20 April 2022

The ‘nonconformist’ traditions
continue in the story of three
churches in Stony Stratford

Stony Stratford Community Church … the Baptist presence dates back to the 1650s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In recent weeks, I have written about many of the churches in Stony Stratford, including the parish church, Saint Mary and Saint Giles (and here), the surviving tower of the former Saint Mary Magdalen Church, the former Saint Mary the Virgin Church on London Road, now the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Ambrose and Saint Stylianos, and the Catholic parish Church of Saint Mary Magdalene at the north end of High Street.

But Stony Stratford also has three churches that represent the three main strands in the English ‘non-conformist’ traditions: the Baptists, the Methodists and the Congregationalists.

Horsefair Green is a pleasant open green space edged with lime trees. Stony Stratford Community Church, facing onto Horsefair Green, is a member church of the Baptist Union, and represents a long Baptist presence in Stony Stratford that dates back almost four centuries.

A meeting of the General Baptists of the Midlands decided to send out ‘messengers’ to plant new churches in 1651. It is not known whether this included Stony Stratford, but the Baptists were established in Stony Stratford at an early stage.

The first Baptist groups in Stony Stratford were served by itinerant pastors, and they met usually in private houses and barns. John Emerson of Cosgrove and W Fortnell leased a plot of land west of the ‘Cofferidge’ in 1657 and a chapel was built with seating for 100 people.

The earliest Baptist burial in Stony Stratford is recoded in 1701 ‘at the Cofferidge.’

When the Revd John Brittain died in 1733, this Baptist community declined rapidly. It was recorded in 1824 that the Baptist community, ‘over the past thirty years, had been so reduced as to excite the fear of its becoming extinct.’

However, the Revd John Simmons, who had arrived in Stony Stratford a year earlier in 1823, seems to have brough a new lease of life to the Baptists of the town. The original Baptist chapel was demolished, a new one was built, and he remained in Stony Stratford until he died in 1830.

Stony Stratford Community Church seen from Cofferidge Close (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Frederick Ancell (1850-1919) of High Street, a builder and local benefactor, was a well-known member of Stony Stratford Baptist Church. In 1921, the Ancell Trust bought land for the Stony Stratford Sports Ground.

Stony Stratford Community Church faces Horsefair Green, backing on to what was Cofferidge Close before it became a new shopping centre in recent decades. The church has been renovated and extended in 1907, 1930, 1935, 1955-1956 and 1985.

Today, the ministers of Stony Stratford Community Church are the Revd Jacqui Green and the Revd Stuart Earl.

Stony Stratford Methodist Church on Silver Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Methodists or Wesleyans have had a presence in Stony Stratford since the mid-18th century. In the 1770s, a local group of Methodists began to meet for worship in a large barn behind the Talbot Inn, now 81 to 85 High Street.

John Wesley visited Stony Stratford on at least five occasions, and during his visits between 1777 and 1779 it is said he preached both under the ‘Wesley Elm’ in the Market Square and in the barn off the High Street, behind the Talbot Inn.

The Methodists continued to use this barn as their meeting place until 1844, when the present Methodist Church on Cow Lane, near Coffereys Close, formerly Cow Fryers Close.

Cow Lane was the mediaeval ‘Back Lane’ along the western edge of the old town. It was renamed Silver Street as part of the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s silver jubilee in 1887. As for Coffereys Close, it became Cofferidge Close.

The ‘Wesley Elm’ in Market Square has long disappeared: it fell victim to Dutch Elm Disease in 2007 and was replaced in 2008. Today, the Methodist minister in Stony Stratford is the Revd Dr Margaret Goodall.

The ‘Wesley Elm’in Market Square has long disappeared and was replaced in 2008 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Congregational Church on Wolverton Road also dates from 1823. The pediment contains a shaped stucco plaque that reads, ‘Congregational Church 1823.’

Today, the building belongs to Stony Stratford Evangelical Free Church, and the Revd Keith Plant is the minister.

The Congregational Church, Wolverton Road … now Stony Stratford Evangelical Free Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
20 April 2022 (Psalm 56)

‘My enemies trample on me all day long, for many fight against me’ (Psalm 56: 2) … a display in the Military Museum in Chromonastiri, in the mountains above Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this season of Easter, I have returned to my morning reflections on the Psalms, and in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 56:

Psalm 56 is the first of a series of five psalms in this section of the Psalms that are referred to as Miktams. Miktam or Michtam (מִכְתָּם) is a Hebrew word of unknown meaning found in the headings of Psalms 16 and 56-60 in the Hebrew Bible. These six psalms, and many others, are associated with King David, but this tradition is more likely to be sentimental than historical. They may have formed one of several smaller collections of psalms which preceded the present psalter and on which it was based.

Miktam corresponds to the Babylonian nakamu, lid, a metal cover for a vessel, but efforts to derive a meaning for the term in the psalms have not been convincing. In modern Hebrew, the word has come to mean epigram, and numerous collections of Hebrew epigrams have used that word in their titles.

In the slightly different numbering found in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) and the Latin Vulgate, this psalm is Psalm 55.

This psalm is attributed to King David and may be considered representative of him or anyone else hiding from an enemy.

In the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 56: 1 comprises the designation: ‘To the leader: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. Of David. A Miktam, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.’ From then on, verses 1-13 in English versions correspond to verses 2-14 in the Hebrew text.

The heading in the Septuagint reads ‘for the people far off from the holy places (or holy people),’ while the Targum has ‘concerning the congregation of Israel, which is compared to a silent dove at the time when they were far from their cities, and turned again and praised the Lord of the world.’

The setting of this Psalm, as given in its title, is David’s flight to Gath, which is recorded in I Samuel 21: 10-15. It is a prayer for help against enemies, ascribed to royal rites, as indicated by the interpretation of the ‘peoples’ in verse 7 as foreign enemies, the references to national war in verses 1-2 and 9, as well as the vows and thank-offerings (verse 12) that are particularly suitable for a king, and the references to ‘death’ and the 'light of life' (verse 13) are also linked to royal imagery.

‘You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle’ (Psalm 56: 8) … sunset at the Sunset Taverna in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 56 (NRSVA):

To the leader: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. Of David. A Miktam, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.

1 Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me;
all day long foes oppress me;
2 my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many fight against me.
O Most High, 3 when I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
4 In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I am not afraid;
what can flesh do to me?

5 All day long they seek to injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
6 They stir up strife, they lurk,
they watch my steps.
As they hoped to have my life,
7 so repay them for their crime;
in wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

8 You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your record?
9 Then my enemies will retreat
on the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
10 In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
11 in God I trust; I am not afraid.
What can a mere mortal do to me?

12 My vows to you I must perform, O God;
I will render thank-offerings to you.
13 For you have delivered my soul from death,
and my feet from falling,
so that I may walk before God
in the light of life.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘From Death to Resurrection,’ and was introduced on Sunday by the Revd Dr Rachel Mash, Coordinator of the Environmental Network of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (20 April 2022) invites us to pray:

We pray for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and the Green Anglicans Network.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org