West Cliff Congregational Church was first covenanted as a Church on 24th August 1770 as an "Independent Meeting". It had been going for a while before that, possibly even a year. It emerged from the local Methodist Society when the debate over the Rev'd John Wesley's doctrine of "entire sanctification" (referred to at the time as "perfection") reached a point of division. John Wesley was a frequent visitor to Whitby, it is believed he visited on thirteen occasions. Also his insistence on remaining within the Church of England was becoming a burden too heavy for some to bear. Tradition has it that there had been over two years of debate and discussion as a result of the visit of the Rev'd George Whitefield (who counselled against the doctrine of perfection) to Whitby in September 1767.
The Rev'd James Brownfield was its first Minister (of eighteen to 2006). He served from 1770 - 1803. Being cut off from former friends and colleagues only served to push the church in a "reformed" direction and it became clearly more defined as a Congregational Church as time went by. James Brownfield obtained a plot of land from his "in-laws" the Skinner Family on the edge of Farndale Fields, on the west side of Silver Street, (Farndale Fields was not part of the true Town of Whitby but belonged to the Township of Ruswarp. For a long time West Cliff was a separate entity hence the use of West Cliff and not Whitby in the Church Title).Very soon a chapel was erected which became known locally as Brownfield's Meeting House. In 1805 the old chapel was replaced with a much larger one seating 500-600 partly on the same site (The building is currently used as Mike Crowe's Carpets Showroom and Flats on the first floor). Then, the church was known as Silver Street Chapel. The Church's second Minister the Rev'd John Arundel (1804 - 1819) was a leading figure in national Congregational circles being instrumental in the setting up and consolidation of the London Missionary Society (LMS)(Founded 1795). A leading figure in the LMS in the North of England was our fourth Minister Rev'd John C. Potter (1838 - 1865). He also promoted the work of various Bible Societies. John Arundel and John Potter were part of the ordination team for David Livingstone and others for the LMS work in Africa and elsewhere. John C. Potter was the minister who made all the plans and arrangements for the current building. But ill health robbed him of enjoying the fruits of his labour as he died in January 1869. He had been succeeded in 1866 by Rev'd William Jackson (1866 - 1873).
During these early years in particular the Church was instrumental in planting Churches and Preaching Stations in the many villages round about, Mickleby, Sandsend, Lythe, Upton, Loftus, Danby, Lealholm, Castleton, Bilsdale, Farndale, Moorsholm, Staithes, Runswick, Goldsborough, and Thorpe. Today sadly, few of them survive and only Mickleby C.C. remains congregational out of all of them. West Cliff C.C. became a flagship for Congregationalism in the North Riding of Yorkshire and further afield. It set up the first Sunday School in town in 1806, and by 1850 it had grand plans for the training of Ministers and "Lay" Preachers, this together with a need for general educational facilities saw extensive premises commissioned in Well Close Square. These premises were sold for £1,000 to raise funds for the erection of the present church building in 1867 which cost £4,663/7s/6d See for the Architects' (J.P. Prichett of Darlington.)drawing of the current building. The building is in the victorian gothic style and built with local Aislaby stone. The height of the spire is 120 feet and it is reported that some trawlers use it as a baring marker on their approach to the harbour.
A church is not measured by facts and figures but by its faithfulness to God, and then perhaps the Souls saved by its ministry and the consequent impact on the lives of many. Many came to know the Lord at West Cliff and the Church became known as a soul winning one, a true evangelistic, missionary minded, gospel preaching Church (this is not some romantic nostalgic boast, but a fact). The Church was the spiritual home for many of the fishing community and maintained a Mission Hall on the Cragg (the home of most of the fishing community) until the early 1980's. It also had a Mission Hall for the East Side on Grape Lane (until recently Wm. Hodgson & Son (painters and decorators) supplies). The Church was aware that some people would not come into a "Church Building" simply because they were poor, so it took the Gospel to them.
As with most churches of such an age there have been periods of success and then days of less happy times. However, there has always been ample testimony to the guiding and supplying hand of God in our midst especially in more recent times.
What makes West Cliff different ? The Lord raised us up on points of doctrinal purity, which we still take very seriously, and has given us a desire to serve this generation with love, warmth, truth and clarity. Doctrinal purity is not common these days, many churches knowingly or otherwise have fallen into a casual or timid approach to doctrinal matters. We want to teach about salvation and God's love for us. Whilst providing a supportive atmosphere in the most positive, progressive and encouraging way possible.
A brief history such as this can never be exhaustive, and is no more than an outline. We try to live up to Rev'd George Coster's words of 1880, "By all means to win men to Christ, and to make Christian people better Christians".
In 1972 the United Reformed Church (URC) was formed uniting the Churches of Congregational Church of England & Wales (formerly Congregational Union)and Presbyterian Church of England. As with most congregational churches (about 80% in total) West Cliff joined the new denomination but only after a very narrow vote in favour. However, soon it was realized that a grave mistake had been made and we petitioned for release from the URC. We were helped and guided by the fledgling Congregational Federation which was formed to continue the fellowship and joint action provided by the former Congregational Union. In 1979 we regained our Independence as we seceded from the URC. At that point we joined the Congregational Federation. We remained a member until 1999.This took place during the latter years of the ministry of the Rev'd Norman Sugden (1949 - 1975) and then during the ministry of the Rev'd John K Gardiner (1976 - 78). It is sad to record that these years saw much heartache for the church and cut short John Gardiner's ministry. The church was without a minister for six years until the Rev'd Brian W. Stothart accepted the call in 1985. Sadly Brian became ill not long after arriving and died in 1988. One valuable source of help during those difficult years was the local New Life Assemblies of God Church. The Rev'd Alan Niel , the late Frank Phillips and James Colton preached regularly until the church called the Rev'd Victor S. Hope.
More Recent Times
On 6th June 1990 ... Rev'd Victor Hope was inducted to the Pastorate of West Cliff , and Mickleby Congregational Churches. The service took place at West Cliff. The congregations were assisted by the then President of the Congregational Federation The Rev'd Bill Bentham along with Rev's Gordon M. Spencer, Neville Jarrett and Bill Ashley-Smith. Vic had previously been involved in "church planting" for the Protestant Episcopal Reformed Church on Tyneside after having being ordained by them in August 1984 at St. Andrew's URC, Wallsend. He was also "Vicar General" and Chaplain to C. Leslie Saul D.D., the Primus of the PERC. After Dr Saul's death he acted in the capacity of Provost until accepting the "Call" to West Cliff. Vic and his wife June spent 1981-84 at Lebanon Missionary Bible College, Berwick upon Tweed. After that Vic continued studying with Cranmer Memorial Bible College becoming a Fellow in 1996. From late December 1991 a strange combination of events led to the Church temporarily meeting at the home of Vic & June Hope and Eleven former members and friends petitioned to re-open and in April 1992 their wish was granted. On 22nd March 1992 the church started a new chapter when it was re-covenanted, committing itself to a reforming path. Also in 1992 the Church joined the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches (EFCC). Fourteen years plus along the road we have much to give thanks to God for.
August 2008 ... A new chapter in the life of West Cliff, as Vic Hope moves on to other pasture and our new Pastor Mark Ladds takes up the call to carry on the work in Whitby.