(thanks to B as I nicked most of this from his April vicars letter in the parish magazine)
Today is an exciting day for Tolpuddle.
Today is a momentous day for Tolpuddle!
Today we put an end to almost 200 years of divided Christian witness in the village.
Today at 6.30pm a covenant will be signed in the Methodist Chapel between representatives of the Methodist Church and Church of England, committing us to work and worship together in our witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will then symbolically walk to St J’s. The covenant will enable regular Methodist worship to resume in the village at the Parish church.
In any small village this would be a time of much rejoicing but for Tolpuddle even more so as it is a hugely significant and historic thing to do. The relationship between chapel and church has not always been a cause for rejoicing. As in many parishes the emergence of Methodism was highly controversial and the Church of England frequently made life very difficult for the ‘dissenters’ as they were called. In Tolpuddle, this acquired greater significance with the story of the Martyrs
In 1832, the vicar of Tolpuddle betrayed the agricultural workers of Tolpuddle. He did this by first acting as a witness to an agreement between the farm labourers and land owners for a fair wage and then by denying any such agreement, when the land owners went back on their promises. This betrayal was especially bitter as a number of the men who were to become the Tolpuddle martyrs were Methodists. Feelings undoubtedly ran high and it is perhaps symbolic in Tolpuddle that the Parish church and the Methodist Chapel are at opposite ends of the village.
Much time has passed since then! Each year at the Martyrs festival when the Trades Unionists come to lay a wreathe on Hammets grave, a wreathe of repentance is layed by St J’s for the Church of England’s betrayal of the Martyrs and local labourers.
Last year, with sadness it was decided that regular monthly services at the chapel could no longer be sustained. Indeed a number of our congregation at St Js had been supporting the services there for some time to help make them viable. It really did seem a tragedy that Methodist worship in the village would come to an end especially as the story of the martyrs is deeply rooted in the soul of Methodism.
Fortunately we have a great vicar and a great Methodist superintendent who make things happen.
So today we will make our promises to each other, to work and worship together and celebrate all that God is doing among us! We are excited that there will be 6 Methodist led services each year at St Js on a Sunday morning in place of our normal service and 3 special services each year in the Methodist Chapel.