This article was found in the August 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Being the seventh imaginary letter from an imaginary uncle to imaginary twins
Dear Jack and Betty,
We left our story last month at the period of the Commonwealth when under Cromwell Independency had come to power. It would not have been surprising if in these circumstances it had shown itself harsh towards its oppressors, and it is to its credit that it did not do so. It had lived through nearly two centuries of bitter persecution and it lived in an age when toleration was almost unknown. But Cromwell drew the line only at Popery - that he would not tolerate. He proclaimed that all Protestants of whatever sect should have freedom and protection in their ministries so long as they did not promote Popery or Prelacy.
Baptists, Presbyterians, Independents and Anglicans were appointed to Church Livings and they were allowed to organise their Churches as they desired. Anglicans were even allowed to use the Book of Common Prayer. Only minister who endeavoured to set up Popish practices were summarily ejected. Of course, this created many anomalies. There were in existence "gathered churches" entirely unconnected with the Parish Church and in cases where Independent ministers had been appointed to Parish Churches all kinds of compromises regarding the place of worship and income of the ministers were to be found. Two Congregational Churches met in Westminster Abbey and Exeter Cathedral respectively. A Congregational minister was appointed Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and another became Cromwell's Chaplain at Whitehall. The religious toleration allowed during the Commonwealth was greater than anything England had experiences before. Dr. Peel says this:-
"In the year of Cromwell's death 200 representatives of 120 Independent Churches met in London and drew up a detailed and careful statement of the 'Institutions of Churches and the Orders appointed them by Jesus Christ.' It is in effect a scholarly statement of Congregational principles and it is a landmark of the growth of our denomination. Dr. Dale says of it: 'In its fullness and precision it is perhaps the most admirable statement of the ecclesiastical principles of English Congregationalism'."
On the death of Cromwell the people clamoured for the restoration of the Monarchy and great was their delight on the accession of Charles II. But this delight was short lived. Oliver Cromwell had many faults, but at least he was trusted and respected throughout the land. Charles soon made his name to be detested. Cromwell's Ironsides were disbanded but this had the effect of dispersing throughout the country a leavening of men, sober and god fearing, who had a marked influence on all with whom they came in contact.
Repressive legislation was soon rushed through Parliament and it was not long before it began to press heavily on all Nonconformists.
The Corporation Act, 1661 prevented anyone holding a municipal office unless he had taken Communion according to the rites of the Anglican Church.
The Act of Uniformity, 1662 made every clergyman and schoolmaster give his assent to the Book of Common Prayer or be deposed from his office.
The Conventicle Act, 1664, and the Five-mile Act, 1665, contained further measures against Nonconformity - the former giving authorities power to transport offenders out of the country.
It is the Act of Uniformity, 1662, that is important to us today. On the appointed day, 24th August 1662, over 2,000 clergy left their livings and refused to conform. Of these 2,000 it is estimated about 500 were Congregational. In actual fact 380 have been identified. One of these 380 is the founder of your own Church in Romford. Rev. Blackmore, who held a living in London, refused to conform, left his Church and came to live in London. He gathered a few Independents around him and founded the Romford Congregational Church of which he was the first minister. It is something to be proud of to belong to a "1662 Church." When you join it you join a Church with a great and proud history and inspiring traditions.
Next month I will tell you how persecution ended and was followed by decay, which in its turn was followed by a great revival.