Years of Faithful Service (continued)

Church Constitution
Originally the “Friends at Kings Langley” established themselves as an Independent Calvinist Church. This means they were not allied to any association or Union of Churches and they held to a Calvinist Doctrine of Faith. In the first Trust deed they were described as “Protestant Dissenters called Independent at Kings Langley”. The Church Trust Deed of 1834 names the trustees as Mr James Young, tailor; Mr Henry Worster, servant; Mr Richard Gulston (junior), tailor; George Sturman, cordwainer (shoemaker) and Mr George Bellis, cordwainer (shoemaker). As these men passed from this life they were replaced by others from the fellowship. With some confusion, the records of the 1851 Ecclesiastical Census recorded the trustees as Mr James Young and Mr Thomas Twitchell (farmer) from Bedmond. The Church minutes do not record this and we are given dates of the original trustees’ deaths, with Mr Worster being the longest survivor. We are not told of any election of later trustees but we have entries in the minute book that show Mr Thomas Crane (senior), Mr Jonathan Scott and Mr George Davis were made trustees sometime before 1873. In 1882 two new trustees were appointed, Mr Thomas Crane (second) and Mr William Butler.

1896 was a defining year in the history of Zion. By this time only one person, Thomas Crane, was left still within the membership adhering to the previous Calvinist persuasion. All other worshippers called themselves Strict Baptists. Therefore with Thomas Crane’s agreement the congregation formally announced they were a Strict and Particular Baptist Church on 18th May 1896. Because the Baptist Church believes that only baptism by full immersion of people who have declared a profession of faith in the saving grace of Jesus Christ could be taken into membership and welcomed at the Lord’s Supper, this meant the Articles had to be changed. The Articles of Faith were changed by deleting Articles 9 and 10 and inserting a new Article 9 to read:

That baptism of believers is by immersion and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of Christ to be continued until His second coming and that the former is absolutely requisite to the latter, that is to say only those are to be admitted as Members of the Church.

By a Memorandum of Choice new trustees were appointed on 15th October 1904 with Thomas Crane, John Burrage (pastor of Salem Chapel, Two Waters), John Surridge and John Butler as the new board. They immediately set about getting the land freed from its “agricultural” ties. Legal searches showed that the land given by Mr Gulston was subject to two preferments; one under the Board of Agriculture Act 1889 and another under the Tithe Act of 1836. Acting on this information the new trustees immediately sought release from both encumbrances. They were granted an Award of Enfranchisement from the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries which relinquished the lien (a right to hold the land for payment of a release fee) in response to a payment of eighteen pounds. However one more hurdle needed to be overcome. The plot of land was part of the tithe land of the Lady of the Manor, Lady Blackwell. To achieve the fee simple (the unrestricted ownership) of the land upon which the Chapel was built required the payment of a tithe fine (see below) which amounted to £40.3.2. Having successfully achieved both their goals the trustees gained the freehold in 1905.

Another interesting anecdote arose in 1930 under this set of trustees in that it was discovered that the Chapel had never been registered as a Place of Worship, neither was it certificated to hold marriages. This was immediately rectified. Having been independent for over 100 years it was decided in 1935 to seek membership of the Metropolitan Association of Strict Baptist Churches (MASBC) which had been founded in 1870 to give support and assistance to Baptist churches in London and the surrounds. In 1947 it was resolved that the Church should seek to transfer the trusteeship to The Association. This was more vigorously pursued after the tenure of Pastor Miles and proposals were clarified. This turned out to be quite a protracted affair as the Church was required to review its Articles of Faith and the Church rules. Eventually, in 1959 a new board of trustees was appointed with five members from Zion and five from MASBC. The Zion members were Messrs R.S. Haggerty; T. Surridge; J. Surridge and H. Freeman. Even this was not without its difficulties because legal searches made by the MASBC showed that the reconstituted trust of 1922 was not acceptable to the Charity Commission who ruled that the Chapel was still under the original constraints of the deed of 1836. They did however acknowledge that the Church was now functioning in accordance with the Strict Baptist persuasion and that the trusteeship was permitted to be vested in the MASBC. However it was not until 1977 that the Charity Commission Scheme finally accepted the Association as the legal trustees, seemingly only on the grounds that for over a long period the Association had in fact acted as the trustees. No Zion members have been nominated to be trustees since then and the trusteeship is now fully in the care of the Association which is called the Association of Grace Baptist Churches (ABGC). This was confirmed with a members’ resolution on 7th September 1994.

After Zion came into association with MASBC the matter of revising the Articles of Faith and the Church Rules has to be addressed to ensure they fully reflected the Strict Baptist position. After exacting and detailed discussion which spanned many years the membership finally agreed and accepted revised Articles in 1963. These Articles and Rules remain unchanged to the present date. One further but quite minor change has been dropping the word “Strict” in the description of Zion Church. In conformity to most other Churches in the Association we are generally known as a “Grace Baptist Church”.

