As early as 1825, the first Baptist Christians in Gravesend were meeting for worship in a room over business premises in Stone Street. In June 1834, these same people hosted the Kent and Sussex Baptist Association, which held its annual meeting in the town. However, in the early 1840s, with the population of Gravesend running at about 16,000, these Christians felt that the time had come when they were ready to acquire a plot and construct a building, which would become their spiritual base and place of worship.
They located an appropriate site in Windmill Street, acquired it in 1841, and laid the foundation stone for the building in March 1843, with the first service being held in the newly-constructed chapel in August. The project cost £2,500 and, a little later, on 18 May 1845, Zion Baptist Church was officially constituted, with Rev E S Pryce being inducted as the Minister.
After some decades, in 1900, the Church found itself in a crisis, when more than half of the Church Members withdrew and, under the leadership of Walter Phillips, a student at Spurgeon’s College, began to meet for worship in the Public Hall in New Road. However, following the resignation of the then-Minister of Zion, the two congregations reunited, started meeting together again in Windmill Street and, in 1906, agreed to mark the new start in the Church’s life by changing its name from Zion to Emmanuel.
During the years that followed, a number of Ministers came and went, and gradually the facilities in the Church building were extended and improved. In 1912 a pipe organ was installed in the chapel at a cost of £486, while in 1920 the Church purchased the building immediately next door, 55 Windmill Street, and in 1929 embarked on a building project to construct what has been known since as the Small Hall. Having survived the Second World War, the Large Hall was rebuilt in 1950, the exterior of the chapel modernised in 1962, the interior in 1965 and then, in 1982, a large-scale building project was launched to create a number of extra facilities and more space. The project was completed in 1985, when the new Church Centre buildings were officially unveiled. Since then, in 2008, the Church purchased 56 Windmill Street, and the interior of the Worship area was again modernised and upgraded in 2009-2010.
Throughout the years the Church has been committed to mission, both locally and internationally. It has endorsed the call of a number of mission workers, who have served in different parts of the world and, for many years, has allocated a proportion of its Budget to supporting God’s wider work. It has also been active locally. A small Free Church in Longfield was officially linked with Emmanuel in the 1920s, while, in 1991, a new Congregation was planted in the Gravesend suburb of Riverview Park, becoming an autonomous Baptist Church on 1 April 2015.
In 2002, and aware that a huge redevelopment of multiple brown-field sites to the west of Gravesend would lead to substantial new communities being built and populated, Emmanuel entered into a partnership with the South Eastern Baptist Association to create the Kent Thameside Church Project. Since 2008, Rev Penny Marsh has headed up this ministry as a Pioneer Church Planter, with the vision to see a number of new expressions of Christian community come into being as Ebbsfleet Garden City, London Paramount, and other nearby locations are regenerated over the next couple of decades.