We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (6 August 2023) and celebrations of the Feast of the Transfiguration. The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today recalls the life and work of Mary Sumner (1828-1921), founder of the Mothers’ Union (9 August). Today also marks the 78th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945.
I am catching a flight from Birmingham to Dublin later this afternoon. But, before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.
As I recently spent a number of days looking at the windows in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, I am reflecting in these ways for the rest of the week:
1, Looking at some other churches in Tamworth;
2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
It is said locally, with humour that Tamworth once had as many churches as it had pubs. The history of the Congregationalists, Unitarians and Baptists in Tamworth dates back to the presence of the Puritans in the early 17th century.
While the Revd Samuel Hodgkinson was the 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 in his diocese, and in 1627 he licensed Blake as preacher in Tamworth. In 1629, he 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 then 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 him 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.
When Blake made his will in 1656, 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 in Tamworth. 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 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.
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.
A Congregational Church on the corner of Aldergate and Saint John Street was built in 1827. Some Congregationalists preferred to be called Independents.
A side extension was added to the church in 1925 to provide space for a Sunday school and for social activities. However, attendances had fallen to an all-time low by 1974. The church closed, the pulpit was moved to the neighbouring Methodist Church, and the former Congregational Church and the building was converted into the Victoria Shopping Arcade. Since 2002, it has been the Jalali Indian restaurant.
Matthew 15: 21-28 (NRSVA):
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24 He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26 He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27 She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28 Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.’
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), is ‘A reflection on the Exodus narrative (Exodus 1-13).’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Archbishop Linda Nicholls, who has been the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada since 2019.
The USPG Prayer Diary today (9 August 2023, International Day of the World’s Indigenous people) invites us to pray in these words:
Father, we come before You today to lift our indigenous brothers and sisters. Lord, they have faced many injustices throughout history, and we pray for Your healing power to touch their lives.
Faithful and loving God,
who called Mary Sumner to strive for the renewal of family life:
give us the gift of your Holy Spirit,
that through word, prayer and deed
your family may be strengthened and your people served;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The Post Communion Prayer:
from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name,
your servant Mary Sumner revealed your goodness
in a life of tranquillity and service:
grant that we who have gathered in faith around this table
may like her know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge
and be filled with all your fullness;
through 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