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Celebrating our 1640 churches
Nine Baptist Churches founded in 1640 are celebrating their 375th Anniversaries this year, and two of those are part of the WEBA network.
Broadmead Baptist Church in Bristol will be hosting a celebration to which the other eight churches have been invited, at 3pm on Saturday 19th September 2015. Rev Jonathan Edwards, former General Secretary of our Union, will be the preacher.
The nine churches are Church Street in Alcester, Ravens Lane in Berkhamsted, Broadmead in Bristol, Kingsbridge, Kings Stanley, Cheap Street in Newbury, Abbey Square in Reading, Dagnall Street in St Albans, and Castle Hill in Warwick.
Rev John Houseago, Minister of Broadmead Baptist Church, has sent us this reminder of the very beginning of Broadmead’s remarkable history:
The story of Broadmead Baptist Church starts with a remarkable woman, Dorothy Hazzard.
In the 1630s a small group of friends regularly met for study, prayer and discussion in Bristol. Dorothy Kelly, widow of grocer Anthony Kelly, was a leading member of the group. Their gatherings were illegal, but tolerated by the authorities. In 1639 Mr Matthew Hazzard, a clergyman with Puritan leanings, was appointed a lecturer at St Mary Redcliffe, and then invited to become vicar of St Ewins. Dorothy’s group were sympathetic to his teaching. With encouragement from her friends Dorothy married him. A quiet life as the vicar’s wife was not for Dorothy Hazzard! The Hazzards used St Ewins vicarage to accommodate people waiting for a passage to America, and religious freedom, and to support women in their confinement.
Dorothy’s pattern of life was to attend her husband’s service on Sunday morning and then meet with her friends for prayer and study in the afternoon and at other times during the week. The set format and prayers of the Church of England Prayer Book troubled Dorothy’s conscience as they seemed contrary to the worship of the New Testament. In 1640 she resolved that she could no longer take part in the services, and together with “Mr Atkins of Stapleton, Mr Cole, a butcher, Richard Moone a Farrier, and Mr Bacon a minister, formally withdrew from the established church and covenanted together to worship God purely.”
As the church celebrates 375 years of witness in the centre of Bristol it remembers its foundation and all that God has graciously done with and through each succeeding generation.
The second WEBA church on the list, Kings Stanley, is also planning its own celebration on Saturday 12th September, to which others in the WEBA network are warmly invited. They’ve also sent us a short history of the church, which reminds us that our network had its birth amidst the kind of persecution we now associate with very different parts of the world.
These notes on the history of Kings Stanley Baptist Church have been supplied by Rev Jo Regan, current minister of the church:
The earliest surviving records of a Baptist fellowship in the King’s Stanley area date back to 1640, making KSBC the oldest Baptist Church in Gloucestershire. As it was illegal to meet for worship anywhere other than in a church belonging to the Church of England, the Baptists of King’s Stanley gathered discretely to worship in each others’ homes. Little is known of their beliefs and practices other than that they conducted baptisms of believers, rather than infants, and that they were “Seventh Day Baptists”, that is, they met for worship on Saturday, rather than Sunday.
The establishment of Cromwell’s Commonwealth in 1649 brought greater freedom and tolerance for Baptists and other Nonconformists. While the Commonwealth lasted, they were allowed to worship openly but the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 brought a religious backlash and a clamping down on the activities of the Noncomformists.
No longer able to worship openly, the Baptists of King’s Stanley sought cover in Penn Wood, on the slopes of the hill south of the village, where they worshipped under a tree which became known locally as the “Gospel Beech”. Even so, many members of the fellowship suffered fines, persecution and even imprisonment for their refusal to conform and accept the authority and disciplines of the established Church.
As time went by, persecution eased, and the 1689 Act of Toleration allowed Nonconformists freedom to worship in their own way and to build their own places of worship, provided they swore allegiance to the Crown. The Baptists in King’s Stanley began to meet in a secluded byway in Middleyard, not far from the location of KSBC’s current buildings, which became known as Meeting House Lane (now Coombe Lane).
They built a chapel there in the early 18th century which lasted for around 80 years. There does not seem to have been a baptistry in the chapel itself. When there was a baptism, the stream which ran along the lane in front of the chapel was converted into an open-air baptistry and on these occasions the trees and fields all around were crowded with spectators.
The present chapel was built on Broad Street in Middleyard in 1824 during the ministry of the Rev James Cousins, who was pastor of the church 1818-1843. The schoolroom adjoining the chapel was added in 1883. Both are now Grade 2 listed structures. The pews, which had become very old and worm-eaten, were removed in the 1950s, along with the pressurised water heating system and the gas lighting standards. The windows on either side of the pulpit were blocked up, and the interior decoration changed to a much brighter colour scheme.
Members from KSBC planted Baptist churches in several other locations: Shortwood (1715), Stroud (1824, the same year in which the current KSBC chapel was built), Nupend (1832) and Woodchester (1833).
From the chapel’s opening in 1824 to 2001, KSBC had 23 ministers. From 2001 to May 2010, the church was without a minister and relied on visiting preachers. By the end of that period, the small and ageing congregation no longer felt able to continue and voted formally to close the church.
The West of England Baptist Association, on behalf of the church’s trustees, appointed a steering committee of local Baptist ministers to oversee KSBC’s future. They appointed Nigel Price as lay pastor in June 2010 and, following his retirement from the role in October 2014 due to ill health, the Rev Jo Regan took over pastoral responsibility for the church.
Those at KSBC today seek to worship God and serve the community just as their predecessors did. Services are held every Sunday at 10.30 am, the last Sunday in the month being all-age worship. The church also runs soup lunches from 12 till 1 pm on the first Friday of each month except August.