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Transcribed from the 'Souvenir of the Opening of the New Sunday School, August 1929' written by Mr J Usher (click images above for enlarged view).
A brief History of God’s wondrous dealings with the Upper Stratton Baptist Church, 1861 – 1929.
William Cowper writes in the year 1774 that “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.” This is a great truth which has been apparent in all ages, and is very applicable to the above Church.
Many years ago, a business man in Swindon said to the writer of this treatise, “When I first went to Upper Stratton, it was the most God forsaken place to be found anywhere!” I believe that visit was paid a little while before the Chapel was built. At that time there was no School in Upper Stratton, no Church, either Anglican, Wesleyan, or Baptist – only one very small Chapel used by the Primitive Methodist Society and situated a few yards from where the Baptist Church now stands. This has long since been closed for religious worship.
About the year 1860, the late Henry Tucker, Esq. of Bourton House, Berks, became the owner of considerable property in the village, and being a Christian man, desirous of glorifying God and benefiting the community, built the Chapel for a dual purpose; as a day school for the children of the parish, and a Chapel for the worship of God. This was some time before the day of School Boards.
The foundation stone of the Chapel was laid in 1861, and the Church formed in 1862.
One wonders why such a site was chosen for a place of worship in a quiet out of the way lane, but its history has proved that God made no mistake in the matter. We believe it was divinely planned, and the fact that it has been the spiritual birthplace of many precious souls fully justifies its existence. Its influence has always been good, and we have to day members in both hemispheres keenly interested in its welfare.
The Church has only had five stated ministers during its history. The first was the Revd. Horatio Gilmore, who, before entering the Baptist Ministry, had been an officer in H.M. Army. Mr Gilmore served the Church from 1862 till 1867, and was followed by the Revd. Issacker Flecker, a converted Israelite, who preached the gospel to the Stratton Gentiles from 1867 till 1871. Then came the Revd. James Hamilton, from a Norfolk Church, who served from 1872 till 1876. He is gratefully remembered by the writer of this as the man who led him to Christ. The next minister was the Revd. Nicholas Rogers, who came to us straight from Spurgeon’s College. His ministry lasted from 1876 till 1880. Then he sailed with his family for Australia. Our last minister was the Revd. J. W. Gardner, who gave up a business career in Oxfordshire to become a Baptist minister. Mr Gardner served the church from 1880 till 1891. The reader will see from what various sources God gets His servants. We gratefully record our gratitude to Him for the labours of these five men who gave their best in His service here.
Mr Tucker defrayed the whole expense of the first two Pastors but, after the resignation of the Revd. I Flecker, decided to make a change. He then thought it best for the Church to bear a part of the expenses, and to choose their own Pastor.
Mr Tucker agreed to give £50 per year to the Funds, charging therefrom £10 per year rent for minister’s house and Chapel. The balance of the minister’s salary was made up by members’ subscriptions. The Church had a very small beginning and grew during Mr Gilmore’s ministry to 28 members. It was first called a Free Church, and was registered for marriages on December 1st 1862.
The Sunday School has always been a good one, the statistics on November 5th, 1876, being Church members 20, girls in Sunday School 60, boys in Sunday School 67, teachers in Sunday School 11. Another interesting item shown at this time is that local preachers supplying the pulpit were paid 7/6 for a full day’s services, and 5/- for half a day. This is very interesting in th4e light of today. It is pleasing to note, too, that from its earliest history the Church has had a small Benevolent Fund, which, in many cases, has been very useful, the first grant from the Fund being a pension of 2/- and 1/6 per week respectively, to two aged members.
Another pleasing thing to record is the care exercised in the election of Deacons in the Church’s early history. When the first Deacons were elected two evenings, February 28th and March 1st 1867, were set apart for prayer and instruction from God’s Word over the matter, and the two Deacons Adophus Adams and James Bown were appointed to this important office for one year. Another resolution, in the early days was, that all secular entertainments should be held in the Day School (a building built later than the Chapel). These old saints evidently believed in keeping things in their right place, and should be a good example for us now.
