1769 was a notable year. James Watt, the Scottish inventor, received the first patent for his steam engine, an invention that would play an important role in the industrial revolution. Captain Cook, sailing on the Endeavour, reached New Zealand and became the first European explorer to map the islands. Sir Arthur Wellesley, better known as the Duke of Wellington, a future war hero and British prime minister, was born in Dublin.
It was also the year when Whittlesey Baptist Church began. Dating the beginning of a church is not an exact science. Our current building was built in 1836 and extended and added to several times over the years. This was a replacement for an earlier building put up in 1790. Yet, the church existed a long time before either of them.
There is evidence of a Baptist congregation in the town in 1669 and more than one by the year 1728. So, what’s significant about 1769? The church didn’t start meeting in that year, but it was the year that the congregation meeting in Gracious Street drew up a “Trust Deed” and officially began. 250 years later, we’re still here.
250 years is a long time. Life back then would have looked very different from now. The church began long before the Whittlesey Mere was drained. There was no need for a car park in those days as people would have travelled on foot or on horseback.
I think about all the people who have been part of the church over the generations. Thousands of people, most of them I’ve never met. As we’ve prepared for this year, we’ve found some old photographs dating back to the early 1900s. One of them shows a Sunday School Parade in the market square. The buildings, the clothes, the time was so different to today.
There are many ways that the church has changed over the years. Yet, with all the changes there is still a common thread that runs down through the history of the church. The message we teach, the good news of Jesus, and the things we believe are still the same as when the church first began. There is something very reassuring about that.
Throughout this year we are hoping to celebrate 250 years of Whittlesey Baptist Church. We have a few different events planned and if you’ve had any connection with the church in the past, or even if you’ve never had a connection at all, we’d like to invite you to join us. We’ll do our best to let you know what’s happening.
We’ve also set up a Facebook group for past attendees where people can share their memories and connect with people from the church. If you want to know more keep an eye out on our website for more details.