In October 2008, we celebrated 350 years of Baptist life and witness in Pershore. The story, it seems, began in the aftermath of the English Civil War with itinerant preachers emerging from within the ranks of Cromwell’s model army ‘glowing with zeal’ and travelling around the vicinity of Worcester preaching the glorious gospel of God’s grace. It was also a time of upheaval in the established Church of England with many incumbents, such as Richard Claridge, Rector of Peopleton, being expelled because of their espousal of Puritan or, in his case, specifically Baptist convictions. Initially, persecution meant that such Dissenting groups had to meet in secret. One such group met in clandestine fashion, we suspect, in Tiddesley Woods close to Pershore. The Toleration Act of 1689 allowed some respite from persecution with meeting houses being afforded protection by simple registration.
A Baptist meeting house was registered under the fruitful ministry of founding pastor Timothy Thomas on 16thJuly 1700 in Broad Street on the site of a malthouse. Records show that Pershore hosted an assembly of the Midland Association of Baptist Churches as early as 1695 and again in 1708 with good hostelry being obtained for many from the Angel Inn. It was a gathering of ‘men of energy and purpose.’ As the work developed, in 1719, a further three cottages were converted into a meeting house. The first manse was erected in 1742 with a further manse being built in 1751. The latter was funded entirely at the expense of prominent member Samuel Rickards. The present Manse was erected in 1870 with the Upper and Lower School Rooms added in 1889, replacing smaller rooms. Whilst permanent records are patchy, there is evidence of a local preacher’s society centring on Pershore in 1844 and of gospel outreaches taking place to such areas Bishampton, Bricklehampton, Great Comberton, Stoulton, Defford, Peopleton, Eckington and Pinvin. Many familiar names!?
John Ash, pastor from 1751-1779, among his many accomplishments, built up a remarkable thriving school work. He was noted also for his hymnody, the habit of composing a new hymn by which the salient points of each sermon would be suitably impressed upon the eager congregation. During his ministry he received upwards of 90 new members.
The longest serving pastor was Julius Harnwell Feek, who served for 31 years from 1873 on into the new century. In a circular letter to the churches, read at Alcester in 1883, Feek wrote ‘There is life in the tall tree that lifts its bare head to the heavens, and endures the winter storms, but it is very different from what it is when clothed with summer leaves, or ladened with autumn fruit … So it is with many Christians, they are born again, and have the witness within them that they are children of God; they exist but they do not live, they possess the germ of life, but do not develop as their body develops.’
We give thanks to God for evidence of his great faithfulness, of his providential timing, generous provision and immense care toward his people down through the generations. There are many examples of how God has graciously called and inspired and enabled men and women to stand in courage, be moved with deep compassion and to serve in creative ways for the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is evidence God’s tender forbearance and patience in the face of divisions within the fellowship, notably in 1789 and 1860, and of reconciliation and healing through his mercy and grace.
As we glance back, we can be immensely grateful to God for all those formative influences upon our life of faith both as individuals and as a fellowship, thankful for all the many examples of godliness, of faith in Jesus and of a passion for God. As we look forward, we can do so with expectation, of knowing that ‘from generation to generation you are God’ and knowing that we too can be history makers. Humbly, we may dare to believe that the best is yet to come. Echoing the apostle Paul we can say ‘a great door for effective work has opened …’ (1 Corinthians 16:9) Let us take the baton of faith and run with focus and determination and perseverance, let us live now to make history and, most of all, to live our lives to the glory of God’s amazing grace, running into the arms and tender strong embrace of our never failing, ever faithful God.