was during these years that the church had the joy of sending one of its young members, Miss Pamela Freeborn, to India in answer to God’s call to work with the Poona and India Village Mission.

The Diamond Jubilee of the church was celebrated on 11th December 1957 with much joy and thanks to Almighty God. Among those present was Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones. In August 1959 Mr Hemming resigned in order to take up a post at Westminster Chapel as assistant to Dr Lloyd Jones.

The Rev David Marshall came to us in April 1960, and amongst many of his projects was the encouragement of the new church in Bridgewater Drive. During this period church members at Union numbered over one hundred.

Our next minister was Rev Gordon Booth, who came to us in 1971 and will be remembered for his great enthusiasm for door-to-door evangelism and for his Bible teaching. It was during this period that the main church was taken out of use due to the increase in the cost of heating and lighting, and the increasingly difficult maintenance. One of the halls was completely renovated and was to become our Chapel with the main church being used in the summer and on special occasions.  Mr Booth served here until his retirement in 1987, a period of 17 years.

The next few years saw the members of the church seeking the will of God concerning the future. We were helped in this by the many and varied speakers at our Sunday services. We felt that we would never be able to survive with only a handful of members left and both buildings and members getting older. Numbers were very low but God was faithful and in 1992, in answer to much prayer, the Rev Jim Thompson and his family came to Leigh. Mr. Thompson had the great task of once again helping to build up the church in a world that seems to ignore all that God has done for it. Unfortunately the church were unable to support Mr. Thompson financially and he returned to his former home in Beverley, East Yorkshire, where he took up a post as a teacher in 1999.

With the thought of the church closing because of dwindling numbers, the members spent much time in prayer. Mr. Stanford Hamberger, a Deacon of the church, and who had been at the church since his conversion in 1977, gave up full time employment and took on the responsibility of the preaching and the day to day running of the church in August 1999.

For many years Stan and other deacons had carried out repairs to the old church building which had originally been erected in 1909. Unfortunately time and the English weather took their toll and the building became too dangerous to use for worship and the church was last used in the year 1987.
In the meantime, the congregation had been using the hall next door that had been converted into a chapel for all the church meetings.
In the year 2002, after the retirement of Rev Jim Thompson in 1999 and after much discussion and prayer, the remaining church members suggested that the old building could possibly be restored and used as both a church and a community centre.  After various meetings and despite great local support it was decided that this was not practical as it would cost somewhere around £200,000 to £300,000 to accomplish. The local community wanted to help and the idea of an Arts Centre was put forward but again, this was not deemed possible.

In April 2003 the members asked Mr. Hamberger to become their minister and he was ordained and inducted on 27 September 2003. This was the last time that the old church was used before it’s demolition in 2008. One hundred and twenty people witnessed his ordination and shared in prayer and praise of Almighty God as Union Congregational church moved into its next phase of existence.

(Among the speakers that day were the two ministers, Rev Andrew Leach and Rev Mike Plant, who did not realize that just six years later, they would be guest speakers again, at the opening of the New Church.)

After much more prayer and discussion, our new minister, Stan (who worked in the construction industry),  suggested that the old building be pulled down, to be replaced by a new church with flats above, to be rented out to provide an income for the day to day running of the church.  The costs for the building would be provided for by the sale of the Manse and sale of part of the church land for development into either flats or town houses.
This plan was agreed by the four remaining church members and the plan was submitted to the EFCC Trustees Committee.  The suggestion was that a builder could build the houses and church at the same time as a single project. After the approval of the Trustees, plans were drawn up in 2004 and after many problems and delays the new church building and adjoining houses were completed in 2009.  The extra-large cross, said to be the tallest in Essex, was added outside the front entrance of the church the following year.
The church was officially opened with a special dedication service at the end of March 2009.  There were Christians from all denominations and local dignitaries including the Southend Mayor, Councillor Gwen Horrigan and M.P. David Amess.
A prayer of dedication was delivered by the Rev. Andrew Leach.  The Rev. Mike Plant, general secretary of the EFCC, spoke during the service, praising the Rev. Stan Hamberger’s determination to see the church project reach completion.
The congregation now enjoys the comforts of a modern church building with under floor heating, air conditioning and all the other comforts not always available in older buildings. There are many pictures that can be seen of the New Build within the church. 
Union Congregational Church, through the guidance of the Rev. Stan, continues to preach the word of God to the local community and has just added a website, www.uccleigh.com to hopefully bring the Word to others further afield.

Only God knows what is in store for us in the years to come, but we can be sure it will only be good if we let God lead us in the way.


The funeral of Mark Perkins took place

on Thursday 13th October 2016 at 2.00 pm

  at Southend Crematorium,

Sutton Road, Southend on Sea, West Chapel


Minister’s Address at Mark’s funeral

 1 Corinthians Chapter 13: Verses 1-12

We are all gathered here – Because we love Mark. Isn’t that wonderful?
It was Mark who brought us here today; And gave us an extra richness for life.
Mark was a man of God. A faithful man! Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Dedicated to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He knew and loved him well.

And we can be sure of this:
There is a cloud of witnesses gathering to testify how he gave glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some question: Will we recognize each other in heaven?
 And more than that, the Word of God describes our gathering like a wedding banquet. A time full of celebration and joy, a time of looking forward to what is to come. A time where we will commune with each other in the radiance of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We see in Scripture that when humans come into the presence of the mighty God, they always respond with worship of the Lord God. We saw this with Moses at the burning bush, we see this with the prophet Ezekiel, we see this with the Apostle John when the Spirit comes upon him. Mark, arriving in the presence of our Lord Jesus,  will have no worry, no concern of what to say, of what to do – for the presence of God is overwhelming, and he will fall in worship.

We see in Revelation Chap 4 that twenty four elders sit around the throne of God and they cast their crowns and the feet of the throne. The crowns represent the good works in the life of a saint. In other words – the good works that we have unselfishly done are ours to take with us when we die, and to lay at the feet of Jesus in worship. It is like, I offer my life, what I have done, to worship you Lord.
Mark will have a beautiful crown to cast won’t he, for he truly was a giving person.
His visits to the Veterans and Old comrades weren’t for any reason except to give hope.

Mark  picked out 1 Corinthians chapter 13 for me to read for him, not because Mark was perfect, but because Mark exhibited more of the attributes of love mentioned than your average person
Love is patient, kind, does not envy or boast is not proud. Not self seeking, rude or easily angered.
A striking description of Mark! If only we could all strive to be described in that way……

One of the last times I sat down and chatted with Mark he had a variety of concerns in his life. But you know what his first concern was? His family and friends!
Mark Perkins was somewhere down the list in concerns.
His greatest concern was: what does the Lord Jesus want me to do next?
I was taken back, as all of us were when I heard Mark had cancer just two years ago.

Why God allowed all this to happen in Mark’s life, it is hard to say.
And right now, I believe he has found peace.
The details of the how and why about Mark are not fully revealed to us…..yet.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians chapter 13,
“For now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face.
Now we know in part, then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known”
Exactly why things come together as they do, will remain unclear, for now.

But we will all stand before our Lord Jesus, and everything will be made clear – because now it is hard for us to understand the full picture, but then when we are face to face there is nothing that we will not understand.

There will be a day, by the grace of God, when we will have an understanding of all of life. And together, Mark alongside, we will cast our crowns at the feet of Jesus and worship his holy name.