The beginnings of Barnstaple Baptist Church....
.....were hardly auspicious! In 1814 Mr Ferris came to look after the barracks and, with his wife, was determined to start a Baptist church. By 1817, there was a small church of 12 members meeting in a local Methodist chapel. In 1823, the first Ebenezer Chapel, belonging to the Particular Baptists, was built in Vicarage Lane.
In 1830, John Miller, a lace merchant who had moved to Barnstaple, erected the first Baptist chapel in Boutport Street, which opened for worship on 24th February 1833, belonging to the General Baptists. Unfortunately, the first minister, Rev E H Burton, left after one year, and regular services ceased. At about the same time, Mr Robert Chapman became pastor of Ebenezer, but his leadership caused some division because he did not teach that there was salvation in baptism. Those who left were lent the Boutport Street chapel, where in 1834, Rev Thomas Pulsford became minister. Unfortunately, his ministry was also fraught with dissention, and he resigned after only 6 months.
Rev Richard May, John Miller’s brother-in-law, was invited to supply the pulpit, and then became full-time minister. The church became a Particular Baptist Church and was opened on Christmas Day 1835. After that, things improved.
The congregation had increased to 95 members by 1842, when John May retired through ill health. During the next few years, due to people moving away (some even emigrating to America) numbers dropped away significantly.
In 1849, Rev Samuel Newnam became pastor and numbers increased so much that the church buildings were too small, and new premises had to be built. In1860, the site was cleared, and the new church was built and opened for worship in just one year, on 17th July 1861. The church, and the adjoining Lecture Hall which was later added, was designed by Mr R D Gould, a local architect responsible for designing many Barnstaple buildings. On 31st July, a baptism service was held where 30 candidates were baptised and accepted into membership.
Over the years, a succession of ministers served the Lord in Barnstaple Baptist Church (see list and dates below), including Rev Jon P Carey, grandson of William Carey, the founder of the Baptist Missionary Society, and J R Wood who later became president of the Baptist Union. Some were very fruitful, other not so much.
The Boys Brigade started in 1891, and continued on and off for over 100 years, after which it had to close due to lack of appropriate leaders. Later the Girls Brigade was also started, and still continues. By 1894, there were over 200 pupils in Sunday Schools associated with the church. Of late, Messy Church has started, with up to 30 children and their families attending.
Over the years, the church has been involved in outreach, such as during the Great War and Billy Graham crusades, where services were held in what is now the Queens Theatre. There have been Holiday Clubs for children and young people (one in 1972 resulted in 100 children joining Junior Church!), as well as Youth Clubs, which have had well over 30 members. Families joined in the North Devon Baptists At Large events, including camping weekends in the 1980s.
Of late, membership has declined, due to people moving away, older members passing away, young people going to university, or folk joining other churches. But services and fellowship groups still continue, with a loyal, friendly group of people who care for and support each other.
We eagerly look for God’s leading our future.