St Stephens Church,Rochdale

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This church, in the connexion of the late Countess of Huntingdon, was erected in 1811. Externally of substantial though unattractive appearance, it is, nevertheless, a very commodious place of worship, and is calculated to seat a thousand persons.

Previously to the opening of this church, services had been held in the old Theatre, conducted by the Rev. J. Nelson, who died in Rochdale before the building was completed.

The Rev. J. K. Foster was the first minister, and continued so for several years, when he became President of Lady Huntingdon's College, at Cheshunt. After his removal the congregation rapidly declined. He was followed by the Rev. S. T. Gibbs, who laboured here about three years. The Rev. E. C. Lewis became the minister in 1839, and has continued to the present time. Under his ministry the attendance gradually increased, and has maintained its efficiency for many years. In 1865 Mr. Lewis was unanimously elected the President of the Conference of the Countess's Connexion, and at the close of its sittings received high commendation for the ability displayed in conducting its business.

The prayers of the Church of England are required to be read, according to the discretion of the minister, as is the case in all the late Countess's chapels, necessity, not choice, having compelled her Ladyship to secede from the Establishment, while she continued attached to its services, its articles of faith, and its evangelical ministrations.

The organ of St. Stephen's is one of the finest in the town, and was erected upwards of twenty years ago, at a cost of about £500.

Mr. Lewis, now that the Rev. John Kershaw, late of Hope-street Chapel is dead, is the oldest Dissenting minister in the town. In disposition he is kind, affable, and genial, and has friends amongst every religious denomination in the parish. As a preacher he is extremely popular, and his sermons, which are preached extempore, are models of excellence, and are clear, forcible, and convincing. He illustrates his texts in the most vivid manner, and his style is captivating and impressive. The entire service at St. Stephen's is beautifully rendered ; and the congregations are frequently full and sometimes overflowing. On special occasions numbers of persons from other places come to hear Mr. Lewis preach. The ordinary congregation is highly respectable and intelligent.

(From Rochdale Past and Present, A History and Guide bu William Robertson)

St Stephen’s Congregational Church (ex Countess of Huntingdon Connexion)

In Milnrow, the members of the ‘St. Stephen’s Countess of Huntingdon Connexion’ worshipped at the British School first of all, then they built a school known as St. Stephen’s, at Lowfield. The site was later occupied by Holroyds, who were taken over by Reynolds.

‘The Countess of Huntingdon Connexion’ combined a form of Calvinism with Methodism, whilst retaining Anglical liturgical forms. Selina, Countess of Huntingdon set up residences in various towns, so that she could legitimately appoint a chaplain for each. In this way she was able to offer ‘livings’ to a number of outspoken clergymen who were deemed ‘too enthusiastic’ by the Anglican Church – due to their leanings towards Methodism or Calvinism.

The earliest record of a ‘Connexion’ church in Rochdale is 1811, when they met in an old theatre. In 1812 they built a large church in Ball St. The Connexion opened a school in Milnrow in 1840. In 1860 a site near the Slip Inn was leased and a church was built there. It opened on 27th October 1861. In 1865 the church members joined the Congregational Union, severing their links to the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion.

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