History of Whitefriars Church

Whitefriars Church began life as a children's holiday club in 1991 and has since grown to be a friendly and informal church. Some of the key points in its history are shown below.

Early 1990: The Church of England in Rushden investigated at possibility of planting a church, looking at the estate that had Whitefriars Junior School at its heart: there were many children living on the estate but few were known to have any church contact. Several Church Council members visited a church plant in Hertfordshire in August 1990.

1991: A paper by Revd Alan Smith (then the Rector of Rushden) on strategy for church growth in Rushden was discussed by the Church Council. Proposals included starting a Sunday School in the Whitefriars area for children whose parents did not come to church. A holiday club was planned for the end of August and that this would lead to a weekly Sunday Club for junior school aged children. Around 220 different children attended the holiday club. Parents came for the last half hour each day to see and hear about what their children had been doing. From this group of children, around 45 became regular members of the Sunday Club. This was led by Revd. Rod Lee (curate at St. Mary’s Church) and three lay leaders.
Three weeks into September, there were a number of parents asking if they could stay and listen to what was being taught to their children. Following discussion with the Rector it was agreed that a monthly family service could be trialled.

1992: At the age of one year, the Sunday Club opened to adults as well. About 40 people in total attended each week with around another 20 who were less regular attenders. The main reasons for going to Whitefriars were said to be that it was near, friendly and relatively informal.

1993: The first group of adults were confirmed by the Bishop of Peterborough at a service in Duston. Revd. Rod Lee moved on to be vicar at Kingsthorpe. The lay team continued to lead Whitefriars Church.

1994: Revd Alistair Kaye and family arrived and moved into a house on the estate. Alistair was a curate at St. Mary’s but was given special responsibility for Whitefriars, whilst involved in some aspects of St Mary's Church.

1995: Revd Alan Smith observed that Whitefriars was no longer a church plant, but was, effectively, a church in its own right. Alan moved on to a new parish and Alistair took on more responsibilities at St. Mary’s though still had oversight of Whitefriars.

1996: A Tots’ Group was started early during the year. The church also launched The Warriors, a football team for boys with no church connection: this lasted for a couple of years. Revd. Alistair Kaye moved on to a new parish.

1997: Whitefriars Monday Club (for under-11s) was launched at the old Post Office in Rushden town centre.

1998: Due to the interregnum, Whitefriars had not had a leader free to give proper attention and time to the church plant for two years. In December Revd Ian Weaver and family arrived from Australia.

1999: Ian set out at St Mary's Council a vision for the future for Whitefriars. This included its own premises, financial independence and possibly structural independence from St Mary's at some stage in the future.

2000: Whitefriars Church had developed a range of mid-week activities, including a growing youth ministry. This led to it taking the running of the existing Anglican youth groups on behalf of the parish. Steve Chadwick was appointed, initially as a Youth Minister for the whole Church of England in Rushden, and later as a full-time appointment by Whitefriars Church. Soon afterwards, Whitefriars played a key role in launching and running the fortnightly ‘Kicking & Screaming’ contemporary service (later ‘KnS’) which took place in St Peter’s Church and ran until 2005.

2001: Bishop Bill of Peterborough came to Whitefriars: his opening comment was that one could assess how ‘low’ a church was by the number of wires lying around on the floor.

2002: Three portakabins were ordered: these were to be renovated and built into a church office and meeting space. Revd. Ian Weaver returned to Australia.

2003: Revd Philip Evans and family arrived, following a few months without a minister. A plan was drawn up for the structure and use of the portakabins: obtaining planning permission took some time and the work did not commence until 2004.

2005: The church had continued to develop in various ways. Sunday morning attendances were averaging about 110 people, with it being noted that there was little room in the school hall for many more people. During the week, Alpha and home groups, and youth ministry had developed further. A fortnightly Sunday evening service was launched in September. This, together with a monthly interdenominational youth service, replaced KnS. The Bridge Church & Community Office in the school grounds was opened in November.

2006: Bishop Ian of Peterborough conducted the first confirmation service at Whitefriars. The church hosted a couple of head-teachers from Kenya which, along with the Diocesan link with Bungoma Diocese in Kenya, started a long-term link with that country.

2007: The first visit to Bungoma Diocese was made by a member of Whitefriars which led to there being a link between Whitefriars and St. Philip’s Church, Samoya, Kenya. Additional members of staff were employed to help with the leadership particularly of the many youth groups that now existed.

2008: The Parish of Rushden Whitefriars came into existence, as part of the Rushden group ministry, on the 1st January 2008. The parish comprises two separate geographical areas: one in the south of Rushden near Whitefriars Junior School, and the other in the north of Rushden, including Rushden Community College. A monthly Thursday evening café church event – Venue2 – was launched at Rushden Community College in early 2008.

2009: In June Whitefriars PCC became a registered charity. Like other PCCs, it had previously been excepted from registration, but – as a PCC with an income over £100,000 in 2008 – it was required to register in 2009 under the provisions of the Charities Act.

2011: Stepping Out began at Pentecost: this was an initiative to take the Gospel to the people with a number of groups going into the community to meet with others; these including helping the community, assisting another church with starting and managing family services, a book-reading group, a group of walkers and a service of a more traditional style for the older members of the church.

2014: Whitefriars hosted Revd. Joseph Kaniala from Bungoma Diocese: he was here for three weeks. Revd. Philip Evans moved on to an appointment as a hospital chaplain.

2015: Revd. Chris Youngman arrived with his wife Liz.

2016: Whitefriars celebrated its 25th birthday with a weekend of partying and a celebratory service attended by members past and present along with a number of dignitaries, including Bishop John of Brixworth, the local MP, members of the town council and members of the staff of Whitefriars School.

2017: A large proportion of the congregation was involved in a day of prayer and discussion aimed at producing a Growth Action Plan: this included looking at the things the church was good at, not so good and poor.

2018: A large, out-of-town shopping area came into being. A new group that became The Well started to meet in the northern part of the parish aiming to reach people who were not yet engaged with church: some of the meetings of the Well were held in the shopping area. Most meetings were in homes and public areas.