Over the last 50 years the people of Britain have gradually lost touch with the Christian heritage which shaped the landscape and culture of the country. Britain has seen the heroic missionaries of the ‘Dark Ages’, miracles of the medieval saints, the spiritual renewal of the Reformation, and the growth of a new-style Christianity with Baptists, Methodists and most recently Pentecostals. But much of this is ‘forgotten.’
To almost everyone outside the Church – and most inside it – past triumphs of faithful people are lost in the fogs of time. Recent research has shown that, in the area that gave rise to the Pilgrim Fathers and the first Baptists, almost no-one under forty understands the historical significance of the area they live in. They simply are not aware that a few people from their district really did change the World – because of their Faith.
Recently there has been a renewal of interest amongst Christians. Diana Chapman wrote a book, Britain’s Spiritual Inheritance. Believers in Cambridge have set up a Christian heritage centre, and soon will be opening one in London. In Wales, there has been renewed interest in the heritage of the Welsh revival. And members of a Partners in Harvest church in Nottinghamshire have been instrumental in setting up a new group to promote interest in their region – an area which produced great medieval works such as ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’, giants of the Reformation such as Cranmer and Anne Askew, men like Smyth and Helwys who created the Baptist tradition, and the leaders of the Pilgrim Fathers. But it did not stop there – from this one small area of England came also John Cotton, the first Quakers (with miracles and gifts of the Spirit), the Wesleys, and the first missionary organisations – not to forget ‘General’ Booth.
All this rich heritage has lain fallow too long. The Nottinghamshire church members, at The Well (Retford Baptist) found that most American visitors interested in the Pilgrim Fathers were focused on ancestral links – in other words, they are promoting their own ‘status’ not interested in the Word that the Pilgrims carried with them. Secular tour guides have no interest in how the puritans and Pilgrims are part of God’s unfolding story. Even Christians have lost the spiritual truth that those who went before are our brothers and sisters and the spiritual ancestors of us all.
So the members of the Retford church have set up a new organisation, Pilgrims and Prophets, to reclaim Christian history for Christ. The group is led by Gerard Pontier, a former missionary and church-planter but is gradually gathering others from a range of local churches. This new ministry aims to tell the whole story of Christian life, setting people like the Pilgrim Fathers in their proper context, through their own guided tours. It has an outreach focus through seeking to interest local people in their Christian heritage, and then in Christ. Visitors from other countries will also have the chance to fellowship with local churches, to find out what God is doing in England today. Tours can be tailored to suit individual or group interests – so you can follow the trail of the Quakers, the first Baptists, the Pilgrims or simply explore the secrets of the finest medieval churches and cathedrals – but with Christian guides. So if you are visiting England, please give us a call – we are conveniently situated 90 minutes by train from London, on the way to York. Come for a weekend, and join in the fantastic worship in one of Britain’s oldest Baptist fellowships.
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