What is a United Free Church?
Leytonstone United Free Church is one church congregation but legally is two distinct churches; Fillebrook Baptist Church (part of the Baptist Union of Great Britain) and Leytonstone Congregationalists (part of the United Reformed Church). Officially our members have all chosen whether to join the Baptist role or the URC role but this divide is rarely apparent in church life. We are, before anything else, a Christian church. We share the basic Christian beliefs with all other churches, Catholic and Protestant.
We are also a blend of different Christian traditions. If you think of yourself as Baptist, Congregationalist, Church of Christ, Church of Scotland, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian or Reformed, then this is “your church” in Leytonstone. But in fact we are wider even than that. We welcome all kinds of people in our congregation. In addition, we work closely with Anglican, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Salvation Army congregations in the Leytonstone, Cann Hall and Harrow Green Churches Together Group.
We call ourselves a "United Free Church" because the various streams of our history are part of the "Free Church" or "Nonconformist" tradition. "Free" Churches are so called because they are not an officially established national church like the Church of England. They are also "free" in the sense that their worship does not follow a compulsory prayer book, nor go in for very much ritual or ceremony. It is relatively simple, informal, and flexible.
Churches vary greatly in their life and attitudes, and their understanding of what following Christ demands. So do individuals within any one church. If you want to know what kind of "ethos" this church has we can only recommend that you come and see.
Where can I find out more about the Baptist and URC church?
We are a part of the Baptist Union for Great Britain. This is how they define a Baptist Church:
For Baptists the concept of a family is important. The church is not so much a particular place or building, but rather a family of believers, committed to Christ, to one another and to the service of God in the world.
In this Baptist family everybody is equal, for everybody has a part to play in the service of God. There is no hierarchy of bishops or priests exercising authority over their members. Equality of status, however, does not mean that all have the same role.
Each local Baptist church appoints its own leaders - or ministers - to have particular responsibility for preaching, teaching and pastoral care. Working alongside these ministers are also deacons, who together with the minister(s) form the leadership team of the local Baptist church.
Baptists are grass-roots people, with a particular emphasis on the local church. These local churches are self-governing and self-supporting, ranging in size from twenty or so members to many hundreds. Although each Baptist church is an independent entity, Baptists nonetheless have always believed in associating with one another - and so the churches come together in regional, national and international spheres to promote and support the fellowship of Baptists everywhere.
Global Church: Baptist World Alliance, European Baptist Federation
National Church: Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB)
Regional Association: London Baptist Association (LBA)
District: North Eastern District
This district comprises three area (shown below in three colours), each area has a District Minister. Rev Jonathan Boyce from Highams Park Baptist Church is our District Minister (purple group). Rev Jan Larkin covers the yellow district and Rev Richard Owen covers the orange district.
Sub District: Purple Group Below
Local Level: We work particularly closely with our closest two churches, Cann Hall and Aldersbrook Baptist church.
The United Reformed Church
We are a part of The United Reformed Church. This is how they define a United Reformed Church:
The United Reformed Church plays a dynamic and challenging part in the British Christian community, despite being one of the smaller mainstream denominations. It has brought together English Presbyterians, English, Welsh and Scottish Congregationalists, and members of the Churches of Christ, through unions in 1972, 1981 and 2000. Sixty-eight thousand people make up 1500 congregations, with nearly 700 ministers, paid and unpaid.
The United Reformed Church combines its commitment to the Reformed tradition with a passionate belief that all God’s people should be one. It seeks to work with Christians of all traditions, and rejoices in being part of more than 400 Local Ecumenical Partnerships, with the Methodist Church and others. It is also committed to theological and cultural diversity. It has declared itself a multicultural church, rejoicing in the gifts of members from across the world and seeks to hold together a wide variety of theological understandings; the valuing of different insights helps the church understand the wonder of God.
25 May 2015: http://www.urc.org.uk/about-us.html
The 'Staement of the Nature, Faith and Order of the URC' can be read here
The URC Manual can be read here
Global Church: World Communion of Reformed Churches
National Church: The United Reformed Church (URC)
Regional Association: URC Thames North Synod
District: Roding Area
This area is further divided into four groups, we are part of the Waltham Group (purple on the map). There are plans to merge our group with the South Roding group (turquoise).
Rev Richard Mortimer is the Convener of the Roding Area Committee.
Local Group: Waltham Group Purple Group Below
Two of the largest differences between the denominations are:
Theology on Baptism
Most Baptists believe in Believers Baptism; it is a choice made by an individual to follow God marked by full emersion in a large pool of water. Someone who was Baptised as an Infant may confirm their faith later but for Baptism to have its true meaning the person being baptised should have a personal Christian faith. Read more about Baptist in the Baptist Union here.
Most United Reformed Church believe in Infant Baptism or Christening where parents make promises on behalf of their child marked by sprinkling water on the baby or child’s head. Church membership includes confirmation of that Baptism so URC members who have not been Baptised as an infant should be baptised as an adult before they become a member. Read more about Baptism in the United Reformed Church here.
Our church practices both types of Baptism service but only a URC member can request an Infant Baptism for their child.
Decision making, money and leadership
The Baptists believe decisions on church governing, theology and practice should be made at a church level. This means each Baptist Church may be very different, some will allow gay marriage, others will not allow women preachers and there is a spectrum of views on many differing issues. A Baptist Church must raise and manage its own funds to pay for the building upkeep, minister and resources.
The URC are more centrally organised and many decisions are made at the annual assembly with a vote from those who are chosen to represent each church - in some cases the vote needs to be unanimous to be adopted. URC funds are centrally controlled and limited, one minister may be shared by 3-15 different churches. Churces must get agreement from other local churches in their area to do certain things with the building or to hire staff.
Does it matter?
Denominational identity is very important to some people and irrelevant to others. Although we are part of these two underlying denominations, we are one church community. Whichever denomination you join, you have joined a broad church community which accepts that people worship, practice and administer their faith in different ways.