Our roots go back to Christ Church on the Stray, the first parish church to be built in Harrogate in 1831 (and a great church it is by the way!). However by the 1840’s some of the common folk were struggling to afford the ‘pew rents’. Let me explain.
The renting of pews was the primary way that churches in many denominations collected funds prior to the twentieth century. This entitled a person to use a given place at any of the divine services in that church. The closer a family sat to the altar or pulpit, the higher its social or economic position. The occasional provision of free seats (in less desirable places) underscored the problem and the strict class structure.
So, in the 1840’s a bold group of worshippers decided to meet outside on the Stray itself and worship God in his natural environment. Since the Methodist revivals in the prior century, such outdoor gatherings were not that uncommon. This was not a break away from the church, more of a common person’s protest against a system. The outdoor services happened under the oversight of the Rev. Thomas Sheepshank, the Vicar of Christ Church 1845-1858. While the work prospered 1845-47, there were moments of opposition, such as when an elephant (from a visiting circus) was released into the crowd to disperse the worshippers or once when a drum was beaten loudly to drown out the sermon!
Overtime however, this gathering of Christians that met ‘outside the walls’ took on more of an evangelistic life of its own and by 1847 alternative accommodation was sought. At first rooms were rented on Tower Street, an unruly area at the time, and soon after a Committee was established to oversee this new move of the Spirit in the town. Within a couple of decades, under the work of Mr Reed, a notable Christian leader, the Town Mission was born. A building was purpose built on the corner of Strawberry Dale and Mayfield Grove especially for outreach to the railway labourers and poorer classes. This was in full use from the 1870’s till 2011 when it was sold and the current larger premises were purchased on Westmoreland Street. The move of the Spirit that began with outdoor meetings on the Stray continues till today with a flourishing community of Christians, who serve the town and share the life-changing message of Jesus. While the name of the fellowship may have changed over time (from the Town Mission, to the Evangelical Free Church, to Mayfield Community Church, to its current name Mowbray Community Church), the same purpose remains. We continue to ‘build a community of God’s people to love and to serve’.
Over the last 175 years and counting God has been incredibly faithful and countless lives have been changed by the power of Jesus Christ. Pastor David Bolton is honoured to be the 12th pastor to serve the flock since the Town mission began and knows God has even bigger plans for Kingdom work in Harrogate and beyond. Why not come and be part of this amazing story?