About - Full Church History
To the ordinary passer-by the building in which we worship would have little of interest from an artistic standpoint. It speaks of strength and solidity rather than beauty of architecture.
Upon the tops of its pillars no lily work is visible; but the beauty and the lily work are there in the faith and consecrated service of those who in far-off days created this House of Prayer to the glory of God.
North Curry Independent Baptist Church was built in 1825 when members of Silver Street Baptist Church, in Taunton, who lived on the Somerset Levels were commissioned to build a church in the village. (Eventually a further group from North Curry planted the church at Stoke St. Gregory.)
The building of this place of worship would have presented some difficulties. The story shines with the heroic facing of these difficulties by those who bravely made the venture for God; and, like the building of the Temple of old, much was done by willing service. Some brought gifts of labour; others of money, and the family of Mr. Foster of Newport House helped much in the work. Others lent horses and wagons for bringing the stone and lime from yonder hill sides and along the rough country roads to the place in which hopes were to be realised by a House of God being eventually erected.
And, if the building in which we worship is not beautiful in outside appearance, it certainly is beautiful for situation: stand at its doors some sunny morning and you feel as you do so that God’s world is very beautiful, and that this love enfolds all.
We try to imagine the building going on and upwards until the Ebenezer stone is erected. What joy would have filled the hearts of the workers as they said together. ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us’.
And later, when the work was finished and the congregation met on that spring morning in April 1825, the sunshine may have streamed through the windows upon the bowed heads of the worshippers as together they prayed:
Light up this house with glory, Lord;
Light up this house with glory, Lord –
It was originally known as Ebenezer Baptist Chapel, with a North Curry farmer, Mr. James Flower, as one of its original trustees. It has retained its Baptist distinctions ever since.
The first minister of the church was Rev. G. Clark, who was followed by the Revs. Richardson, Gibson, Humphrey and May.
During the ministry of the Rev. W. Gabriel, who succeeded Rev. May, contributions were received for the building of a Manse adjoining the Chapel – the little cottage contained two bedrooms, a large kitchen and a study over the schoolroom. The stipend of the minister at that time was £20 per year.
The singing at the services was led by Mr. Josua Corpe. Prominent members of the choir were Ishmael Lawrence and his sister. There was no organ in those days, but the singing was accompanied by a flute, cornet and bass viola.
Later day ministers included the Revs. J. Serle, J. Sprague, B. W. Osler and the Rev. W. Fry. Rev. Fry held the pastorate for 20 years and during this time the Church enjoyed great prosperity. Many additions were recorded and a splendid work was carried on by Mrs. Fry, who conducted a Mens’ Bible Class prior to the afternoon service.
After Rev. Fry left, Rev. Osler returned for a further term of three years, during which the Chapel at Stoke St. Gregory was established.
In 1869 North Curry Baptist Church purchased the Chapel belonging to the Bible Christians at Stoke St. Gregory for £52 10s 0d. Thus in 1869 Baptist Services were first held in Stoke St. Gregory, but many years elapsed before the Church was formed. By 1894 there had grown a strong desire amongst the congregation to separate from North Curry and form the Stoke St. Gregory Baptist Church. This was finalised on 10th November 1894, by the transfer of 46 members from North Curry.
Mrs Osler died in 1915 and the Rev. Osler went to Glory from Exmouth in 1917 at the age of 84.
The next minister was the Rev. W. Price who carried on the work faithfully at both the North Curry and Stoke St. Gregory churches for some years.
We next come to a name that is lovingly remembered by all who knew him – the Rev. G.J. Whiting, who during the eight years of his Ministry so truly followed in the steps of the Master, and endeared himself to his Congregation and to the young people of Church and Sunday School. Also in his preaching he reflected the Love of the Lord he served so faithfully. Rev. Whiting was called to higher service in June 1913.
After his home-call, the Church at Stoke St. Gregory decided to have a Minister of their own, and so the long period of united membership was broken.
Following an interval of a year and a half, the Rev. D. J. Howell accepted the Pastorate, and the Church at Creech St. Michael was linked up. At the end of two years there was a breakdown in his health, and it became necessary for him to go to Australia, to the deep regret of all who knew him.
The Rev. C. Carter followed, and his untiring efforts at North Curry and Creech St. Michael won the esteem of the Congregation in each place. His love of little children was always apparent.
In 1922 the Rev. C. R. Cole came and many rejoiced in his able preaching of the Word of God.
