Today we went on a Baptist local history ramble in Wiltshire. After a picnic at Upper Studley Baptist Chapel, we drove to Southwick Baptist Chapel for a talk by local historian, Andrew Jones. He introduced the history of Dissent in the county, pointing out that the area was known for Lollardy. The Lollards were inspired by the teaching of John Wycliffe "The Morning Star of the Reformation." It is not know how some Dissenters in the area became Baptists, but records of the Church in Southwick date back to the 1650's. The restoration of the monarchy in the 1660's meant persecution for Baptist Dissenters. The "Five Mile Act" forbade religious meeting within five miles of a town. As a result, Baptists met in Wych Pit Woods for worship. Back then, around 2000 people would meet in the woods at night to avoid detection.
We walked from Southwick, through country lanes and fields to Wych Pit for an open air meeting. Andrew Jones set the meeting in an historical context. We sang three hymns, I read from Acts 2:22-42 , David Auger, pastor of Southwick Baptist Church prayed and Ben Midgley preached the word of God.
All this was a reminder of how our Baptists forebears were willing to suffer for their convictions. That challenges us to stand for our beliefs today. Also, it was a reminder that the religious freedom that we enjoy today should be treasured and protected.