Bethel Sea-side here in Llanelli and many other chapel communities marked the first Sunday of August as a day of prayer and thanksgiving for religious freedom. As a young child I recall the passion of the prayers offered in thanks for the freedom of worship and the sacrifice of those who had suffered for their principles of worship and belief. It was many years later that I came to realise why the first Sunday of August was so significant to the story of religiousliberty in the UK and it’s quite a story!
It centres around Queen Anne who came to the throne in March 1702. It was, however, her death, on 1st August 1714 which was so significant. The reason was that there had been condemnation and persecution of those who were considered to be ‘nonconformists’which grouped together those such as the Baptists, Congregationalists, and others who would not conform to the liturgy of the Church of England.
Queen Anne was intolerant of all such groups and a Parliamentary Bill was designed to close their Ministerial training colleges andto ban from public office those of such dissenting faith with the intention to severely restrict their worship and eventually their very existence. The ‘Schism Bill’ was rushed through Parliament and passed on to the Queen for Royal assent. It was due to be signed on 1st August 1714 which would have made the it law. However, Queen Ann died suddenly in the early hours of that morning and the bill never received the assent it needed to become the law of the land. It was eventually repealed and this was the reason for great relief and rejoicing for those dissenting groups and a large number from the established church who were against the legalisation of such persecution.
Perhaps then we can take some time today to remember those who still suffer persecution for their faith and to pray that all who experience the evil of harassment and imprisonment for their faith, whatever faith they that may be, will have the freedom to practice their faith.A privilege we often take so much for granted. Finally, I wonder if it’s significant that those dissenting believers from Bethel and Seion who established the church where I am Minister at Greenfield chose 1st August, 1858, 160 years agotoday to open the doors of Greenfield for the very first time? I’d like to think it was.