In the Open: Hooker & Eliot of Little Baddow

by Michael N. Jagessar

While Andy Murray was contemplating whether he was going to break the cycle of drought and URC-Chapelcreate history, the churches in Little Baddow gathered for their annual service (27th), remembering Thomas Hooker (1586-1647) and John Eliot (1604-1690). While not planned, it was ecumenical non-conformity for me on this exceptionally hot Sunday (July 7, 2013). I could not manage with my heavy alb in the heat and in the open! How the Area Bishop of Bradwell (the Rt. Revd John Wraw) and the local Anglican Vicar (Revd Clive Ashley) coped in their ‘vestments’ is not to be envied! I suppose my ecumenical non-conformity would have pleased Hooker and Eliot!

I was received and warmly welcomed by Pastor Ryan Sirmons of Little Baddow United Reformed Church and taken to the farm (Cuckoo’s Farm) where Eliot and Hooker, a couple of early non-conformists who practiced a form of Puritanism, taught. The congregation wasDSCN2010 gathered in the rebuilt barn and the whole service was conducted in the open, complimented with the sound of chirping birds, slowly trotting horses on the road and familiar sounds of other animals. After leaving the Caribbean sun, I never thought I would value the use of a Gazebo in the UK to provide shade while leading worship!

For both Bishop John and I, this was our first visit to the churches in Baddow. These churches are rightly keen on their significant history and rich heritages. And, it was very encouraging to hear the stories of how the Chapel (United Reformed Church) and St. Mary’s (Church of England) in Little Baddow have covenanted to work together (from 2005). In fact at this service of celebration there were also Catholics, Baptist and members of the Society of Friends present.

Sharing in the service with the two local ministers, I was invited to preach and Bishop John to DSCN1960lead the prayers of intercession. Together we led all in the prayer of peace and the blessings and dismissal. I was especially asked to encourage the churches to deepen their ecumenical commitment. While mindful of the independent and non-conformist heritage (Hooker and Eliot), the rich heritages of both Church traditions, and current challenges facing all the established churches in the UK, I reflected on the gospel reading (Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20) and noted some pointers for our ecumenical calling. I underscored the need to deepen and widen a habit of generosity and hospitality; the importance of growing an attitude of curiosity in our life together; the model of accompanying each other; the challenge of crossing borders and comfort zones; the wisdom of travelling light on the journey; faithfulness in sharing and living a message which mirrors the faithfulness of God; joy as an ecumenical habit; the assurance of enough andLadybird appropriate words for the journey and that the effectiveness of the words is not being dependent on either the bearers nor the response of the hearers. I ended my reflections with telling the story of what the Ladybird heard which got the whole gathering in participatory mode!

After the worship we moved across to the United Reformed Church, where a generous and delightful spread ‘welcomed’ all – and it was delicious! So around tables and under more gazebos’ we “lunched” in Hookerthe garden of Little Baddow URC and continued our conversations.

I would encourage anyone interested in the adventure of a ‘day out’ to visit the Little Baddow History Centre which is attached to the Chapel. This small centre is full of interesting surprises, as Bishop John and I discovered from our whirlwind tour. If you like walking, there are lovely routes in and around Baddow. And, for those interested in the story of the village and the Chapel, I would recommend chapter 5 of Deryck Collingwood’s Father of American Democracy: Thomas Hooker (1586-1647). You may borrow my complimentary copy if you wish. In the meantime my Little Baddow Chapel 300th anniversary mug will proudly rest on my desk!

 

1 thought on “In the Open: Hooker & Eliot of Little Baddow

  1. Ryan Sirmons

    Dear Michael,

    On behalf of both churches in Little Baddow and indeed all people of faith, it was both a delight and a welcome challenge to hear your words of encouragement on our nonconformist ecumenical journey (in the hot sun!). While our covenant, now in its eighth year, serves as a starting point, we continue to search for ways to make ourselves just a bit more “uncomfortable” in order to travel light on the journey. A prompt in that direction from our Moderator was a hopeful reminder that we cannot rest too long on our accomplishments.

    Thank you for your graceful presence amongst us on 7 July, and may your coffee or tea taste all the better out of the mug!

    In Peace,
    Ryan and the churches of Little Baddow, Essex.

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