Old Baptist Chapel

History of the Old Baptist Chapel

The Impact of the Evangelical Awakening

The initial impact of the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century was upon a group of Anglican clergy, but the movement proved to be too great to be confined to one denomination.

As the century proceeded men converted in the Awakening began to minister in the various dissenting denominations and their churches received additions. John Wesley made the first of many visits to Bradford on 17 July 1739 and preached to a congregation of a thousand in a field at Bearfield. In August he was to claim a congregation of three thousand in the town.

From 1749 to 1753 Thomas Olivers the hymn writer and one of Wesley's staunchest supporters was a member of the Methodist group in the town. The Calvinistic Baptists would not have been happy with aspects of Wesley's theology. They would have been better pleased with the teaching of George Whitefield, the greatest of the eighteenth century preachers who visited the town on 7 May 1769 and reported in a letter 'a blessed day yesterday in Bradford church'. This was towards the end of Whitefield's life when he was reporting great congregations in Frome, Chippenham and Castle Combe as well as other West Country towns and villages.

At the Baptist meeting house Richard Haynes was succeeded by a minister called Walker who was pastor from 1772 until his death in October 1782. After his death the church was served for a short time by Thomas Hopkins who did not accept its invitation to the pastorate. From this time the influence of the Revival can be seen more clearly as Hopkins had been converted under the preaching of ministers sent by the Countess of Huntingdon to Frome. He became a Baptist while assisting the Independent minister in Devizes and was baptized in that town by Charles Cole of Whitchurch. Hopkins's ministry in Bradford was very fruitful and he received several invitations to the pastorate and was encouraged by a number of the neighbouring ministers to accept. Dr. Caleb Evans pastor of Broadmead Bristol heard of his hesitation and recommended him to the church at Eagle Street London and there he went as assistant and successor to Dr. Andrew Gifford.

Eventually the church called John Lloyd from Bovey Tracey as pastor in 1785. He had been a Countess of Huntingdon minister earlier. Sadly this pastorate ended with the dismissal of Lloyd in 1789 and a split in the church. In August 1792 Lloyd and a group of his friends licensed a house on Says Green for worship. Nothing further is known of this community.

Meanwhile in 1792 the old church called Joseph Ring, a member of the church at Whitchurch and also formerly a minister in the Countess of Huntingdon's Connection, to minister on probation at Bradford.

In 1793 the Western Association held its annual meetings at Bradford. In its letter to the Association the Bradford church declared that it believed and approved the doctrines contained in the 1689 Confession. The church reported that there had been no baptisms during the past year but had received one member by transfer. They wrote 'Our public meetings on ye Sabbath are well attended our more private meetings not so well as we could wish'. This honest acknowledgment gives some idea of the situation just before Ring was ordained on 24 April 1794 and delivered a statement of his faith which the Baptist Register described as 'strictly evangelical'.

John Ryland junior friend of Andrew Fuller and William Carey, as well as being a well-known preacher and hymn writer, preached on this occasion. Later that year the Baptist Register reported that 'several are very desirous of encouraging social prayer meetings'. It also reported that three had recently been baptized.

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