Sleaford, Jubilee Anniversary Service, 1898
from the Sleaford Gazette
The Sleaford Gazette & South Lincolnshire Advertiser
Saturday October 1st, 1898
Fifty years having elapsed since the beautiful place of worship belonging to the Wesleyan connection in Northgate was first opened, the anniversary services, held on Sunday and Thursday, were of a special commemorative character. On Sunday, two eloquent and stirring sermons were preached to large congregations by the Rev. Marmaduke Riggall, of Alford, based upon Philippians iv. 8 v., and Proverbs xxiii. 23 v. On Thursday, friends mustered in force in the chapel, from all parts of the circuit, to hear the Rev. Dr Stephenson preach, and were treated to a splendid discourse. A public tea was provided at the Corn Exchange at 5 o’clock, of which about 800 partook, the following ladies gracefully dispensing the cheering cup: Mesdames Gilbert, Allen, Bratley, Wormell, Househam, Miller, Brooks, Cowlman, Cook, Bullard, Walsh, Francis, Harris, Weeber and Miss Craven.
In the evening a public meeting was held in the chapel, which was well filled. Mr J Gibson presided and was supported on the platform by Rev. Dr Stephenson, Rev M P Gilbert, Rev. S Birt Coley, and Rev C R Burroughs. After hymn 799 had been heartily sung, the Rev. C R Burroughs led the meeting in prayer.
The Chairman remarked that it afforded him great pleasure to preside on that memorable occasion. He could remember hearing of the opening of that chapel 50 years ago, and little thought then that he should be connected with it in any way. But God sent him there two years after the chapel opened. He rejoiced to think that in those days, hwen the billows were rolling over Methodist Churches, wrecking one after another, that they had men in Sleaford of the right stamp and who took a step forward by deciding to build that beautiful chapel. (Applause). Their action placed Sleaford ath the head of this large circuit, a position, which some contended should then have been held by Metheringham or Navenby. Upon looking back 50 years, they could see that the trustees took a right step, and God had put His seal upon their work. (Applause.)
The Rev. M P Gilbert observed that he was proud of the honour of being present in the capacity of Superintendant of this circuit, when the Sleaford Wesleyan Chapel celebrated its Jubilee. He had been requested to prepare and give a little of the history of Methodism in Sleaford, which led to the erection of that sanctuary. They could not as Methodists go so far back as some towns in England, and could not talk about 1739 or anywhere near that particular time. He found that John Wesley only once during his career came within the bounds of the Sleaford circuit, and that was near the end of his life, although it was one of the largest circuits in Methodism, comprising 30 parishes and between 400 and 500 square miles. Rauceby was the place he visited, and singularly enough it was the last place in the circuit – except Helpringham, where they only rented a room – that they entered as Methodists. Very early in the century they found that there was a house licensed for worship at North Rauceby. According to Wesley’s journals, it appeared that on July 7th, 1781, he was induced by an invitation from the Vicar to preach in his church at Rauceby, and therefore proceeded to that village. After procuring a vehicle he set out for Rauceby. Driving through Tattershall, where he saw the remains of a stately castle, he met such a ferry as he had never seen before, the boat being managed by an honest countryman who knew just nothing of the matter, and a young woman equally skilful. However, although the river was only 50 yards broad, they managed to get over in an hour and a half. (Laughter.) On reaching Rauceby, Wesley found the people gathered together from all parts, and preached to them. On Sunday, the 8th, he rode over to Welby and preached in Mr Dodwell’s church afternoon and evening.
Mr Gilbert then went on to remark that the first Methodist service took place in Sleaford in 1776, and was conducted by a lady from Grantham, whose name they have been unable to ascertain, and who was in the habit of visiting Mrs Gardener, of Sleaford.
In 1795, a family residing at the Paper Mills opened a house for worship, and Messrs Cricket and Hunter ministered there in turn.
In 1797, a house in Sleaford was rented and licensed for worship by Methodists. In September, 1799, a hired room fitted up with pulpit and forms, and which had previously been used by some other body, was offered at a low price to Mr Fawcett, who at once secured it for the use of Methodists, and it was opened by the Rev. G Button, of Newark. The first class consisted of Mr Thomas Fawcett, leader, Mr George Fawcett, Miss A Fawcett, and Mr C Greenwood. The first Wesleyan Chapel in Sleaford was built in Westgate, in 1802, and was opened by the Rev. J Hickling, of Newark. It was used until 1823, when it was considered desirable to erect a new Chapel, partly on the site of the old one.
In 1813 the Rev. R Ram was appointed as the first Wesleyan minister in Sleaford, and in 1814 was succeeded by the Rev. J Fowler, the third minister in the Lincoln circuit. In 1815 Sleaford became the head of the Circuit, and there were then two ministers, the Rev. J Rodehouse and the Rev. J Fowler. Up to 1835 the Circuit continued to be worked by two ministers, and the work so prospered that a third minister was secured. That was 63 years ago, but that minister, the Rev. John H Norton, was still living. (Applause.) Sleaford was his first circuit, and today he was one of the oldest ministers in the Connection. Up to 1875 the Circuit was worked by three ministers, when a fourth minister was appointed, and continued until 1882, when owing to agricultural depression and other causes, the fourth minister was given up, and the Circuit was conducted by three ministers as at present, assisted by a hired preacher, and a splendid staff of 70 local preachers. (Applause.)
