‘The Early Chapel 1646 – 1807’
‘1758 Chapel Erected’
‘Sutton in the Elms is the oldest Baptist Church in Leicestershire and was founded about 1646. There were no buildings at that time for it was the abundance of Elm trees that first attracted dissenters to worship here. Dissenters were those who did not conform to the established Church of England, They were persecuted by Officials, not allowed to hold public office of any kind and branded by some as second class citizens. People came several miles to worship under the elms, making their own footpaths. An Elder would read from the Bible and prayers were said – but no singing for fear of being detected. In fact, this created a custom and hymns were not sung at Sutton until 1788. After the Civil War and the death of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell allowed dissenters to practise their faith freely and so the church at Sutton flourished.
In 1650 they formed a Church and built a small meeting place, which is now the vestry adjacent to the Chapel, Thomas Townsend, Sutton’s first Pastor, was responsible for this and he was to remain Minister for forty years, resigning in 1699 due to infirmity, and dying at Sutton in 1704. During his ministry, in 1660, the monarchy was restored and Charles II strengthened the Church of England, so dissenters were persecuted once again, but in 1672
the King passed an “Act of Indulgence” which allowed favours to dissenters although still no legal rights. Eventually in 1689 in the reign of William and Mary, an “Act of Toleration.” was passed allowing freedom of worship. However, it still prevented dissenters from holding any public office. By this Act dissenters were allowed to worship at regular meeting places provided they registered them, but not until July 1753 did Sutton apply for and obtain registration. 1699 Benjamin Moore became Minister. At this time non-conformists were still second class citizens. Their marriages were not recognised by law unless the service was performed by the Church of England, and their banns had to be posted on the Workhouse Door instead of the Parish Church door. It was not until 1836 that free churches could lawfully marry couples and at the same time tithes were abolished. Prior to that Sutton had to pay £1 Os. 11d. each year to the Rector of St. Mary’s and even that had to be taken to a special office at the workhouse. Mr Moore died in 1739 and was followed by Robert Gilbert whose brief ministry ended with his death at 27 in 1742.
The Church was without a Pastor for eight years until Isaac Woodman was appointed in 1753. His ministry coincided with a period of agricultural and trade depression and people living in the village were near to starvation so 13 members of the chapel left the village and walked to Leicester in the hope of finding employment. They did so and hired a barn to meet in on Sundays. This barn became Harvey Lane Baptist Church where William Carey, founder of the Baptist Missionary Society, was Minister from 1789 until he left for India in 1793. Mr Thomas Edmonds, Sutton’s next Pastor moved to Upton in 1793 and the Pastorate went to the Rev. Benjamin Evans, a well-known local speaker, who stayed at Sutton for 10 years before moving to Enderby and finally to Blaby Baptist Church. The Rev. Clayton Mordount Cracherode took over the Pastorate but in the fourth year of his ministry, died on the way home from a preaching engagement at Leire in November 1807. He is buried in the graveyard and the particulars of his tragic death are recorded on a slate tombstone near the vestry. The following three years saw the church without a minister.’,
‘The Burdett Ministry 1810-1852’,
‘In 1810 the Rev. Cheney Burdett, a native of Naseby, Northamptonshire, became Pastor and spent the whole of his 42 years in ministerial life at Sutton, dying on 2nd September, 1852. His memorial tablet is still in the Chapel near the pulpit. It was under his ministry that over a hundred people were added to the Church membership and that the chapel was enlarged in 1810 at a cost of £300 (the whole amount being raised in one day at a garden bazaar). In those days educational facilities for the poor were meagre and the best was provided by the Charity Schools which were usually collected with particular places of worship. It was to provide for the education of poor children that Robert Raikes had begun the first Sunday School in Gloucester in 1780. The idea gradually spread throughout the country and it is known that Sutton had a Sunday School by 1836. Here the Rev. Burdett tried hard to encourage his members to read and write, giving any help that he could. Every Friday one copy of the sole newspaper published in Leicestershire “The Leicester Chronicle” would be delivered to the Old Manse and, after reading it himself, it’s recorded that the Rev. Burdett would cross the road to Betsey’s cottage and read it aloud to the assembled villagers. Very little else is known about the Rev. Burdett’s ministry as he neglected to keep any minutes of church proceedings and events. According to one old record book “He died, after a long illness, in the faith of the Lord God and in his case is fulfilled the saying of the confirmed works: “The memory of the just is blessed”.