The Church joined the Wilts and East Somerset Baptist Association on June 9th, 1868, and has been in touch with it ever since.
It is sad to relate that the Chapel bell ceased its ministry on July 7th, 1886, after calling our worshippers together for twenty-four years, though for years after it bore its silent testimony from its place over the door. It is now reposing in the wood-shed.
Since 1891 the whole scene is changed. Mr Tucker died in 1872, and Mrs Tucker died in 1891. Their contributions to the funds then ceased, and we could no longer support a Pastor, but thank God, He never changes, and though we became solely a lay Church, He has never failed us.
Plans were put forth for joining with the Church at Stratton Green in inviting the Revd. R. Mansfield, of Bourton, to take the oversight of both Stratton Green and Upper Stratton Churches, but failed, as did also a proposal to amalgamate with the Church at Gorse Hill. We were thrown upon our own resources, but God led the way and we gratefully give Him all the praise.
Bro. A.N. Taylor was elected Senior Deacon, and faithfully shepherded the flock till he was called to his reward on October 11th, 1919. He was, indeed, a Father in Israel, beloved by us all. Lay preachers came to our aid and served us well, preaching the Gospel faithfully and freely. Some of these brethren have been allowed to remain with us till the present time. We are debtor, indeed, to many of God’s children for the help they have rendered the cause; the amount of free labour and skilled labour too that has been given buy both men and women is astonishing.
Until the year 1902 we rented the Chapel from Mrs Tucker’s executors at a nominal rent of £2 per year. The estate being then sold we, through the kindly interest of the late H.J. Deacon Esq. of Swindon (a great Baptist friend), and J.A. Fereman, Esq. Of Watchfield, Berks (Mrs Tucker’s Estate Agent), were able to but the Chapel for £3ll, and it is now for all time, we trust, a Baptist Chapel. £200 of the purchase money was lent us for 10 years free of interest by the Baptist Building Fund. We also received a loan from Ms Tees’ legacy fund of the Wilts and East Somerset Baptist Association, this too was fee of interest.
The Chapel was re-registered as a general Baptist Chapel in September, 1896, and was re-registered for marriages April 16th, 1908.
Since the Chapel was purchased much has been done in improving the property, and for the comfort and convenience of our worshippers. A new Baptistry has been put in at a cost of about £60; a new choir platform erected and the choir transferred from back to front of Chapel. Gas and water have both been laid on, which is a great boon to us. The Chapel has been re-decorated and beautified both inside and out, and is now in an excellent state of repair.
The Chapel was invested in fifteen Trustees, with the proviso they should not become less than five. The deeds of the Chapel, with Worship certificate of the registration of Chapel for marriages, and insurance policies for fire and caretaker, are placed in the safe with the Treasurer of the Wilts and East Somerset Baptist Association My E.W. Brown, of Calne, Wilts.
While we can say this of the building, what shall we say of the spiritual work carried on within its walls? For 68 years God’s work has been carried on, and richly owned of Him; souls have been saved, lives and homes have been blessed, and are still being blessed. We give God all the praise. Out records show that since the formation of the Church 237 members have joined us, by far the largest number by baptism and from the Sunday School. Today the Church is a hive of industry, our present numbers being: Church members 80; Sunday School scholars 130; Sunday School teachers 18 (all the latter being members of the Church); Band of Hope about 180.
In addition to the weekly services, which have been carried on for years, we started a year ago a Women’s service Wednesday afternoons, which has been a means of grace to many and promises well for the future. The Church is very happy in its officers and in its relations with the sister Churches in the village. Long may it continue.
