A SHORT HISTORY OF CAPE TOWN UNION CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
This church, under earlier names, has been a part of South Africa’s history for over 200 years. On 2 May 1813, ninety member of a Calvinist Society met under Rev George Thom and constituted themselves into South Africa’s first free church. It really started as a soldiers church, for 63 of them belonged to a Sutherland Highlanders regiment. It did not become a Congregational church until 1820, when Dr John Philip, upon becoming pastor, insisted that government should be by resolution of the church meeting. Dr Philip's wife, Jane ran London Missionary Society admin from Union church.
In 1821, the church moved to Church Square. If you look near the entrance to the Graaff’s Trust Building, you will see a circular blue plaque reading “Site of Union Chapel. First Congregational Church in S A. 1821.” For about 38 years this was the centre of South African Congregationalism. Later on, about 1859, the church moved to Caledon Square. From Church and Caledon Squares other chapels and churches were established, among them Claremont (1840), Sea Point (1893), Observatory (1894), Rondebosch (1903).
Many ministers of the church occupy a notable place in South African history, including Dr John Philip, Rev James Cameron, Rev T D Philip and Rev John Mullineux. When in Cape Town, Dr David Livingstone of London Missionary Society (LMS) fame, and son-in-law of Robert and Mary Moffat, would preach at the desk that is now our Communion table. Florence Nightingale rated him the greatest man of his age. One prominent member of the church was actually invited to serve as prime minister; this was Saul Solomon, founder of the Cape Argus.
Unconnected with the Caledon Square church was the Trinity Congregational Church, founded by Rev Alexander Pitt in January 1898. Originally in Queen Victoria St (where St. Martini Gardens stand today), it later moved to 55A Kloof Street (the church now facing the Lifestyle Centre). In January 1907 the Trinity and Caledon Square churches were united under Rev Pitt as the Union Congregational Church. Soon there was a clear need for larger premises, and the present site, opposite the iconic Mount Nelson hotel, was acquired. In April 1925 the present church was inaugurated by Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, after whom the suburb of Cape Town is named. Princess Alice survived the longest of all Queen Victoria's grand-children, and was the longest living British royal in history (1883-1981), only recently eclipsed by the Queen Mother.