One of his sons, born at Sutton Manse in 1836, emigrated to the U.S.A. at the age of 12. He distinguished himself as a lawyer and, during the American Civil War, rose to the rank of General, the Hon. S. S. Burdett, in Lincoln’s Union Army and he later took his place on the Senate. He sent monetary donations to the chapel on two occasions and visited the village twice after his father died, staying at the Manse. It was on the second of these visits that he became ill and died in the very room in which he had been born 78 years earlier. In 1983 two of his descendants, Mrs Hazel Stoll and Mrs Doris Christian with their husband’s, visited Sutton from Ohio, U.S.A. to see the chapel and the old manse for themselves.’,
‘Fifty Years From 1850 – 1900’
‘In 1853 the Rev. John Gough became Pastor of Sutton and in the Spring of that year the baptistry was constructed. Prior to this baptisms were held in the open air, in the brook that runs in the meadows behind the Chapel. The last person to be baptised in the brook was a Mr Thomas Rainer in 1851. In the 3 1/2 years that the Rev. Gough was at Sutton, 35 people were baptised in the new baptistry, and it was in these years that a decision was made to elect Deacons for a three year term of office instead of the previous one. The graveyard at that time was almost full as it held a large orchard too, and by the time the Rev. Gough left to emigrate to America in 1857 only members of the church and congregation were allowed to be buried there. Eventually in 1916 the orchard was gradually cleared of trees and this rule was no longer necessary.
The Rev. William Bull, B.A., succeeded John Gough and his ministry was to last for 45 years. However, no records were kept during these years apart from the baptismal register which records that
130-135 new members were added to the Church, many of them coming from Cosby. The Rev Bull also presided over a little school adjoining the chapel. French and Latin were taught and the fees at a shilling a week appear to be fairly high, which suggests that it was a school for select middle class pupils. There was no free education until the 1870 Posters Act provided elementary education for all, and it was another 10 years before education was made compulsory for children between the ages of five and eleven. The Rev. Bull died on 24th December 1902 and the Manse was found to be in a very-dilapidated condition. As money was short volunteers repaired it at a cost of £50 instead of the £150 needed for outside labour. Unfortunately during this renovation some historically valuable documents were burnt, by mistake, along with the refuse.
Rev. John Walter Cannings ..(1902-1919)
On 7th November 1903 a tea and meeting was held to welcome the Rev. John Walter Cannings as Pastor of Sutton and Cosby. Cosby had had its own chapel since 1842 sharing ministers with Sutton until it became independent in 1953. The following month the Church decided to build a new schoolroom on the site of the stables (originally necessary for a scattered rural congregation). The foundation stone was laid in March 1905 and the building was completed by Whitsuntide. Just before the Rev. Cannings came to Sutton in 1902 the government had introduced a Bill for secondary education. This was seen by Non-conformists as “a sinister attempt to reverse the progress of the century and to eliminate non-conformity at its source by granting state aid to Anglican propaganda in the national schools”, so many non-conformists refused to pay the education rate. The Rev. Cannings was one of these and preached a sermon advocating passive resistance to the Act. For these “offences” he was, in 1904, imprisoned in Leicester gaol and again for 7 days in 1905. The Chapel records tell us that on his release a band met him at the prison gates and a lively meeting was held in the chapel later that day.
In 1913 two oak trees were planted in the grounds by Mrs. Cannings and Mr. John Harriman, Senior Life Deacon, in commemoration of Sutton’s part in the passive resistance to the Education Act. By 1906 it had been decided to enlarge the chapel, with the building of an organ being incorporated into the plans. The south wall was therefore taken down and the chapel extended. The Mayor of Leicester opened the new building in 1907. In 1909 Sutton became self-supporting. Previously it had received financial help from the Baptist Association. However, money was still short and any villager drawing water from the chapel pump had to pay for it.