We should not like this little book to go out without reference to some whose memories are revered with us today. Many will remember dear old Robert Iles, who though only a working man, was a tower of strength in the Church. He passed to his reward December 4th, 1907, and, though dead, speaks to us by his godly life. Another, in Robert Iles, junior, for over fifty years organist and choir conductor, is remembered with loving thoughts, not only here but with our friends overseas. He died December 30th, 1927. Our choir today, of which we are proud, bears his impress, and is largely the product of his unstinted labour and love for the music of God’s house. God buries His workmen, but still carries on His work. We praise God for those who have laboured so faithfully in the past, and whose works do follow them.
We thank Him, too, for those who have been spared to work a little longer in the vineyard. Our Senior Deacon, Brother I. Usher, in addition to being a lay preacher, carries our the Pastoral duties of the Church such as visiting the sick, speaking the word of hope and comfort to the dying and at the grave-side, and also joyfully conducting the marriage services of our young people in visiting the sick, Brother Usher is loyally assisted by our band of female and male visitors.
The Wilts and East Somerset Baptist Association have greatly honoured our Church, first by electing Brother Usher to its Executive in 1919, to its Presidency in 1927, and also in 1928 making him a life member of the Executive.
We are glad to see that the mantles of our dear brethren Adolphus Adams and A.N. Taylor have fallen upon their sons F. Adams and F. Taylor, who are worthily following their fathers’ steps as Deacons in the Church. Long may they serve Him, the best of all Masters.
We are reminded here of Elijah’s servant, who saw a cloud the size of a man’s hand that brought great blessing to Israel, so from small beginnings God has brought great results to Upper Stratton. We would, with the Psalmist, call upon our souls, and all that is within us, to praise His holy Name.
And now in this year of grace God has given us another token of His favour. The new Sunday School, so long prayed for worked for, and waited for, is an accomplished fact, and our heart are full of gratitude. The School has cost about £1050. It is up-to-date in every respect, a very noble building. Towards its cost friends have rallied round us on every hand, and from more than one land. “It is indeed a hall of Sacrifice.”
Our dear friend Mr Colborne gave us a good lead, for which we thank both God and him. It is a joy to us to see Mr Colborne spared to take a part in the opening of this beautiful School.
Our best thanks go out to every one who has helped in the matter. We should like to give all their names but they are legion. God bless them all. Special mention should, however, be made of Brother H.J. Fisher; he has worked with untiring zeal in gathering funds for the School and has been most successful in his efforts. We trust he may be spared for years to labour in the School for which he has done so much. The new School is starting under the happiest auspices. Our beloved Superintendent Brother H. Garlick and his willing band of helpers are all filled with the team spirit of unity, and zeal for the Saviour’s cause amongst the young. We are confident they will keep the Gospel banner and the Saviour’s love ever in view of those who are committed to their charge.
Among our group of Superintendents is the well-known photo of Bro. T. Brett, affectionately known as “Uncle Tom.” Bro. Brett was converted early in life, and ever after gave of his very best to the Saviour’s cause, especially in the Sunday School, and also in the Choir. He received the Master’s “Well done,” at an early age. We missed him sadly, but thank God for his splendid life and work.
We just now commend the whole cause to our gracious God, praying that the future of our old Church and new Sunday School may be richly owned and blessed by Him whose sole property it is, and whom by His grace we wish to serve in it.
While this has been said of the Church at home much has been done for Foreign Missions, and one, at least, brought up in our Sunday School, has given herself to God and her life to the Missionary cause, and is soon going (DV) to serve Him in foreign lands. Our devoted Missionary Secretary, Mrs E. Brown, and her late dear husband, deserve special mention for their self-denying efforts for the Missionary Society and Sunday School.
The Church has also as a corporate body joined the League of Nations, believing it to be our duty this to support the effort for abolishing war and all its attendant evils.
We look back and say, “What hath God wrought?” Surely He has led us by the right way. We look forward with great expectations of what God can and will do at, and through, the Baptist Church at Upper Stratton, for the extension of His Kingdom and the good of precious souls.
Reader, pray for us, and, if possible, help us in the glorious work of trying to win the world for Jesus Christ.
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