HISTORY OF RAWTENSTALL CHURCH
The historical origins of Rawtenstall Unitarian Church go back to the building of a Non-Conformist Chapel in 1757 in the Fold, in what was then the centre of Rawtenstall. There is doubt over this church’s original affiliations, whether it was intended for the Baptists or the Independents (later known as Congregationalists), but it seems in its early years the congregation held hard-line Calvinist views. (Of course, early Non-Conformists were both Puritan and Calvinist.)
Things began to change under the long ministry of 51 years of the second minister at the Church, the Rev John Ingham. During this period, the views of both minister and congregation changed, and by 1818 they had come to affirm a broadly Unitarian theology. Before this, there’d been strong divisions in the church community, and at one point the church doors were locked to prevent the two sides from meeting!
Through the 19th Century, disputes settled down and the congregation grew. A new church was opened in 1853, built in the Victorian Gothic style, and situated on the site of the present church. This church served the congregation well, but more than a century later, cracks began to appear in its walls after the construction of St Mary’s Way – the inner relief road in Rawtenstall. The cutting of the banking severely weakened the structure of the church, and it was declared unsafe in 1968, and closed.
The congregation continued meeting for worship at different centres in the town, until the new, modern Church (the present one) was opened in September 1971. Again, this new church served the congregation well, but by 2015 roof leaks and burst pipes had seriously weakened the structure.
A major refurbishment of the church building was then carried out by Unitarians of the Lancashire Collaborative Ministry, with the help of the Bowland Trust. The re-designed building was opened in December 2017 as Rawtenstall Unitarian Church and Unity Centre. It of course remains a place of worship, but it also provides excellent facilities for use by the community.