‘The Chapel Interior’
‘By 1911 it was discovered that dry rot had developed in the new part of the chapel, attacking the floor joists and the organ case, and the fungus was spreading rapidly. The organ was dismantled, treated and rebuilt and, along with the pulpit was moved from the centre to the side where they stand today. The floor was relaid with concrete and wood blocks and the baptistry remade. Eventually heating was installed in both chapel and schoolroom in 1914. The old wooden clock which hangs on the west wall is worth mentioning at this point. For many years it could not be made to work until, in 1929, Mr. Copson (Lil Thompson’s father) repaired it. It was made around 1797 and is an “Act of Parliament” clock. In that year the government needed more revenue for the French wars so placed a tax on each clock or watch in England. Most people chose to do without to avoid the tax and even clocks in public places were removed with the result being chaos. Emergency legislation was introduced in 1798 allowing the use of tax free clocks made in a general style – hence the name “Parliament Clock”. Such clocks were usually found in coaching inns and the one in Sutton could have come from a nearby coaching inn. The pictures on the door are an example of Oriental lacquer decoration and originally would almost certainly have been a green and gold Chinese finish, but at some time it was covered with a thick coat of brown varnish.
‘1920 – 1977’
‘The Rev. James Newton was Pastor for the following five years giving place in 1924 to Rev. Benjamin Reed whose Pastorate lasted for 13 years. The Rev. D. Wilkinson followed in 1938 for nine years to be succeeded by Rev, James Meek in 1947. He stayed until 1952, and from 1953 to 1956 Rev. Gilbert Uden became Hon. Pastor preaching one Sunday a month and leading Church meetings. In the years following until 1973 Sutton was served by an Honorary Lay Pastor, Mr. Clough. During his Pastorate in 1969 a meeting was held between Sutton and Cosby Deacons to discuss the state of the two struggling causes with the Deacons and Minister, Rev. David Coffey, of Whetstone Baptist Church. Cosby decided to go it alone, but Sutton asked for help. David Coffey began holding once monthly Sunday afternoon services -bringing with him a supporting group of 12. However after a couple of years these twelve dwindled to one or two and the services were abandoned when Rev. Coffey left. However, some baptisms did take place during this time and it was reported in the Baptist Times that our baptistry was opened for the first time in over 40 years to disclose a dead rat. Rev. Leslie Hilliard had the oversight of Sutton for three years.
When he retired in 1976 however numbers had further declined so Sutton turned once again to Whetstone for help. Several meetings were held with the Area Superintendent and a meeting was called to see if anyone would be willing to become Lay Pastor. About 30 people from various churches attended but only 4 offered real assistance. Mr John Freer from Whetstone was able to preach once a month and lead a mid week Bible Study for one year. Mr John and Mrs Mary Hemes offered to preach once a month and chair Deacons, Church and Sunday School meetings, while Mrs Flo Bull was able to preach once a month and undertake pastoral visiting. So in 1977, the Pastoral Team was born (quite a new concept in those days). It was officially recognised by the Baptist Union and a Service of Recognition was held with the laying of hands by the Area Superintendent, Rev. Arthur Bonser. The church buildings at this time were in a very poor state of repair, the hall, kitchen and toilets being very dilapidated. The weekly offerings averaged £4.50 and numbers attending church meetings were the seven Deacons plus often only one other. So there followed four years of hard work “preaching, visiting, praying, chairing meetings”. There was no chance of help from the Home Mission Fund until the church was “healthy” enough to be a viable proposition,
‘Under the Pastoral Team 1979’
‘In January 1979 it was decided to start a morning service. At first this was held in the vestry and the average attendance was 8. The children would stay in the church while the adults left. Much prayer was made for couples to move into the church and at this time couples began attend. God was also answering our prayers with conversions amongst young married couples and several were baptised and received into membership. At this time too Mr Alan Pepper spent an hour every morning before work and at weekends asking God for growth in the Church. He recorded a prophesy on 3rd May 1980 which foretold the coming of Bruce Stokes as Minister and was fulfilled 18 months later. A note made in September 1979 by one of the Team said “we are encouraged by some aspects of the work but we desperately need fully committed members to throw in their lot with us. We cannot get a Home Mission Grant for a Minister until the church is built up. Our aim is to see a Minister installed – but how long will that take.” It was becoming usual to see new faces at worship, but they left for other, larger, churches, probably because of the small numbers at Sutton and the dilapidated state of the premises. However, all contacts made were followed up by a team from Whetstone and many were really challenged and some converted, thanks to the work of Mrs Jackie Wood and Mr David Owen who made up the team with Mrs Bull and the many Whetstone folk who came to preach, teach, give testimonies and pray. John and Mary Hemes began and led Holiday Bible Clubs which put the church on the map, but it was noted that the Sunday School had non-Christian teachers and no men teachers at all.
