What's it like to be 375 years old?
A reflection on King's Stanley Baptist Church marking its 375th anniversary and its joint celebrations with eight others. By Jo Regan
What’s it like to be 375 years old? Certainly you can expect some wrinkles and some physical decline but it is not all doom and gloom.
Older does not necessarily mean wiser but the folly of youth has at least left. Then there are the memories of yester-years in which to treasure, of children and grandchildren and family meals, memories of tears shed together, but also of laughter and joy.
King’s Stanley Baptist Church (KSBC) celebrates its 375th anniversary this year.
Founded in 1640 worship was not easy for our forbearers who were forced to meet in secret until 1689 when the Act of Toleration was passed and Baptists and other non-conformists were allowed freedom to worship and to build their own places of worship.
The Baptists of King’s Stanley use to meet in a clearing in Penn Woods under a tree, aptly named the ‘Gospel Beech’ and many were fined and imprisoned for not accepting the state religion.
In the 18th century a chapel was finally built next to a nearby stream used for baptisms.
The chapel fell into disrepair and was eventually closed, but in 1824 a new one was built just down the road in Broad Street, Middleyard, which is where the current congregation still worship.
The Baptist family grew out from King’s Stanley and daughter churches were built in Shortwood (1715), Stroud (1824), Nupend (1832) and Woodchester (1833).
At KSBC our building creeks like an arthritic hip. It is well worn and grade 2 listed. There is much work that needs to be done.
The organ, once played with gusto, has been substituted for piano and the occasional guitar, but our worship remains heartfelt. Times change and people change but our God does not, He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
The older you get the more you look back on your life and the memories of days gone by. As a church, and as a denomination, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels and the glory days of packed Sunday Schools and previous revivals.
We must look forward. If we always do the same then we get the same results.
So how can we do church differently? How do we compete with the many activities and clubs that are on offer to today’s generation of children who seem to rush from one activity to the other? How do we learn to stop in the ever increasing busy world to listen to what God is saying to us?
There are many questions that we need to ask about our future if we are to have one.
Five years ago KSBC nearly closed its doors for the last time but God stepped in and our mission continues. There is something about being help by the prayers of the saints that have gone before us. The ground has already been claimed for God but there has been a need to reclaim it.
At our shared 375th celebration at Broadmead Baptist Church in Bristol Jonathan Edwards spoke on ‘Courageous Faith’.
Whatever our age, whatever our history there is a need for our Christian witness to be a courageous one. We may know our past, and hopefully we can learn from that, but we do not know our future that is in God’s hands, as well as in ours.
God calls us to have courage and to step out in faith. God calls but it is up to us to respond.
The Revd Jo Regan is minister of King's Stanley Baptist Church