The incredible beginnings of this church all date back to one man, Coxe Feary.
As a child, he was raised in the local Church of England church, but during his teens became dissatisfied with the conduct of the worshippers. In 1780 he read James Hervey’s ‘Theron and Aspasio’ (1755), which greatly challenged Feary’s religious notions and he was deeply disturbed by its arguments. Offended, he put the book down without finishing it. But two years later he felt compelled to pick it up again and give it a fair hearing. The result was his conversion, he was seized with a passion for the salvation of the lost in his village. By 1784 Feary was travelling to listen to the evangelical preaching of Henry Venn (1724-1797) in Yelling, about twelve miles away.
That same year Coxe Feary came across the works of George Whitefield in a bookshop in St Ives. He was so inspired with the sermons he immediately started reading them aloud to a small gathering of shepherds and farm labourers. It must have made an impact, as the following evening other villagers arrived requesting Feary to read another sermon. Flustered by the group, and afraid of being considered ‘a Methodist preacher’, Feary refused. But the impromptu congregation would not take no for an answer and Feary relented. A poor woman was so deeply moved by Whitefield’s words that she urged Feary to read yet a third time at her house the following evening. Feary agreed on the condition that she would tell no one, however when he arrived at the house it was packed with her neighbours. Feary continued reading sermons in that woman’s home throughout the winter of 1784-1785. In the spring of 1785 they had to move to a larger home to accommodate the numbers attending. Eventually, Feary ran out of sermons to read and began to prepare his own sermons. A barn had been fitted out for the congregation by John Kent and, on 28 December 1786, Coxe Feary and twenty-five other believers joined together to form a Congregationalist church.
In 1791 Coxe Feary adopted Baptist views and was baptised in the River Ouse along with many other members of the congregation. The church has been part of the Baptist denomination ever since. The church grew and increased in number during Coxe Feary’s time as minister. With some of the congregation travelling from a great distance away to hear his preaching. Therefore, a number of ‘satellite’ churches were established around the local villages including Woodhurst, Somersham and Colne and indirectly other chapels at St Ives, Wilburton and Pidley.
In 1818, Coxe Feary became too ill to continue his pastoral work and Rev Samuel Green of Dereham came to assist. In 1822, Coxe Feary sadly died, having developed the church to a membership of over 800.
A further account of Feary’s life and work can be found here.
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