In 1979 the existing (flourishing but secular) Youth Club was closed and a new one started, but again the leaders were only spasmodic attendees at worship and prayer for helpers who were fully committed to Christ was made. Some comments made by Mrs Flo Bull on the work of the team are interesting “The team ministry is working well despite predictions of failure. We meet with Bernard Burrows (Church Secretary) once a month to discuss all aspects of the church’s life. We get on remarkably well considering our differing gifts but we fall down when a snap decision has to be made without prior discussion, But God is good and He is working for us and all is well. ” In 1980 owing to sudden growth in numbers the team were finding it increasingly hard to hold the church together, so Home Mission Fund was approached for a grant to support a Minister. The Area Superintendant felt that Sutton would not get a grant for a full time Minister but no part-time Minister could be found so it was instigated that a Minister might be shared with Whetstone as they were seeking an Assistant Minister at that time. Eventually Rev.Bruce Stokes accepted the call to both positions, giving one day a week to Whetstone for which they contributed a quarter to his stipend and H.M. fund one half. Without the love and generosity of Whetstone, Bruce would never have come to Sutton. He was inducted on 19th September 1981. It was a day of great rejoicing and the team were pleased to have worked themselves out of a job.
1981 – 2013′
‘Bruce Stokes’s ministry brought many changes. The membership rose to 100 through prayer, personal witness, meaningful worship, Bruce’s preaching and the forming of Enquirers groups. The buildings underwent a transformation, a vestibule was built at the back of the church and some windows were replaced. The schoolroom was completely renovated and the old kitchen, stable and toilets demolished and replaced by the present building. In 1985 after Bruce’s marriage the church house in Kenilworth Close was sold and they moved into the refurbished cottage adjoining the schoolroom, During this time too, Boys and Girls Brigade Companies were formed, Enquirers groups and House groups started along with many other spiritual and social groups.
In March 1988 Bruce Stokes moved to Camberwell Baptist Church in London and after a short interregnum the Rev. George Bradley took up the Pastorate in November of that year. During his Ministry the front of the church was considerably altered with the replacing of the large pipe organ with a small electronic one. George retired to Worksop in 1998.
In September 1999, Rev. Bruce Nadin took up his first full-time pastorate at Sutton after being Student Pastor to two Churches in Leicester during his training at Regents Park College, Oxford. During this ministry there was a considerable increase in membership and attendance at worship. A minister’s study and a Church Office were created in the upper rooms of the cottage at the side of the chapel. Sunday morning worship included modern and traditional music, all ages together for the first part of the service. With a vision for evangelism in an expanding village and an aim to become more involved with the local community, many activities made up the life of the church. Several Y Courses were run for those wanting to discover more about God. Weekly small groups in the homes of members encouraged fellowship, prayer and Bible study. A Toddler Group; Platter and Chatter lunches for older people; Brigades and Youth Club, and the arrival of Kids Fun Week and Kids Praise events; assembly visits to the local Primary Schools; involvement in The Leicester Comedy Festival and Football Tournaments. Bruce took on the chaplaincy at Leicester City Football Club in 2005. With his passion for sharing the gospel through sport in 2008 Bruce left Sutton to follow a call to minister in South Africa through Ambassadors in Sport. The church continues to support Bruce and Louise in their valuable work.
2008 to 2016
After a period of interregnum, Rev. Andrew Burnham took up his first full-time pastorate at Sutton in August 2010 following his training at Spurgeon’s College. During his training he was student minister at a church in north London. Andrew had a passion for Bible teaching. The vision to redevelop the premises was revived during his pastorate. The church celebrated his marriage to the youth worker, Emily. Rev. Burnham moved to Bromley Baptist church in June 2014.
Determined not to stagnate during interregnum the church appointed a Family Worker in 2015, Mat Sheffield. A number of new ministries began including outreach meals at local restaurants, Lux Mundi praise events and ongoing development of family services. Rev. John Hall was appointed as Moderator and provided a steady hand until a new minister was appointed to start in September 2016.
Jonathon Morley appointed as minister
Jonathan moved to Sutton in September 2016 from Retford where both Jonathan and his wife, Rachel, served on the leadership team of The Well Retford Baptist Church. They have two lively young children, Joseph and Lydia.
Jonathan is an inspiring preacher with a passion for the presence of God and seeing people transformed through an encounter and relationship with Jesus.
With Jonathan’s leadership the church is developing its ministries with more focus on using our spiritual gifts to grow God’s Kingdom and family.
So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”