Chapter 4 Continued

The new chapel appears to have been opened in August, 1765. In that year the Association met at Bourton, and as the new chapel would not be ready at Whitsuntide it was agreed to defer the meeting to Wednesday, August 14th. In the letter to the Association on that occasion, the church says,

"'Tis with pleasure we think of seeing your faces once more in the flesh, and though the unfinished state of our place of worship, and the difficulty of providing suitable accommodation for you in a country village, are some damps to our joy, yet, hoping that your great Lord and Master will make up in spiritual delights what is wanting in outward convenience, we bid you heartily welcome."

Wednesday, August 14th, 1765, became a red letter-day in the memory of the "Saints and faithful brethren" at Bourton. And the interest attaching to it, spread far and wide. There were but 14 churches in the Association, but there was twice that number of ministers present. There were the Rev Messrs Tommerson, of Cheshire; [James] Sleep, of Eisborough; [Benjamin] Wallin, of London; [William] Stanger, of Towcester; [Thomas] Davis, of Fairford; Thomas, of Henley-in-Arden; [John] Knight, of Warwick; [James] Turner, of Birmingham; [John] Ash, of Pershore; Jones, of Upton; [Samuel] George, of Wantage; Darby, of Witney; [Nathaniel] Overbury, of Tedbury; [Benjamin] Francis, of Horsley; [Thomas] Ferriby, of Sodbury; [John] Macgowan, of Bridgenorth; [Lawrence] Butterworth, of Bengeworth; [Thomas] Skinner, of Alcester; [Isaac] Woodman, of Sutton; [Nathaniel] Carpenter, of Middleton Cheney; [William] Hitchman, of Hilsley; [John?] Davis, of Campden; Caleb Evans, of Bristol; [James] Butterworth, of Bromsgrove; [Joshua] Thomas, of Leominster; [John] Heydon, of Tewksbury; [Benjamin] Whitmore, of Hooknorton; besides Beddome, Reynolds, and Strange, of Bourton. This was no mean gathering for a country village, in an age when railways were unknown. And there was a large congregation of hearers, as well as a great company of preachers. Good Mr Beddome says, that in addition to vehicles of all other kinds, "there were eleven or twelve post-chaises at our Association," clearly indicating that some had come from places not very near to Bourton.
The period of 30 years, from 1765 to 1795, is not destitute of interest, but, unhappily, the interest of those years is mostly of the mournful kind. The state of things in the country was gloomy and depressing. The price of bread was frightfully high, the result of war and deficient harvests. The poor were familiar with privation and suffering, the bare recital of which makes both our ears to tingle.
The very cattle seem to have been visited with unusual disease. Year after year days were set apart for solemn prayer and fasting.
The fasting, indeed, was no new or novel thing to some who engaged in these services. Many such things wore with them, and must have been still more, but for the alms given on these occasions. At Bourton chapel, there was invariably a collection for the poor on the solemn fast-day, and the proceeds were distributed principally in money, but some were supplied only with a shilling loaf. Auspicious day, that brought a shilling loaf at nightfall!
But there were "greater things than these," trials more fiery, sorrows more huge. "The ways of Zion mourned." Not that the congregation was "minished and brought low," but the church declined. Few, very few, were added during these years. During the period of 31 years, viz, from 1765 to 1795, both inclusive, there were 16 years in which not a single soul was added to the church by baptism. It was so in the years 1765, 1766, 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772, 1775, 1777, 1783,1786, 1790, 1791, 1793, 1794, and 1795. It will be seen that there was one period of five years without a single baptism, viz, from 1768, to 1772.
The letters to the Association during this period were most mournful; year after year hope was expressed, until "hope deferred made the heart sick." In 1786 the Association met at Alcester, and Mr Beddome, for the church, wrote as follows

"Beloved In Our Lord Jesus Christ,
"Our harps still hang upon the willows, for though God once smiled on us, and we sensibly experienced his quickening and comforting presence, he now frowns, and we mournfully complain with the Prophet, 'Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself.' In the years 1763 and 1764 we had thirty members added to our community, and thirteen in the year 1766, but since that we have been upon the decline. So that from 170 we are diminished to about 100 members, none being added, but two removed during the past year. We have once and again mentioned our flattering prospects; but the prisoners, though, we trust, prisoners of hope, don't manifest an inclination to go forth and shew themselves. Notwithstanding this, which is indeed matter of lamentation (and we hope you will sympathize with us, - and spread our case before the Lord), yet we have reason to be thankful that our auditory keeps up surprisingly.''

During the whole period of 31 years, 53 persons were added to the church by baptism, six were received by letter from other churches, 105 were removed by death, 12 were dismissed to other churches, and two were excluded for immorality.
The result was, that in the year 1795 the church consisted of 123 members: just 60 less than in the year 1764.

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