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Church History

To set the scene, we need to go back to England in the 1650s when there were very few people who were not "Church of England". In Bluntisham, there were just a few Quaker families and they had a place for public worship, but their group was declining. Later in the century, three or four Baptist families had occasional preaching at their houses.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the state of religion in the established Church  was considered deplorable. Many clergy were incapable of ministering about spiritual things and there was widespread clerical absenteeism. In many parishes, there was not even a curate. However, there were soon to be many encouraging signs of new life.

In 1733 in Oxford, the 'Holy Club' was making its influence felt among many men in training for the ministry. John and Charles Wesley were beginning their work. And when in 1736, George Whitefield was ordained, the Evangelical Revival may be said to have begun. Among those influenced by Wesley and Whitefield was Henry Venn, vicar of Huddersfield, who, though himself remaining an Anglican minister, was also to plant many Congregational churches in Yorkshire. In 1771 he became rector of Yelling, about 12 miles southwest of Bluntisham, where his church became a centre of evangelicalism.

Coxe Feary

A further account of Feary's life and work can be found here.

feary smallIn 1784, Coxe Feary (1759 - 1822), a Bluntisham farmer, took up a recommendation to hear Venn at Yelling. The preaching impressed him so much that he stopped attending Bluntisham parish church and went every Sunday to Yelling.  Feary‚Äôs neighbours often enquired about this and it gave him opportunities for speaking to them about the salvation of their souls and the advantages of evangelical preaching. The result was that some of them accompanied him to Yelling to hear Venn.

In the autumn of 1784, Feary purchased "The life and sermons of Whitefield", and the same evening read one of the sermons, What think ye of Christ, to his shepherd Zach Furley, his labourer Biobert Pichard, and his friend William Asplan.  The next evening, a number of poor people came with John Kent, a gentleman of the village, to hear him read a sermon.  He was so embarrassed at the idea of reading before so many people and the shame of being thought of as a Methodist preacher, that he refused!  But they told him that they would stay until he did read to them, and so eventually he gave in, and read the same sermon to them. One of the poor women begged him to read a sermon at her house the next evening and he promised to do so, on condition that she did not make it known.  When he arrived, however, he found the house filled with people.

Revival!

Feary tells us of a "profound attention and deep seriousness with which the people received the glad tidings of salvation." He continued reading to people in the same cottage throughout that winter of 1784/85.  The cottage was likely to be one of four that stood at the junction of the High Street and the St Ives road.

In the spring of 1785 they moved into the next house as their numbers had grown. Here, for the first time, Feary found courage to pray with them. The company was still increasing and they opened a still larger house in the village, where they met two, three or four evenings a week.

Revd Charles Simeon (a leader of the influential 'Clapham Sect,' and later, the co-founder with Venn and others, of the Church Missionary Society), preached at Feary's house at five o'clock one morning that summer. So many people attended that Simeon, standing outside, addressed his hearers through an open door and window.  On the same spot, Feary used to stand, surrounded by the people, as he read and spoke to them.

Coxe Feary had kept Venn updated with the situation at Bluntisham and Venn encouraged him in this work. In the summer of 1785, Venn came over from Yelling and John Kent offered the use of his barn for the meeting.  Subsequently Kent allow the barn to be used permanently as a meeting place, and it was fitted with a few simple furnishings.  By the summer of 1786, with over four hundred people meeting regularly to hear him, Feary was still reading Whitefield's and others sermons and occasionally attempted himself the exposition of some Scripture passage.

A congregational church formed

Feary was not keen to become a dissenting minister separated from the established church. He put some effort into encouraging the parish church to appoint a Mr Houseman as the curate, but the rector refused to consider the proposal.  Realising that there was no way forward, and "desiring to walk together in the order and fellowship of the Gospel", the group examined the principles of Dissent and sought advice on forming themselves into an independent church.

On 28 December 1786, a public meeting was held in the barn, when, in the presence of a large congregation, Coxe Feary with twenty-five others, thirteen women and twelve men, gave themselves "to the Lord and to one another, to walk together in fellowship".

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A memorial plaque can be seen to the left of the main stage.

The next year the congregation was recognised as a Baptist Church with Coxe Feary as it's first pastor and the church appointed four deacons: William Asplan of Bluntisham, William Barley of Earith, and Robert Leeds and William Carter of Colne.

cfgrave