For a quarter of a century the old chapel in Westgate was continued, but a growing Church and increasing congregation necessitated a larger place of worship, and on September 28th, 1848, the present Chapel was dedicated to the worship of Almighty God. Prior to the day of dedication, a memorable and mournful service was conducted early one morning. Mr Thomas Fawcett had been buried in the old Chapel in Westgate, and as the Methodist Chapel was being moved to Northgate, it was felt that his remains ought to be removed as well. He was therefore exhumed, the coffin, which was covered with black, being brought to that Chapel at 5am. Although it had been buried several years, the wood of the coffin was in a perfect state of preservation, and there was not a rent or tear in the cloth in which it was enclosed. The coffin containing the remains was buried under that platform, a brass plate showing the exact spot where the first Methodist in Sleaford was buried. Mr Gilbert concluded an interesting address by remarking that it would be difficult indeed to narrate all the triumphs of Christianity and Methodism, as a result of the erection of that house of prayer. (Applause.)
The Rev. B Coley, in the course of an able address, pointed out how greatly they were indebted to the great and little people also, who had lived in days gone by. Our England was not the product of men living in it, but of centuries of struggle and earnest toil on the part of our forefathers. We now lived in the light of good men, kindled in days gone by, and but for whose efforts we should not be enjoying our present religious freedom and countless other advantages never possessed by the Methodists of 50 years ago. (Applause.)
The Rev. Mr Stephenson observed that he was pleased for many reasons to see Mr J Gibson in the chair on that occasion. Not only for the personal benefits he had received at his hands, but it was well that they should occasionally be reminded of the very important fact, that they were greatly indebted for the continuity and success of their work to the band of faithful laymen in their towns and villages, who year after year, and sometimes like their Chairman, for 50 years, maintained a deep interest in the work of God, and who were continually endevouring to promote that interest. This aid was specially necessary where the ministry was itinerant. The Church of England was trying to find out whether it was proper for the laity to take any control of her affairs, and secondly if they could find any laity to act in that capacity. (Laughter.) But they, as Methodists, thanked God for their laity, who had as much care for the church of God as for their own business interests. He, Dr Stephenson, had a mournful and deep interest in Sleaford, for his father was buried here. When on a visit to Sleaford, his father was taken ill and died, and more than once it had been to him a beautiful and mournful pleasure to stand beside his grave. He had been greatly interested in the history of Methodism in Sleaford that they had heard that night, for he had found many personal links in connection with it.
Young people of the present day, were not aware of the interesting and instructive reading to be found in Wesley’s Journals. John Wesley knew more of England than any man of his day, for although travelling was far more difficult than now, Wesley used to go at least 5000 miles yearly, mostly on horseback, until quite an old man. He travelled from end to end and side to side of the country as no other man did, and his writings cast a lurid light upon the habits and customs of the people of his day, the state of the roads, and the condition of various trades and industries. Joseph Parker, one of the most powerful preachers of today, said that when he did not feel quite fit to preach, he took down John Wesley’s Journal on a Saturday evening, and read that for an hour or two, when he found that his soul was soon on fire, and wanting to preach the gospel in the same spirit that Methodists did in the early days. John Hickling was ordained by John Wesley, and he (the speaker) had himself seen Hickling, thus showing that there was only one long generation between Wesley and them.
No growth of any religious body in the history of the world was equal to the increase of Methodism during the last 150 years, for they were now the strongest and largest of the Protestant Churches. (Applause.) They must never forget this fact, when people told them that Methodism was dying, that it had fulfilled it’s mission, and was rapidly coming to an end. (Laughter.) He did not say that they were the strongest of the Protestant denominations boastingly, but because there came with that fact a tremendous responsibility. The middle half of the century was occupied with strife, trouble and difficulty, and now, on looking back without any bitterness of feeling, he could not help seeing that there were many faults on both sides, and that much mischief arose from the mistakes then made. But they could not forget that in those dark times, when the very existence of Methodism was at stake, that there were men prepared to stand for the existence of their Church at great personal cost, and in the face of much obloquy and with a necessity for very great sacrifice. Their forefathers and the laity of those early days stood by the ark of God and kept it in existence. (Applause.)
In 1856, just after the last terrible agitation, they raised a fund of L80,000 one half of which was was devoted to a chapel loan fund. This sum was lent free of interest for the extinction of debt, and in those days debts were so enormous and crushing that they threatened to kill Methodism. But, thanks to this fund, they had today an exceedingly valuable church property all raised from the free will gifts of the people, and with no debts of a crippling or difficult nature. He believed the world was growing better every day, and never was so good than at the present time. They must, however, in order to compete with their rapidly increasing work, live holier and better lives, for they were on the fringe of another century, with great responsibilities looming before them which they could not shirk or forget. (Applause.)
The Rev. C R Burroughs proposed a vote of thanks to the chairman for presiding, to Dr Stephenson for his splendid address, to the teamakers, and to all who had assisted in making the jubilee anniversary such a brilliant success. The Rev. M P Gilbert seconded and conveyed the vote of thanks, Mr Gidson suitably responding. The proceedings terminated with the singing of the Doxology. The collections on both days realized a satisfactory amount.