The History Plaque

The History Plaque depicts scenes from the history of Congregationalism. Congregationalism in Wales began in the reign of Elizabeth I. It is distinctive in proclaiming the Priesthood of all Believers, and in maintaining the independence of the local Church from central control. Bethel belongs to the Congregational Federation which was formed in 1972 when the old Congregational Church in England and Wales was dissolved in order to make way for the formation of the United Reformed Church.

The History Plaque

John Penry (1563-1593)

John Penry is said to have been born in a farmhouse called Cefn Brith in Breconshire, and educated at Christ's College in Brecon. His family must have been fairly well to do as he was able to afford comfortable quarters when he entered Peterhouse College at Cambridge University in 1584. Throughout his short life he laboured to bring Christ to the people of his native Wales. He is believed to have been the author of the satirical Marprelate Letters. John Penry rejected the hierarchical sacredotalism that the Anglican Church had inherited from the Papal Church of the Middle Ages, and he eventually joined the so-called 'Separatists' - or pioneering Congregationalists. This decision, along with his writings, eventually led to his becoming the first Welsh Congregationalist martyr when he was hanged on 29th May, 1593, on account of infringing the Act of Uniformity.

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The Pilgrim Fathers

As Congregationalists were persecuted in England during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, many Congregationalists decided to exile themselves by fleeing to Holland. Here they established numerous Churches in places such as Utrecht and Amsterdam. Even in this comparatively tolerant and liberal society, the Congregationalists found it hard to create the Church order that they envisioned. The idea of sailing to the Americas focused on the Congregation of john Robinson of Leyden, who gathered around him men of religious passion and mercantile adventurism. In 1620, they set sail from Amsterdam and added to their numbers in Southampton. Eventually the convoy of ships, amongst which was the "Mayflower," landed in what the native Indians called Massachusetts, where they first established a community called Boston and then set about creating a pure Church order.

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Oliver Cromwell (1599 - 1658)

Oliver Cromwell was a country gentleman who became Partliamentary General, founder of the New Model Army and Lord Protector. Perhaps the most honourable and God-fearing man ever to rule England. He is shown at the Battle of Marston Moor ( 1644 ) where he rode into battle despite having a broken arm.

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John Bunyan (1628 - 1688)

John Bunyan was both a preacher and an author of countless books. Between 1659 - 1671 he was imprisoned in Bedford Goal because he attended Congregationalist services as opposed to going to those of the Church of England. John Bunyan's Church, the Old Meeting House, remains a member of the Congregational Federation to this day. A scene from his most famous work, "Pilgrim's Progress" shows Christian leaving his wife and family.

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John Milton (1608 - 1674)

John Milton was one of the greatest poets of the English Language, and also Latin Secretary in Oliver Cromwell's government. Milton's masterpieces include "L'Allegro" (The Cheerful Man), "il Pensoraso" (The Pensive Man) and "Paradise Regained". Our scene is from his other great work, "Paradise Lost," which shows Satan being cast out of Heaven.

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Isaac Watts (1674 - 1748)

Isaac Watts was born into a family of convinced Congregationalists. At the time of his birth, his father was serving in goal due to his religious beliefs. From the age of 4 he learned Latin and went on to learn Greek at 9, French at 11, and Hebrew at 13. Refusing to have a local Physician fund his way through university, Watts, as a disenter, decided to attend Thomas Rowe's academy to learn theology, the classics and logic. It was here that he developed his analytical mind and was encouraged in his freedom of enquiry. He spent his life as a well known Pastor and thinker, but Isaac Watts is best known as the 'Father of English Hymnody.' He changed the music and style of worship. Many of his hymns continue in common use today. Our picture contemplates his well known hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

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Daniel Defoe (1660 - 1731)

Daniel Defoe was born in 1660 as the son of a London butcher. He originally intended to enter the Church as a Minister by attending Morton's Academy at Newton Green. Defoe changed his mind however and instead became a hosiery merchant. Aside from this he was also a radical and political activist who, more than once, suffered imprisonment for supporting the rights of Dissenters. He wrote controversial books such as "The True Born Englishman" and "The Shortest Way with Dissenters." Between 1704 and 1713 he published a newspaper called "The Review" which reported on political and social issues. He started writing fiction in 1719 and became particularly well known for "Robinson Crusoe" and "Moll Flanders." Our picture shows him in the pillory, where people through flowers, rather than pelting him.

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Overseas Mission and Social Reformers

The London Missionary Society was formed in 1795. It later became the Council for World Mission and we remain in membership of it. Amongst its most famous missionaries are David Livingstone (Africa), John Williams (The South Seas), Gladys Aylwood and Eric Lidell (China), and John Smith (Guyana). John Eliot was the first missionary to the American Indians, and translated the Bible into Mohican.

In the Nineteenth Century, Non-Conformists were at the forefront of the movement for social reform. Dr. Barnardo, whom we have shown in our picture because he typifies this movement, was a member of the Christian Brethren. Amongst Congregational reformewrs are Sir. Rowland Hill ( penny post ), John Howard ( penal reform ), Benjamin Waugh ( founder of NSPCC ), Julius Benn ( cared for the homeless ), Lord Lever Hulme and Sir Titus Salt ( model employers ).

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Ship Halfpennies

In the 1930s, the London Missionary Society encouraged children to save ship-halfpennies to pay for a new missionary ship to work in the South Seas. The ship was one of a series named after the great missionary, John Williams. From the children's enthusiasm was born Pilots, the Congregational children's organisaiton. Pilots remains to this day ana ctive, challenging and successful organisation that encourages and supports youth involvement within the Church.

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Elsie Chamberlain (1910 - 1991)

Elsie Chamberlain was the second President of the Congregational Federation. She was the first woman ever to be appointed a Chaplain to the Armed Forces and the first Ordained woman producer in the BBC's religious department. She gave inspirational leadership and did much to help shape the Federation in its early years.

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Lady Stansgate (1898 - 1991) and Tony Benn

Lady Stansgate was the founder President of the Congregational Federation. She had been active in the Congregational Association which preceded it and was the person who thought of the name 'Federation'. She was an eminent theological thinker and deeply involved in radical politics. Reservations about the Anglican Communion Service brought her to her husband's Congregational denomination in the 1950s.

Her son, Rt Hon Tony Benn MP, worked tirelessly during the passage of the United Reformed Church Bill through Parliament to protect the position of Churches that wished to remain Congregational.

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Bethel Congregational Church, The History Plaque
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