We are pleased to inform readers that our project inventory, providing bibliographic details of around 350 early dissenting church books and registers, has been submitted to our advisory board for comments. Revisions will be made in May and online publication of the inventory will follow in the summer of this year. We are grateful for the help provided by numerous repository staff, researchers, and other academics to enable us to reach this point in such good time.
As part of the Palgrave Macmillan series, ‘Christianities in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1500-1800’, Crawford Gribben and Scott Spurlock have recently edited a collection of essays titled Puritans and Catholics in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1600-1800 (2016).
Publisher’s note: ‘This volume explores the complex and surprisingly similar experiences of puritans and Catholics in the early modern Atlantic world.’
The Dissenting Experience research group is delighted to announce that we have been successful in our application for a BA/Leverhulme small research grant, 2016. The application was made by Joel Halcomb (UEA) with Anne Dunan-Page (Aix-Marseille) and Michael Davies (Liverpool) for a grant to fund the research and travel required to compile A Calendar of British and Irish Dissenting Church Records, c.1640-1714. Scattered in over 40 locations, including county archives and churches, these records comprise minute books (containing church covenants, confessions of faith, letters), financial accounts, church histories, and registers of members. They provide an unparalleled view into the daily lives and collective experiences of ordinary dissenting men and women. The grant will fund a series of research trips, mostly to be undertaken by the project’s research assistant Mark Burden, and will also fund graduate assistance for the preparation of the calendar for publication.
Francis J. Bremer’s account of ‘the role played by countless named and unnamed women in the story of the shaping of puritanism’ has now been published as Lay Empowerment and the Development of Puritanism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
Publisher’s note: ‘A study of the rise and decline of puritanism in England and New England that focuses on the role of godly men and women. It explores the role of family devotions, lay conferences, prophesying and other means by which the laity influenced puritan belief and practice, and the efforts of the clergy to reduce lay power in the seventeenth century.’
Readers are reminded of the details of the next Dr Williams’s Library seminar:
Valerie Smith (University of Kent), ‘Theology and the Identity of Rational Dissent c.1770-1800′
Wednesday 16 March 2016, Dr Williams’s Library, 5:15-6:45
To view a poster containing further details of this event and the other lectures and seminars in the series, please click on the link below:
Readers may be interested in the following one-day conference to mark the tercentenary of Dr Williams’s Trust:
Dissent and Philanthropy
Saturday 21 May 2016
Dr Williams’s Library, 14 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0AR
10.00 Arrival, registration, coffee
10.25 Welcome David Wykes, Director of Dr Williams’s Trust and Library
10.30-11.30 Hugh Cunningham (University of Kent), ‘John Howard and the birth of philanthropy in Britain’
11.30-12.15 David Wykes (Dr Williams’s Library), ‘Daniel Williams, a remarkable benefactor’
12.15-1.00 Sandwich lunch and coffee
1.00-1.50 Grayson Ditchfield (University of Kent), ‘Rational Philanthropy: Unitarian responses to poverty, c.1770-c.1820’
2.00- 2.50 Elizabeth Gow (The John Rylands Library), ‘Enriqueta Rylands, founder of the John Rylands Library: Private devotion and public piety’
3.00-3.50 Clyde Binfield (University of Sheffield), ‘The patronage of nineteenth-century Congregational Church building: The Example of Joshua Wilson’
Attendance is free but registration is essential as numbers are limited
For further details, please email email@example.com
Dr Williams’s Library: 020 73873727
Lori Branch and Mark Knight are delighted to be co-directing a 4-week 2016 National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminar in Iowa City on ‘Postsecular Studies and the Rise of the English Novel 1719-1897.’ Examining the role that religion and secularization play in the rise of the novel, the seminar has places for 16 scholars (two of whom may be graduate students), and will run from 11 July – 5 August 2016. During the seminar, participants will meet together to discuss common readings and spend the rest of the time working on their own related research projects. Further information about the seminar, including the application guidelines and the NEH eligibility criteria, can be found at http://www.uiowa.edu/postsecular-novel/. You can also contact Andrew Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com).
By Mark Burden
In a previous blog, ‘Sabbatarianism, Literary Form, and the Lothbury Square Church Book’, I explored various misconceptions which have arisen from historians’ interpretations of the so-called More-Chamberlen church book of 1652-4 (Bodleian Library Rawlinson MS D.828). Critical readings of the church book have been greatly indebted to the early twentieth-century debate between J. W. Thirtle and Champlin Burrage about the extent to which it provided evidence for the Sabbatarian beliefs of the congregation’s most distinguished member, the Royal physician Peter Chamberlen. Through his abridged edition of the church book, Burrage determined that the church was not Sabbatarian in its practices, and proceeded to transcribe those church acts which seemed to him to provide the most important reasons why the congregation collapsed. Burrage attributed the congregation’s demise to the ongoing doctrinal disputes between Chamberlen and his ministerial rival, John More, but failed to transcribe More’s correspondence with the church over the crucial questions of prophecy and parable. Yet these very questions of literary form and their use helped to tip the balance in the congregation’s dealings with More, ensuring that he was unable to return to the church, and thereby accelerating its decline. Here, as elsewhere, questions of genre and language proved decisive when it came to ordering, regulating, and disciplining Puritan church members.
