The year is 1800, in the Bedfordshire town of Potton (population 1,103), on 13th June, nine Christians have formed a Baptist Church. Seven of the nine are former disgruntled members of the Gamlingay Baptist Church, a village three miles from Potton, who disagreed with the ‘free offer’ preaching of the pastor, William Pain. ‘Christ commands me to preach the gospel, not just to the elect, but to everyone’, Mr Pain replied to their criticism. The Gamlingay church began in 1670, through the preaching of John Bunyan, now famous author ofThe Pilgrim’s Progress. The church now believes in the free offer of the gospel.
John Keeling, another of the founder members and one of the first two deacons of the Potton Baptist Church, became a Christian through the preaching of Rev. John Berridge, the eccentric vicar of the nearby village of Everton. Keeling was present at Everton on a remarkable Sunday, 20th May 1759, when to quote an eyewitness, ‘the presence of God filled the place’ so that people, convicted of their sins, disrupted the service and later filled the vicarage to seek help from the vicar.
A lot has happened since the formation of the Potton Baptist Church over 200 years ago. The Baptists opened a chapel on 1st May 1802, ‘in Horslow Street, copyhold of the manor of Potton much manured’, with its own burial ground. In the first year, the membership grew to fifteen and rose to fifty-one by the year 1829.
A Mr M Chambers was ‘publicly ordained pastor’ on 16th September 1801 but left after an unhappy year. Sadly, the church removed Keeling from the membership, about 1819, because of some misdemeanor. The other founding deacon, James Sprague, died in 1829. 1810 saw the arrival of Robert Chapman who served the church until 1818. Chapman’s name appears on a needlework sampler that now hangs in the chapel, listing the Fifteen Articles of Faith, dated 20th January 1811.
In September 2011, Pastor Stan Evers, the thirteenth pastor of the church, retired after 25 years as pastor of Potton Baptist Church. Mr Evers, spent eight years reading Minute Books, two dating from 1800 and 1846, sifting through magazines and documents, besides writing to former pastors and members, in order to write Potton Baptists, published in December 2005. The history of the church is a story of God’s faithfulness to his people and their faithfulness to him. At times the church almost closed, but the tenacious Baptists continued to trust God as they proclaimed the gospel of salvation through Christ alone.
In the book of Potton History, are the stories of previous pastors such as the unstable Edward Blackstock, who reluctantly became pastor in 1826, and who started a fee-paying school in the chapel vestry. An 1851 census records 400 people attended afternoon services during the twenty-five year pastorate of ‘the saintly William Tite’. Another pastor felt dismay at the church’s lack of vision and another had a beaming smile.
There are many interesting stories in the book, such as two young boys caught in the chapel vestry with stolen beefsteaks, horses running wild in the graveyard one Sunday morning and the formidable Miss Richardson who would not allow a visiting preacher to have five hymns instead of the customary four!
If you wish to purchase a copy of the book please contact Stan Evers via firstname.lastname@example.org Price £2.50 + £2.50 p&p