Old Baptist Chapel

History of the Old Baptist Chapel

The pastorates of Thomas Chapman and John Dowding

By 1722 the pastorate at Bradford was shared by Thomas Chapman a hand setter and John Dowding a tanner from Turleigh. Dowding appears to have died about 1729 after which Chapman presumably continued alone. Nothing further is known of these men.

In the year 1730 the question of singing appeared to be causing trouble at Bradford. The church passed the following resolutions:
  1. That Brother Taylor should sit at the table and read the hymn and call the tune; and, if the non-members should sing any other, though it be of the number allowed by the Church, the book should be laid down.
  2. That any of the Church that could not embrace this, should have free liberty to leave it, and be liked never the less, nor liked never the more.
  3. For their relief that could not join with this sort of singing, that when the Church had occasion of tarrying, there should be no singing for that time.
Many churches were troubled by the question as to whether hymn singing was scriptural. In the year 1733 the Broadmead Baptist Church in Bristol took the initiative in reviving the Western Association. The circular letter referred to the 1689 Confession although 'we allow for differing sentiments about the praises of God & the time in which the Sabbath is to be observed: but in all other things we expect an agreement in that Confession'.

The letter calling a meeting of the Association declared 'You cannot we believe be insensible of the revival & growth of the dangerous errors of Arius & Arminians & others; & are we not therefore oblig'd in conscience at this Juncture to make a publick stand against them & for the most sacred & important truths of the Gospel'.

After explaining that every associating church should make an annual statement of agreement with the Confession, they state 'We hope that those who are not acquainted with this Confession will procure and read it; that they may know the sentiments of their Pious Fore-fathers in matters of the greatest importance'.

The Bradford church was represented at this meeting held at Broadmead by Peter Gibbs one of its members. Gibbs died later the same year. He had, according to Hawkins, been a generous benefactor to the church and left K40 to it in his will.

Bradford was represented at Association meetings when they were held in Wiltshire or Bristol, but usually sent a letter when they were held in Devon. Their representative or messenger after the death of Peter Gibbs was Anthony Pyard.

The 1735 Association letter written by Henry Terry of Tiverton stated that 'the Work of Conversion is at a stand in most places'. He went on, 'we would beseech you Therefore Dearly Beloved that you would Earnestly pray to the Lord for the pouring down of the Spirit on the Churches of Christ in general and on yourselves in particular that the Lord would revive the Spirit of Religion in our day'. Significantly in that year the Lord was working powerfully in the souls of men who would be mightily used in revival on both sides of the Atlantic.

From 1736 membership details began to appear in the Association Records. That year Bradford reported 50 members. They had lost one by death and had withdrawn from four: seemingly there were no additions.

Bradford seems to have been about average in size in an association of twenty churches. Broadmead Bristol and Frome had 103 and 160 members respectively while Melksham had 27. Bradford reported that it had two services on the Lord's Day and in addition separate services for the sacrament and preparation for it once a month. The Association urged special services for prayer and fasting to seek God's blessing, but a regular weekly prayer meeting does not seem to have been a feature of church life. Bradford reported 55 members in 1737 and 50 in 1738.

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