However, this is very far from the whole story. Burrage assumed that the fortunes of the Lothbury Square church could be most easily surveyed through the prism of the debates between its two successive pastors, More and Chamberlen. His approach, while typical of church histories written in the early twentieth century, is no longer satisfactory, not least because it fails to take account of the crucial roles played by other members of the congregation. For one thing, Burrage’s reading conforms to the nineteenth and twentieth century assumption that women’s roles in early Baptist churches were at best peripheral to the central business of the church and at worst inconsequential. These are particularly dangerous assumptions for editors of dissenting records, since the omission of women’s writings from an edition on account of their marginal status becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for future readers. Through the process of rehabilitating these texts by and about women in the so-called More-Chamberlen church book we can develop a much more interesting narrative than the clumsy (on both sides) arguments that women were either central or peripheral to seventeenth-century Baptist churches; instead, what becomes clear is that churches were sites of struggle for women quite literally desiring their voices to be heard.
By Mark Burden
Debates about the relationship between Baptist doctrines, church practices, and literary forms have tended to centre around key texts such as Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and have often been expressed in rather blunt and monolithic terms, as if all Baptists had the same views on allegory, plan speech, and Scriptural language. By contrast, it has been assumed that Baptist church books largely lack literary merit, and are better viewed as documents integral to the process of denominational formation, be that for Particular Baptists, General Baptists, or Sabbatarian (seventh-day) churches. The church book of the Lothbury Square congregation in Moorgate, London, 1652-4 (Bodleian Library Rawlinson MS D.828) provides a challenge to both views. In modern scholarship it is usually described as the More-Chamberlen church after its successive pastors, John More and Peter Chamberlen; the former is perhaps best known as the author of an incendiary political interpretation of Daniel 7 (A Trumpet Sounded, 1654), whereas the latter was a distinguished royal physician, a Sabbatarian, and a writer of several pamphlets on medicine and religion. The congregation also had close connections with other Calvinist Congregational and Baptist churches, including Nathaniel Robinson’s church in Southampton and Henry Jessey’s church in London.
The origins of the Lothbury Square congregation are unknown, but by 1653 it was meeting on a regular basis and had adopted doctrines which we would now describe as Particular Baptist. As was the case for several other churches of the period, the intensity of debate among members over positions of doctrine and church government made the congregation prone to splits. By the end of 1653 it had already divided into two churches, one headed by More and Chamberlen and the other by Thomas Roswell, who was later the author of a short anti-Quaker tract, An Answer unto Thirty Quæries (1656). In January 1654 the More-Chamberlen faction was again on the verge of splitting, and among the formal proposals discussed at that time was the withdrawal of Chamberlen from the church. In the end, however, after a series of acrimonious disputes between More and Chamberlen, it was More who withdrew, and a note near the back of the church book records that by 30 April he and his chief ally (the French Protestant and Doctor of Medicine Theodore Naudin) had ‘falne away’ for the congregation completely. Chamberlen’s irascibility and the entrenched and colliding dogmatism of several other church members caused a further series of departures from the church at around the same time, and the church appears to have folded by late 1654. Chamberlen nevertheless remained active as a Baptist pastor in London in connection with other churches until his death in 1683; Bryan Ball has also noted resemblances between the membership role of the More-Chamberlen congregation in 1653 and the Sabbatarian congregation at Mill Yard, London in 1673, connections which he attributes in part to Chamberlen’s influence (Ball, Seventh-Day Men, p. 81).
The Lothbury Square church has been the object of considerable scholarly discussion since a series of essays on its members and records were published in the Transactions of the Baptist Historical Society (TBHS) between 1910 and 1913. The debate started when J. W. Thirtle published pair of articles in which he assumed that the church, like Chamberlen, was Sabbatarian; this claim was also revived by Ball in 1994, but is not convincing. The main piece of evidence which Thirtle used for his argument is a statement on Chamberlen’s tombstone that he kept ‘ye 7th day for ye saboth above 32 years’, i.e. since before December 1651 (TBHS 2:1-30, 110-17). However, the reliability of this claim was swiftly cast in doubt by his fellow Baptist historian Champlin Burrage, who substantially increased scholars’ knowledge of Chamberlen’s religious activities by printing a partial transcript of the Lothbury Square church book (TBHS 2:129-60). Burrage found no evidence that the church held any meetings on Saturdays, and plenty of evidence that they were held on other days. Close study of the church book confirms Burrage’s counter-claim: eighteen recorded meetings occurred on Sunday, while there are records of two meetings on Monday, six meetings on Tuesday, one on a Wednesday, two on a Thursday, one on a Friday, and none on a Saturday. Given the intellectual headiness and fluidity of the early 1650s, it would hardly be surprising if this church’s practices did not follow the Sabbatarian proclivities of its pastor; the Lothbury Square congregation had enough problems holding together without Chamberlen attempting to persuade them of the necessity of Sabbatarian practices. Regrettably for historians of seventh-day worship, the earliest records of Sabbatarian beliefs must be sought elsewhere.
Several readers have recently contacted Dissenting Experience to express their objections to a planning application for a 44m high tower directly adjacent to the Grade I listed Bunhill Fields Burial Ground. The application, which has been refused by Islington Council and is opposed by the City of London, has now been referred to the Mayor of London, who will make a decision on 8 February 2016. Readers who share the concerns raised by many of the parties involved are encouraged to write to the Mayor before 8 February. Emails should be directed to the GLA Case Officer before 8 February (firstname.lastname@example.org), quoting the reference D&P/3698 and the address (Monmouth House); emails may also be copied to Islington Council (Amandaemail@example.com). A pdf copy of some of the relevant documents is available online, and further information is available on the website of the International John Bunyan Society.