Mention should be made of the Deacons who have taken their place in the work of the Church so far. Names included are Messrs. Bobbett and Garland; F. Wilcox; John and Robert Dare; Charles Gillard; Charles Winter; John Bradbeer and James Burrows.
It is interesting to know that side by side, or rather, a great part of the Church’s work was its care of the children; and so we find that quite early in its history, April 1826, the Sunday School was started – a year after the opening of the Chapel for worship. We are told that very soon the scholars numbered 170, and the teachers 32. The first Tea Party was given in 1827.
The centenary celebrations were held during the stormy pastorate of the Rev. G. Cole who came to North Curry from Wedmore. Rev. Cole had resigned in 1923, but had later withdrawn his resignation whereupon the organist had then resigned. The Pastor and organist it seems had been in dispute over the number of hymns to be sung in the evening service and who should choose them. The Pastor had asked the Church in August 1922 to try to double the membership by 1925 and to make an effort to get a pipe organ installed. These grand ideas appear to have brought little results and by October 1928 the Pastor tendered his resignation as “attendances and collections were low”.
The Area Superintendent asked that nothing be done until the end of 1928, but at a Church Meeting held on December 30th 1928 the Church reluctantly accepted the Pastor’s resignation as from September 1929.
In November 1929, upon the recommendation of the Area Superintendent, Rev. Gummer Butt, the Church called Mr. John Stark of Fivehead to be their Lay Pastor. Mr. Stark was paid an honorarium of £50 per annum for his duties at North Curry and Creech St. Michael. In June 1931 Mr. Stark resigned from the Creech St. Michael Pastorate, but continued at North Curry until 1935.
On February 28th 1931 Mr A. E. Baker was elected Church Secretary. Mr. Baker has been baptised and accepted into Church Membership in 1923 and elected on to the Deaconate in March 1924. He continued as Church Secretary until the end of 1970 when he resigned, but continued to serve as a Deacon. Mr. Baker, a quiet hard working man had a remarkable record of service to the Church, 40 years as Secretary, 51 years as a Deacon, and over 35 years as Sunday School Superintendent. Mr. Baker and the late Mrs. Baker who died in 1972 gave their lives in quiet and loyal service to their Saviour, and everyone who has been associated with the Church over the years has reason to be grateful to God for His servants. In 1969, as a token of their love and gratitude, the Church gave a party to celebrate the Golden Wedding Anniversary of Mr & Mrs Baker.
In 1935 the Rev. H. Wyatt was called to the Pastorate. Rev. Wyatt was 65 years old and the Church was granted help from the Baptist Sustentation Fund in order to support him, but such help was to cease upon Rev. Wyatt reaching the age of 72. Rev. Wyatt’s Pastorate seems to have been a happy time for the Church, a fact borne out in that he was allowed to continue to live in the Manse, rent free, for some months after his retirement in 1942.
In January 1937, the Church was presented with the money with which to install electric lighting by Mr. C. Yard of Worcester, a friend of the Church for many years.
In 1938 Mrs F S Drake was brought into associate membership of the church and so a long association began with Rev. and Mrs F S Drake, both of whom served with the Baptist Missionary Society. Rev. Drake did not become a member until 1964 after he retired from active service. He was a brilliant scholar and yet a very humble man and was dearly missed by the church following his death in August 1974. Mrs Drake took a very active part in church life. She was asked to become a deacon in 1942 and holds the record of being the only woman in the history of the church to take the chair at a church meeting. This historic meeting took place on 10th July 1951. Mrs Drake died in 1973.
In October 1942 the Rev. D Russell Smith was called to the pastorate of the church and remained for four very “quiet” years until August 1946. The church minutes record very little of interest in these years, presumably because of WW2.
In 1946 an attempt was made by the North Curry and Creech St. Michael churches to share a joint pastorate and the name of a Rev. H M Brown of Barnstaple is mentioned in the minutes of a meeting held in January 1947 but it seems that nothing ever came of this venture, and in March 1947 the Rev. E R Fowles was invited to the pastorate of the North Curry Church only.
In September 1947 Mrs Drake gave the church 24 copies of the Revised Baptist Hymnbook plus a music book and the church meeting of the 30th of that month sanctioned their use in the church services.
In February 1951 the church discussed how they could improve the church life and in particular how they could reach the young people of the village. This was no new topic for the church to discuss, a similar minute appears in the minutes of the church meeting held on 21st October 1919, but unlike the 1919 meeting there is no record of any positive action following this discussion, probably because at the next church meeting held on 17th March 1951 Rev. Fowles resigned the pastorate.
