Retro: Church’s early struggles

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How far would you go for something you wanted?

Would you be prepared to get yourself and all your family up before dawn and walk 14 miles, then walk 14 miles back again, arriving home well after dark?

A page from the church minute book for Ringstead Shared Church showing the original members

A page from the church minute book for Ringstead Shared Church showing the original members

And then have you wanted it so much that you were prepared to do it every Sunday, on probably your only day off in the week?

Even the most ardent car booters would be pushed to last out that long.

But that’s exactly what several families from the village of Ringstead did back in the 17th century.

In 1662 Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity in which Charles II tried to impose strict regulations on the clergy.

Members of the congregation recreate the walk worshippers used to have to make

Members of the congregation recreate the walk worshippers used to have to make

However, many vicars, including the one at Ringstead, refused to adhere to the new rules as they went against their own Christian beliefs.

Because of this they were ejected from their posts and their homes, leaving no-one to preach.

With many of the congregation illiterate there was no way for them to learn from the Bible unless someone more learned could tell them about it.

So one dissenting minister started to preach at a nonconformist gathering in Rothwell.

The inside of Ringstead Shared Church

The inside of Ringstead Shared Church

There was no A14 in those days, so the journey had to be done on foot.

There were no street lamps either, and with much of the journey cross-country, they relied on lanterns to show them the way.

It was from this committed band that a Baptist church was eventually founded in Ringstead on July 15, 1714.

The 43 members met at first in a borrowed barn until they were able to build a chapel.

It is this same chapel that many people in and around Ringstead still hold dear and attend today.

On Saturday, May 17, a group re-enacted part of the walk.

Leaving Ringstead they followed the footpaths through Woodford and Twywell as far as Cranford, but then continued by car as the footpaths beyond Kettering are now difficult to find.

The early years of the church were not always easy. The Northampton Mercury on Monday, October 4, 1762, reports that a fire (started accidentally) burnt down the meeting house.

It seems that other churches in the area gave financial help and a new building was erected and dedicated within a year.

Over the years the building has been extended and improved.

In 1887 the schoolrooms were added, so-called because their purpose was to provide religious education as this was not at that time in the province of state schools.

Ten years later, during Queen Victoria’s 60th jubilee year, there were new seats and a hot water heating system.

On each occasion there were celebration services and teas.

More recently the toilets have been modernised and full catering facilities provided in the kitchen area.

In 1792 a Northamptonshire shoemaker and pastor, William Carey, published a pamphlet calling Christians to engage in mission.

In a sermon he said: “Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.”

A group of ministers in the county took up the challenge and at a meeting in Kettering on October 2, 1792, the Baptist Missionary Society (now BMS World Mission) was born, with Andrew Fuller as its first secretary.

The following year Carey sailed to India.

Almost a century later, William Frost Cottingham, born and brought up in Ringstead, offered to go as a missionary.

He was accepted by BMS but the separation caused his parents, particularly his mother, pain.

He wrote: “My parents feel convinced God is calling me and leading me into His service on the Foreign Field, and that as Christians they must, and will, rejoice in the favour of God to their son ...”

In 1885 he sailed to Congo in West Africa but within a few weeks he was attacked by a fever and died, as did so many at that time.

Moving on another century and attitudes in churches were changing.

In 1975 Ringstead Baptist Church and Ringstead Methodist Church started sharing all Sunday services.

By 1995 it was decided to sell the Methodist building and Ringstead Baptist and Methodist Churches became known as Ringstead Shared Church.

They entered into a Declaration of Ecumenical Welcome and all Christians from whatever background, together with the richness of their traditions, are both welcomed and valued.

Ringstead Shared Church will celebrate the 300th anniversary of Ringstead Baptist Church on July 15.

There are also other events planned before this date, including a flower festival in the church on Saturday, July 5, and Sunday, July 6.

The church will be open from 10am to 6pm on the Saturday and from midday to 6pm on the Sunday and will be filled with flower arrangements depicting 300 Years History in Flowers.

Slides of old Ringstead will also be showing.

On Saturday, July 12, at 3pm there will be a Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving and on Sunday, August 31, at 4pm Malcolm Pentelow will give an organ concert.

Admission to this concert is by tickets, which are free and available in advance from Angela Davis.

Email her at rsc@angeladavis.net or call 01933 622316.

There will be a collection for church funds and everyone is welcome.

A brief history of Ringstead Baptist Church is being published and will be available at the flower festival, at a cost of £3.

Originally compiled by Evelyn Bull from the original 1714 Church Minute Book it has been updated and includes newly-sourced additional information.