Preaching and Pastors
Since the earliest days, Zion has relied upon supply preachers to undertake pulpit duties. The Church has been richly blessed with many men from as far afield as Kent, London and the counties of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. It is amazing that so many pastors were prepared to vacate their own pulpits to come to Kings Langley over such a long period of time to bring the exposition of God’s Word to the faithful people of this Church. The Rev Richard Luckin of Woodbridge Chapel, Clerkenwell continued his service to the Church up to the Twenty First Anniversary in 1857. Indeed he is recorded as leading over half the Anniversary services up to that date. Pastor Irons from Grove Chapel, Camberwell also supplied the Church for years after the opening and he was followed by his successor at the Camberwell Church, Pastor M. Jay. Another very regular preacher was Mr Thomas Bayfield. Unfortunately the records do not tell us his home Church but his preaching at Zion extended to more than twenty years. In all of its history Zion has had only three pastors, the first of which was Thomas Hamshaw. We have no record of when he was inducted to the Church only that he was pastor in April 1836 when Zion Chapel was opened. Mrs Hamshaw was among those who are named as members in 1836. We know little of these faithful servants as the records concentrate only on the registering of baptisms and deaths, nominating speakers for anniversaries and ordering and financing building repairs. During the Hamshaw’s term of office the fellowship grew, especially with children, and a “Sabbath School” was commenced in 1845, which apart from two sad periods in the history, continued until 2012 . On the 4th September 1869 Mr Hamshaw preached at the funeral service of Mrs Monk with the text 2 Peter 1:13-14 – “Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me”. This faithful pastor was himself called to Glory on 21st of the same month aged 82 years. His text of two weeks earlier proved to be rather prophetic for himself. He served the church for at least 34 years.

Mr John Fellows was invited to preach at the Church in 1871 for an extended period of seven months with a view to his being called to the pastorate. At the end of this time the Church did not offer him a call. Immediately after this Zion was well blessed when it was agreed by Woodlands Road Chapel, Woolwich, that Mr George Davis, who was minister there, should undertake extended work at Zion. What a great blessing this was as Mr Davis was entrusted with many pastoral responsibilities vacated after the home-call of Zion’s first pastor. He served the Church faithfully as preacher and officiated at most of the baptisms, conducting the Lord’s Supper and arranging for supply preachers from other churches. He became a trustee in the early 1870s. Morris Read said in his 1936 account “He was of cheery disposition, and there were those who still keep in their memory the gracious influence of his testimony and his life”. We know that he filled his offices in the Church up to and including 1882, when records ceased.

The minutes of church meetings become quite fragmented from 1876. There is evidence to show that the Church had fallen to a low spiritual state and according to one account the building was very dilapidated. The nub of the problem was difficulty in getting preachers to supply the pulpit as most were from Strict and Particular Baptists who objected to serving the ordinance of The Lord’s Supper to folk who had not been baptised by immersion. The minutes say that the consequence of this was to suspend the holding of the Lord’s Supper which resulted in a number vacating Zion to attend elsewhere. It also seems that the Church Meetings were not held and it appears that the congregation was seriously reduced. This sorry state of affairs was brought to an end when it was resolved to reconstitute the Church on the Strict Communion principle. The first step to achieve this was taken by Mr W. Butler and Mr.J Surridge who applied for believers baptism. This duly took place at Bedmond Chapel on 18th May 1896 with Mr Burrage of Salem Chapel, Two Waters, officiating. (Salem has since become Bennetts End Baptist Church). As Mrs J. Surridge had previously been baptised these three now constituted the recognised membership of the Church. This lasted until 1909 when Mr R. Surridge, Mrs J. Freeman and Mr J. Butler were baptised at Watford Tabernacle (now Derby Road Baptist Church, Watford). John Surridge was appointed secretary and John Butler deacon to administer the affairs of the Church.

The newly constituted Strict Baptist Zion received ministry from a number of preachers from Salem and from Watford Tabernacle. Notable among the supply preachers were Pastor Burrage, Mr Goodenough, Mr Welford, Pastors Kevan and Robinson. Church members did raise the matter of calling a pastor on a number of occasions between Mr Hamshaw’s demise and the second World War. Enquiries and tentative invitations to three godly men are recorded in the minute book but none of these calls was confirmed and Zion remained dependent on supply preachers. It is a marvel of the Lord’s provision that the pulpit was filled every Sunday both morning and evening. All were thankful for the constant help of Mr Thirelton, Mr Reed, Pastor Bird of Watford, Pastor Garrard and Pastor Gladstone from Chesham, and Pastor Beckingham.

Early in 1943 Mr D.H. Parker was invited to preach and the Church asked him to take up the pastoral care of the Church in August of that year. A formal invitation was accepted on October 21st and he became the second pastor of Zion on 28th October 1943. In the war years housing was difficult to acquire so the Parker family lived with Mrs Joy Butler in Vicarage Lane. His ministry started in August 1943.
The “Recognition” services were held on Good Friday, 7th April 1944, with Pastor Thorpe and Pastor Garrard giving the “charge addresses” to Church and Pastor respectively. Pastor G. Bird gave the afternoon address. It is recorded that the Chapel was packed to overflowing. The new Pastor and his wife laboured hard and fruitfully in these difficult years at the end of the war. Immediately a weekly Prayer and Bible Study Meeting was commenced and a weekly Women’s Meeting was planned; this was delayed but commenced in November 1945. For the young people, Pastor started a Bible Class on Sunday afternoons which he shortly developed into a Fellowship of Youth more suited to the older young people. He also did much to arrange regular Quarterly Church Business Meetings and increased the diaconate and reordered the trustees, seeking to align the Church with the Metropolitan Association of Strict Baptist Churches. He was obviously a man of order and efficiency. The minutes show that supply preachers were only called for special services as most preaching was entrusted to the Pastor. Church rolls indicate his preaching was effective with good attendances at all the different services and at other organised meetings. The Chapel was improved, as was the financial state of the Church. Pastor and Mrs Parker were a great blessing to Zion. Therefore it was a shock when, at a Special Church Meeting held on 2nd March 1947 the Pastor told them “It is with very deep regret that I submit my resignation as Pastor”. He said he was no longer able to practice the doctrine of strict communion with a peaceful conscience. Although the Parkers immediately left the Church, ties were not completely severed as Mr Parker officiated at a number of baptisms and engagements well into the mid-1980s.