The church was not without pastoral oversight for long as on 10th September 1951 the Rev. C E Lawrence was invited to the pastorate. A letter from the secretary of the Western Baptist Association was discussed at a church meeting held on 29th January 1952 and the church promised to support any grouping of churches within the Taunton area. The minute is rather vague however and nothing ever seems to have come from the suggestion.
At that same church meeting, Miss Burrows resigned as BMS secretary, a post she had held for some 22 years. Miss Burrows, like Mr Baker, was a quiet hard working servant of Christ who put a tremendous amount of time and effort into the church she loved. She once taught Mr Baker in the Sunday School and lived until she was in her nineties. Many people held her in great affection and her name will always be thought of in connection with North Curry Baptist Church.
It becomes very difficult to write accurately about the life of the church over the next 5 years as church meetings appear to have been held only once or twice a year.
Rev. Lawrence left the pastorate in 1956 and was replaced by Rev. W W Burch, who remained until 1960. It must be recorded that Rev. Fowles, Rev. Lawrence and Rev. Burch served the church well and some present church members remember them with great affection.
There now followed an anxious time for the church because of the difficulty in finding a new pastor. The Area Superintendant gave the church 2 or 3 names and eventually an advert was placed in the Baptist Times. Mr. Nye was invited to become the lay pastor in February 1961, but was unable to accept because his daughter was in the middle of her ‘A’ levels and secular job prospects were nil at the time. So in May 1961 the Rev. Marcus Taylor was invited to the pastorate. The one occurrence of note during the interregnum was the ordination service of one of the members of the church, Mr David Edwards. Mr Edwards trained at Spurgeon’s College and went to be the minister of Thornbury Baptist Church.
Rev. Taylor’s ministry is notable for three things. Firstly, in September 1963 the church decided not to join the Taunton Council of Churches because they felt they could not “compromise with Rome” and that further “as all born again believers are part of Christ’s body, they could only share fellowship with those who subscribed to this view.” This is still the position of the church today and the word ecumenical is seldom heard at North Curry Independent Baptist Church. Secondly, during this time open air services were held in the village, led by the Christian endeavour at Bridgwater Baptist, but there seems to have been little response to these. Thirdly, the church drafted its Confession of Faith and Constitution. A series of studies was held and the Confession of Faith drafted as a result of the discussion held. The church was “surprised” when at a deacon’s meeting held on 1st November 1965 Rev. Taylor tendered his resignation.
This was the beginning of 5 long years without pastoral oversight. The church called the Rev. R. Dyer to be their pastor in April 1966, but nothing ever became of this as the manse was not suitable to Rev. Dyer’s needs.
The church decided to sell the manse and after much correspondence with the Baptist Union, this was done and a new manse (Woolaway bungalow) was built on the site of the former caretaker’s cottage next to the church.
In 1969, having been without a minister for 3 years, the church gave thanks for the services of visiting preachers. Visits to the old people’s home, undertaken by the church fortnightly, were greatly appreciated. The church was, however, saddened by the death of the church treasurer, Mr Brownsey, who had faithfully served the church since 1938 and who in the early fifties provided the capital to purchase an electronic organ.
It was during the interregnum that the church joined with Stoke St. Gregory and Burrowbridge in providing an inter-village club for the young people. This club existed through the seventies although first Burrowbridge and later Stoke St. Gregory withdrew from the venture. Every Thursday evening, young people from Stathe and North Curry joined at the church for games and an epilogue.
In April 1970 the church asked the area superintendant to visit them to preach and discuss the future of the pastorate and a date in November 1970 was fixed. This invitation turned out to be a little premature because by November the church had settled the pastorate. In August of that year a lay preacher paid his first visit to the church and had taken the evening service. He was invited back again on first Sunday evening in September. The deacons all thought that God was leading them to call this young man to be the pastor of the church and so after correspondence and two church meetings, the church called the second lay pastor in its history, Mr David West, a member of Halcon Baptist Church, Taunton.
Mr West took over the pastorate in January 1971 and a service of induction was held on February 27th 1971. This was really the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the church because Mr Baker had resigned as church secretary and Mr W Board had taken over that office on 1st January 1971. The church treasurer, Mr Rumari, had only been in office since 1969. The next 5 years were not easy as the church lost through death many of its beloved members.
Despite this the church was very active still with a small Sunday School and a youth club as well as a reasonably well attended Women’s Bright Hour.
