16 September 2023
Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (111) 16 September 2023
We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and tomorrow is the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XV, 17 September 2023). The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today recalls the life and work of Saint Ninian (ca 432), Bishop of Galloway, Apostle of the Picts, and Edward Bouverie Pusey (1882), Priest, Tractarian, who gives name to Pusey House in Oxford.
Before the day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.
This week, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:
1, Looking at a Unitarian church I know;
2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
The former Unitarian Chapel, Tamworth, Staffordshire:
The story of the Unitarians in Tamworth dates back to the presence of the Puritans in the early 17th century. While the Revd Samuel Hodgkinson was Vicar of Tamworth (1610-1629), the Revd Thomas Blake (ca 1597-1657) first arrived in Tamworth. Blake was a native of Staffordshire and graduated BA in Oxford in 1620. On Christmas Eve 1620, he was ordained priest by Thomas Morton, Bishop of Lichfield, at Eccleshall.
Bishop Morton was sympathetic to the Puritans, and in 1627 he licensed Blake as a preacher in Tamworth. In 1629, Blake succeeded Hodgkinson as the Vicar of Tamworth and master of the Grammar School.
As Vicar of Tamworth, Blake preached his brand of Presbyterian Puritanism with its dislike of bishops and catholic doctrines
However, William Comberford of Comberford Hall and the Moat House claimed the right of patronage in the parish, and between 1639 and 1642, he pursued legal actions to secure his claim to the patronage of Saint Editha’s and the college house. Comberford was unsuccessful in his action, and he and Blake soon also found themselves on opposite sides in the First English Civil War.
Blake was a strong supporter of Parliament and probably did not remain in Tamworth during the royalist occupation. His parish work was disrupted and it was in these years that he first earned a reputation for being controversial. His publications focussed on questions about infant baptism, and he debated publicly with other Puritans, including Presbyterians and Baptists, publishing pamphlets and sermons. One of the children he baptised was John Rawlett (1642-1686), later an Anglican cleric, preacher and writer with close sympathy with the Presbyterians.
Despite Comberford’s failure to eject Blake in 1642, Blake appears to have left the parish immediately after the case. There is a blank of two years in the Parish Registers during the Civil War from 1642 to 1644, for which Theophilus Lord wrote in 1644: ‘For some short time service there was not any.’
In 1643, Tamworth Castle was captured by a detachment of Parliamentarian forces under the regicide Colonel William Purefoy. William Comberford, who was High Sheriff of Staffordshire, escaped to Lichfield, and in his absence the Comberford home at the Moat House was ransacked by Cromwell’s forces, who mutilated the Comberford monument in Saint Editha’s Church, the Comberford Chapel was defaced, and sacked Comberford Hall.
However, Blake did not return to Tamworth, and in 1644 Cromwell’s Committee of Safety appointed Theophilus Lord as the Minister of Tamworth. Blake had moved from Tamworth to Shrewsbury, where he became a Puritan minister in 1645. A year later he was replaced as Vicar of Tamworth by Revd Ralph Hodges, who was appointed Vicar of Tamworth with Glascote and Hopwas in 1646. He was also appointed Rector of Birmingham, a position he held until the end of 1661.
Meanwhile, Blake was back in Tamworth by 1651, when he was writing and publishing Puritan tracts and pamphlets once again, and where he remained until his death. He was nominated by Cromwell to be an assistant to the commissioners of Staffordshire for ejecting ‘ignorant and scandalous’ ministers and schoolmasters.
In later publications, Blake advocated a more open and inclusive approach to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This position brought him into conflict with one of the leading Puritans of the day, Richard Baxter, and the controversy continued until Blake’s death.
Blake made his will in 1656, and one of the witnesses was Thomas Fox, a Puritan and Parliamentarian officer who would soon move into the Moat House, the former Comberford family townhouse on Lichfield Street. When Blake died in 1657, he was buried in Saint Editha’s Church.
What happened to the Puritan circle around Blake and their successors in Tamworth after the civil war, the Restoration and the ejection of Puritan ministers?
Samuel Shaw, who gave the oration at Blake’s funeral, was ordained by the Wirksworth Classis or Presbyterian assembly in Derbyshire on 12 January 1658 and became the Schoolmaster or Puritan minister in Tamworth. He was one of the Puritan ministers who were ejected from their parishes at the Restoration and he later became Master of the grammar school in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire.
Anthony Burgess, who preached at Blake’s funeral, had been the Vicar of Sutton Coldfield from 1635 until he was forced to take refuge in Coventry in 1642, and was replaced by the royalist Revd James Fleetwood. Burgess was a member of the Westminster Assembly in 1643, and returned to Sutton Coldfield. After the after the Great Ejection in 1662, he moved to Tamworth.
The parish of Tamworth remained vacant until 1662, when the Revd Samuel Langley was appointed Vicar of Tamworth.
The Puritans’ successors in Tamworth were the Presbyterians, who built their own meeting house. They had become Unitarians by 1690, and the former Presbyterian meeting house was replaced in 1724 by the Unitarian Chapel built on Colehill, now Victoria Road.
The adjoining former graveyard has some 18th and 19th century headstones, including monuments of the Lakin and Byng families and the gravestone of the Revd William Parkinson (1792-1857), who was the Unitarian minister in Tamworth for 20 years, from 1837 until he died on 3 June 1857.
The Unitarian Chapel was restored and altered in 1879-1880, when a new roof was installed and the chapel interior refitted and modernised. It is a two-storey brick building with a fine example of Flemish Bond brickwork, although this is only visible at the side as the front is pebble-dashed. The porch is a later addition.
With its Georgian windows, the Unitarian Chapel is still a well-maintained building. But the Unitarians in Tamworth dwindled in numbers in the 20th century, and their chapel was later used by the Royal Naval Association.
Luke 6: 43-49 (NRSVA):
[Jesus said:] 43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.
46 ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48 That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’
The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), has been ‘Holy Cross Day Reflection.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.
The USPG Prayer Diary today (16 September 2023) invites us to reflect on these words:
We remember all those before us who have fought for our rights and continue to do so.
Almighty and everlasting God,
who called your servant Ninian to preach the gospel
to the people of northern Britain:
raise up in this and every land
heralds and evangelists of your kingdom,
that your Church may make known the immeasurable riches
of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The Post Communion Prayer:
who gathered us here around the table of your Son
to share this meal with the whole household of God:
in that new world where you reveal
the fullness of your peace,
gather people of every race and language
to share with Ninian and all your saints
in the eternal banquet of Jesus Christ our Lord.
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