A visit to the trailblazers
Some time over 370 years ago, a group of Baptist believers started meeting in Newbury. After meeting for some years in a room above what is now the Camp Hopson store, they moved to a new site in an area of the town improbably known in the 1700s as ‘Egypt’. They built a simple meeting house there, and acquired a small plot of land as a burial ground. The site was far from ideal, occasionally prone to flooding, and offered only the simplest of facilities. Singing was a cappella, with a tuning fork to start them off, and later a wooden pipe to accompany them. Over the years, some of the faithful were buried in the little burial ground, and others within the building itself, including one beneath the pulpit.
In 1859 the congregation moved to a new building in the town’s main thoroughfare. The building was much better suited to their purpose, and included a chandelier with ‘no less than 62 gas jets’ according to an early historian. The old building was acquired by the Brethren, who then worshipped there until 1998.
It was after they left that the building and land were cleared to make way for a new development, and the graves of those early Baptists were found. They were re-interred that same year in a cemetery outside the town, with a monument erected in 2000.
Yesterday evening, with bright sunshine slanting across the gravestones, I visited that memorial.
I found it humbling to stand and look at this diminutive memorial. Like the people it remembered, it was neither brash nor grand. Like their witness in ‘Egypt’ of old, it was simple. As Pastor to the Newbury Baptists, I inherit the Gospel ‘torch’ which they faithfully held and then passed on. Like them, I am still asking questions about how best to serve the town and people where I am placed. The inscription at the base of the memorial speaks volumes:
I trust that I can do the same…