The Village of Kensington was laid out in 1838. In 1844 church services began, at first in the home of Mr and Mrs John Roberts, then in the village’s Independent Christian Chapel in High Street, followed by a larger meeting place in Maesbury Street.
In December 1853 a split occurred in this congregation. After a few months, the breakaway group was able to support a Minister (Revd John H. Barrow). Temporary accommodation was found in a hall in Bridge Street, leased from John Roberts.
During 1855 a large and commanding site on the corner of Portrush Road (then known as Kensington Terrace) and The Parade (then East Parade) was purchased. On this site a new stone and brick church, ‘a spatial and ornamental chapel’ was built. As a result of a huge effort to encourage donations from leading businessmen and Members of Parliament, the new Congregational Chapel was opened free of debt.
This building, now known as the Lecture Hall, was opened on 13th April 1856. The name Clayton Chapel was adopted at the request of John Roberts in honour of his former Congregational pastor in London, Revd John Clayton Jr, and reflecting the regard with which Roberts was held. A gallery was added to the chapel in 1862.
It is the opening of this building, 150 years ago, that the congregation celebrated in 2006.
The congregation grew rapidly and in 1881 it was decided to build a larger church in front of the existing church. This fine building, with its 38m high steeple and seating for 560 persons, was opened on 17th May 1883 and has since become a notable and well-known landmark – The Spire on The Parade.
The front of the church is graced with a 3 x 2 m carved relief depicting Jesus’ Presentation at the Temple. The master sculptor William J. Maxwell executed the work and he and his wife donated it to the church. A fine new organ, built by J.E. Dodd & Sons of Adelaide, was installed in the church in 1897.
For many decades, Clayton Congregational Church (as with most churches) played an important role in the social and religious life of local residents. The church had a large Sunday School and operated a wide range of social and sporting groups. Sunday School concerts and other fine music concerts presented by the Church Choir were important social events. The well-known Adelaide Harmony Choir had its origins through Clayton’s Choir conductor, Mr Lewis Dawe, and performed regularly at Clayton in its first decade.
During 1965 Clayton Church decided to establish a home for the aged. The first stage of Clayton Church Homes at Norwood opened in March 1968.
In April 1973 the Norwood Wesley Methodist (now Russian Community Centre) and Clayton Congregational fellowships formally merged after several years of working together. In 1977 Clayton Wesley Church became part of the newly formed Uniting Church in Australia. Then in October 2000, the St Morris Uniting Church and Clayton Wesley Uniting Church congregations amalgamated.
Clayton Wesley is an important part of many people’s lives. Its congregation is actively involved in community outreach, notably through its shop Goodies. The church has, as its primary goal, to build and sustain a community of Christian faith through ‘Sharing friendship, worship and care’.