Formation of Essex Congregational Union-1798

In the 1600's there was a growth of evangelical Religion with a number of small independent Churches and Chapels springing up throughout Essex.

Records for Eastern Essex show Congregational Ministers active in the following villages - Althorne, Asheldham,Cold Norton, Latchingdon, Mundon, Purleigh, St Lawrence,  Stow Maries and Woodham Walter although there are no records of a sustainable presence being established as was the case in Burnham on Crouch, Southminster, Steeple and Tillingham.

Links between the Churches and their Ministers led to mutual co-operation and support and following  the formation of a Ministerial Association in 1768 many adopted the title Congregational Church although they continued to operate independently.

Essex was developing more awareness of the world rather than their small area . The activities of Missionary Societies in the 'Heathen World' had provoked sympathy and interest. 'This concern for the religious welfare in those so far away naturally turned towards the moral desolation at home; to pity the thousands perishing around them, and to provide for their deliverance'.

On 5 June 1798 a meeting at Dunmow was convened of Ministers and Lay representative from several of the Congregational Churches in Essex to consider effective ways of spreading the gospel in Essex.

The Resolution from this meeting read

That it appears very desirable to this meeting, that something should be done for spreading the Gospel more extensively in this county and it's vicinity.

That it this meeting earnestly wishes that a General Union should be formed of the Congregational Churches in the county, with their pastors, and of such other persons as approve the above design and subscribe one guinea annually towards its support.

That this meeting be considered as the commencement of such Union, the sole object of which is to spread the Gospel.

That the means most conductive to this important purpose would be, preaching the Gospel, where it is unknown, village preaching by ministers in the County where circumstanced admit, instructing the rising generation, teaching the poor to read by the establishment of schools or otherwise, distributing religious books, and encouraging meetings for prayer, reading the scriptures, and religious conversation.

That the Union will not countenance any measures which interfere with the order, peace, and comfort of evangelical churches and ministers already settled, or with the steps which had been taken by others for spreading the Gospel.

During the first year 17 Churches joined the Union, religious teaching was introduced to 55 Schools and 215 was raised to finance the Union's operational costs.

The schools were Wivenhoe, Woodham Ferrers, Ramsden Bellhouse, Layer Breton, Wickford, Gestingthorpe, Fullers Street, Radley Green, Kelvedon, Moreton, Good Easter, Fyfield, Horndon, Boreham, Sampford, Stock, Felsted, Bush-End, Little Maplestead, Southweald, Grays, Tollesbury, Mersea Island, South Ockenden, Ingatestone, Galleywood Common, Tye Green, Braughing ( Herts) , Stanford le Hope, Great Leighs, Matching Green, Herongate, Takely, Salcot, Little Wigborough, Chignall SaintJames, Coopers Green,Langley, Blackmore, Crays Hill, Braxted, Corringham,Pelham,Arkesden, Fingringhoe, Notley, Beazley End, Bardfield, Rettenden Common, Toppesfield, Farnham, Widdington, Battlesbridge, Hatfield, Hanningfield.

In 1802 the Congregations at Wivenhoe, Ockenden,Takely, Ingatestone, Wickford, Kelvedon and Writtle were regarded as most successful and self sustainable.

By 1848 the list of most successful Congregations had changed to Southminster, Southend, Orsett, Great Wakering, Toppesfield, Walton, Romford and Rochford.

Other Congregational Churches  included Bishops Stortford ( Herts) , Bocking, Brentwood, Castle Hedingham, Chelmsford , Clavering, Colchester, Dunmow, Halstead, Little Baddow, Maldon , Ongar, Stebbing, Steeple, Sudbury (Suffolk) , Terling, Thaxted ,Tillingham, Witham

The information for this page has been taken from A brief review of the plan and operation of the Essex Congregational Union written by Robert Burls in 1848