In the summer of 1973 a “one step forward campaign” was held and this was followed by door-to-door visitation in May 1974 with the help of the N.Y.L.C. from Taunton.
The baptistry was used twice, in October 1973 and January 1974, when on both occasions the candidates were Methodists from the Ilminster area.
The other meeting of note which took place in 1973 was the valedictory service for Miss Christine Earl (whose parents lived in the old manse) who left to serve with the S.I.M. in Southern Sudan. The church maintained both prayer and financial support for both the S.I.M. and B.M.S. over the years and the 1974 B.M.S. figure of £67 was £7 over the church’s target.
In March 1975 Mr Baker was elected a life deacon in recognition of his long and faithful service and a special service of recognition was held on the first Sunday evening in April.
Mr West resigned the pastorate in 1976 when the congregation fell to a faithful few. There followed another time of no ministerial oversight until 1978 when John Gould came to the pastorate and brought a degree of stability with him as he stayed for 17 years until his retirement at the end of 1995. John Gould led the church through a time of steady growth during these years and many people passed through the church who maintained their contact with it.
In 1979 there had been great cause for concern when it was discovered that the front wall of the church was threatening to fall into the road, the end of the schoolroom on to a neighbour’s garden and the adjoining cottage, once the manse, into the churchyard.
The cottage was beyond economical repair and had to be demolished; a third of the church’s front wall was rebuilt and made weatherproof and secure, and thorough repairs were carried out to the schoolroom wall. The upstairs schoolroom was turned into a meeting room, a new staircase replaced the old one which was riddled with dry rot, and the downstairs hall was converted into a lounge/vestry, kitchen and washrooms.
To save money, members agreed to do the interior decorating themselves, but they still had to find funds for their £24,000 target. It was not known how this money was going to come in, but it did – gifts were received, donations made, and the proceeds from the sale of a field were given. Loans were also secured which were repayable over 10 years and in 1980/1 the church was adopted as the “Church of the Year” of the Western Baptist Association. This meant that other churches within the area each made a gift towards the work needed by the adopted church. By March 1981, £21,500 had been raised which was the result of prayer, answered prayer and amazing timing, providing for God’s work.
The Rev. Colin Waltham then felt the Lord leading him to become the new pastor of the church and accepted the church’s call in January 1996. His induction service was held on Saturday 1st June 1996.
In 1996/7 the church was again adopted as the “Church of the Year” of the Western Baptist Association because the funds were low following work undertaken in 1992 to deal with an attack of dry rot (costing some £30,000).
Now they were looking to make other improvements to the premises :-
When visited by the General Superintendent S.W. Area, the Rev. Gwynne Edwards, he reported that “They are not disheartened. God is at work amongst them and they are looking to Him confidently and hopefully. Very little has changed in the last 20 years! Now they are trying to complete the above tasks, but they do so as a strong and lively fellowship, looking forward to the future with a new ministry just beginning. It will be a great encouragement to them, and to the work of the Kingdom, if you can encourage and help them.” This work was all successfully completed and provided a good basis for maintenance over the following years during which the church was taken out of the Baptist Union to become North Curry Independent Baptist Church.
Rev. Colin Waltham resigned the pastorate in August 2005 following another decline in congregation numbers. This resulted in the formation of a Steering Committee who kept the church going until Rev. Ken Huxtable accepted the appointment of Moderator in April 2006 and a Deaconate was formed.
In August 2007, Rev. Cyril Aston accepted a call to become a part-time pastor of the church which he combined with his other duties as South West co-ordinator of the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches (EFCC). A service of induction was held on 27th October 2007 with Rev. Peter Robinson (Pastor, Honiton Evangelical Congregational Church) as Chairman and Rev. Bill Dyer (Recently retired Pastor, Pontefract Congregational Church) as Preacher.
In 2010 further structural improvements were made with the re-surfacing of the footpaths around the graveyard, the replacement of the three windows above the front vestibule and the erection of a long-awaited disabled ramp up from the road.
In November 2011, Rev. Cyril Aston left us amicably because his work as South West co-ordinator of the EFCC expanded in area thus requiring his full-time attention.
Today we stand where others have stood. We will carry on the work of God by consecrated effort. For we believe that those who so faithfully served in the past left us a great inheritance. May we be found worthy of it!
I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to all who have kindly assisted me in various ways to produce this article. In particular I wish to thank those who have supplied information and documents and also those others who have painstakingly checked the text and helped with the typing.
Robert J. Kelly, Church Secretary, September 2012
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