The History of our Church
St Barnabas Church, Nelson Road, Gillingham was consecrated on St Barnabas Day, 11th June 1890, so it is now 128 years old. It may be noted that the church lies North to South, unlike the norm which is West to East – a necessity owing to the limited building ground available. The striking reredos, at the (liturgical) East end, was erected at a cost of £500 and dedicated to the memory of The Rev Cyrus Steel, Vicar, who died as a young man in 1905 (the names of the builders who did the work are written at the back of the reredos).
The builder was J E K Cutts whose picture appears here.
One may ask, why St Barnabas? After all, the original Barnabas was a Cypriot who died in AD65 and to all accounts had no link with Gillingham! However most churches are dedicated to one of the major saints and for reasons that are unclear St Barnabas was chosen. We are told that Barnabas was a close friend of Paul the Apostle while in Cyprus and beyond, and that he sold his land and gave the proceeds to the early Church. It is in that spirit of sacrificial service that St Barnabas Church was built in what was then called New Brompton and it became a crucial part of the Church’s witness for so many years. Tens of thousands of people have worshipped, been baptised, been married and been buried in and from this Church. As early as the nineteen sixties it was difficult to find a seat at the Morning Service. To some that may seem a very long time ago: it is not. There are people in the present congregation who were there! People of the parish came for solace at the death of Princess Diana, and filled the pews. It served the community during two world wars.
The High Altar was made to the Glory of God for this church by five shipwrights of H.M.Dockyard, Chatham, in their leisure hours in 1890. The pipe organ which occupied the space to the left of the High Altar and which served for over 70 years was removed during 2000 as beyond economical repair. The replacement electronic organ was purchased before the removal of the pipe organ at a price of £12000. To the right of the High Altar is the Lady Chapel with the aumbry and its small white permanent light. This is the most revered place in the church as it is here the Host (the consecrated bread from communion) is kept.
Above the High Altar and around the sides of the Church are numerous stained glass windows, all dedicated to the Church and to the Parish by the congregation and individuals over the years. There are also military flags and a box of sand from Dunkirk as the veterans from that famous rescue used the church for many years.
A question often asked by visitors is “Who pays for the maintenance of buildings such as this?” The misconception is that the state, or the government or the council pays. But it is all paid for by the congregation and voluntary donations.