Retford leads the way!

Retford’s Annual Religious Tolerance Forum provides the key to support for the Mayflower Pilgrims Commemoration in the USA 

There is enthusiasm in the USA for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Pilgrims’ arrival in North America in 1620, however there is concern about its impact on the First Nations people who were already there.

By focusing on the theme of religious freedom and tolerance and looking forward through heritage rather than backwards as history, this will provide an approach, based on shared values, which should be acceptable to everyone. The fact that Retford has established an annual event focused on this subject, based on the thinking of its local puritans, some of whom were Mayflower Pilgrims, is of major interest to partners in the USA.

At this year’s Religious Tolerance Forum, held on Saturday 10th March 2018 at the The Well in Retford, Bassetlaw MP John Mann, who had just returned from a visit to Boston (USA), was able to share this exciting information arising from his trip. John Mann MP is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Mayflower Pilgrims.

Also at the Religious Tolerance Forum, Adrian Gray, local historian and author of the book From Here We Changed The World, told the story of the roots of religious tolerance in Bassetlaw and Gainsborough. The Forum in Retford is an annual event, started in 2015 to commemorate the death of local puritan, Thomas Helwys, who was the author of the first document advocating religious freedom, not only between Christian denominations but also with Jews, Muslims and those without any faith. He also claimed that there should be no connection between state and religion, meaning each individual should be free to believe what they want.

Dr David Appleby, Lecturer in Early Modern British History at the University of Nottingham, focused on the subject of tolerance in the aftermath of the English Civil War, which proportionally had a greater casualty impact on the population than the First World War. He examined how the political environment was shaped and modified by the views and opinions of the people and how the leaders of the day responded, with the resulting persecutions and unlikely collaborations.

Phil Lyons MBE gave an extensive view of the National Holocaust Centre with its elements of the exhibition, The Journey, telling a refugee story from the perspective of a young boy, collections including 700 historical items, and The Forever Project which provides interactive survivor interviewing. Virtual reality applications are also being created enabling immersive experiences to be taken out to schools. This is currently the only museum of its type in the UK.

Rev Richard Warren interviewed representatives of Release International and Open Doors who seek to provide evidence of, and argue against, persecutions happening today around the world.

The event was completed by a video of an interview between Rick Brand, Chair of Bassetlaw Christian Heritage and Dr Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge and former Archbishop of Canterbury.

Next year’s event will be held on Saturday March 9th, 2019 – save the date!

What’s the background to this event?

The main Separatists and Mayflower Pilgrims came from the area around Retford, in Bassetlaw, North Nottinghamshire; Bradford from Austerfield, and Brewster from Scrooby. Although not travelling to North America on the Mayflower, Clifton, from Babworth, Turvin from Retford, Bernard from Worksop, Smith and Robinson from Sturton le Steeple along with Helwys from Broxtowe were all part of the local puritan movement.

Roger Williams (from Essex) married Mary Bernard, daughter of Richard Bernard of Worksop Priory, and together they travelled to North America, where they befriended the local tribes and learned their languages, ultimately setting up Rhode Island State as a beacon of religious tolerance, separation of state and religion, and rejection of slavery.

Commemorating Clifton’s 400th – BCH touring exhibition and talks in May

Bassetlaw Christian Heritage is involved in a series of events this coming May to commemorate 400 years since the death of Richard Clifton – leading Separatist and preacher who inspired the Mayflower Pilgrims.

Events are taking place in Austerfield, Gainsborough, Babworth and Retford.

BCH are pleased to be taking part in the Doncaster Heritage Festival, the West Lindsey Churches Festival and the Retford Arts Festival to stage an exhibition on Clifton and the Pilgrims and offer talks on the history by Adrian Gray.

May 20th 2016, marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Richard Clifton, who died in Holland before the Pilgrims left for America via Southampton, Dartmouth and Plymouth.

What’s on and when?

Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th May 2016 11am-4pm St Helena’s Church, Austerfield

  • Open Church Weekend as part of the Doncaster Heritage Festival, including a Bassetlaw Christian Heritage exhibition on Richard Clifton and the Separatists, including William Bradford and William Brewster.
  • Refreshments will be provided.
  • Talk by author and local historian Adrian Gray on Sunday 8 May 8 at 2pm, providing an engaging insight into the Bradford, Brewster and Clifton story with an overview of the times that they lived in and their importance to us today.
  • Adrian’s new book From Here We Changed the World will be available, which provides an outline of the story and a detailed commentary on fascinating insights into some of the key places in the region. It is a story of martyrdom, sacrifice and unbelievable bravery; of shipwreck, cannibalism and yet extraordinary service to others.
  • Read a short history of Austerfield church below.
Saturday 14th May 2016 Pilgrims & Prophets Clifton Tour
  • Tour of churches with connections to Richard Clifton and the Pilgrim Story, with a heritage commentary, (itinerary subject to confirmation) starting at The Crossing in Worksop going on to The Well in Retford then Marnham, Fledborough, Babworth, Scrooby, and Everton before returning to The Well and The Crossing.
  • Departures from from The Crossing in Worksop and The Well in Retford.
  • Led by Adrian Gray and Rev. Geoffrey Clarke – for further information contact Adrian Gray (tel./text 07470 366689), or The Crossing in Worksop, or The Well in Retford.
 Saturday 14th & Sunday 15th May 2016 United Reformed Church, Gainsborough
  • Open Church Weekend with organ recitals as part of the West Lindsey Churches Festival – including Bassetlaw Christian Heritage exhibition on Richard Clifton and the Separatists.
Saturday 28th, Sunday 29th & Monday 30th May 2016 10am-4pm All Saint’s Parish Church, Babworth
  • Open Church Weekend as part of the Retford Arts Festival;
  • Exhibition of paintings by local artist Gerry Fruin;
  • Bassetlaw Christian Heritage exhibition on Richard Clifton and the Separatists.
  • Refreshments will be provided and car parking is available.
Saturday 28th May 2016 11am St Swithun’s Parish Church, Retford
  • Talk by author and local historian, Adrian Gray on ‘Retford’s Christian Heritage’ as part of the Retford Arts Festival.

Spotlight on Austerfield

The Clifton commemorations begin at historic St Helena’s Church at Austerfield, now over one thousand years old. The structure of the building alone is worth a visit, but when you consider the people who have lived and worked here, and the events they have shaped, influencing the lives of millions across the world – you will wonder why you haven’t visited before.

St Helena’s Church was built in 1080 by John de Builli, using stone from the Roche Abbey quarries. Over the centuries the church has seen new sections built and renovations completed to make it the church you see today.

The tympanum over the south doorway depicts a serpent-like dragon. An article published in 1954 suggests it is 8th century and relates its symbolic meaning to the calculation of the incidence of Easter Day.

In 702AD Austerfield was the location of a Synod, where a dispute between the King of Northumbria and Wilfrid, Bishop of Ripon was resolved. The Synod also discussed and agreed was the way that Easter is calculated.

The church has several windows by one of England’s greatest stained glass artists, Charles Earner Kempe.

In the nave is a Sheila-na-gig of which there are only 16 recorded in England! This is a quasi-erotic stone carving of a female figure sometimes found in Norman churches. This carving had been blocked into a wall in the 14th century, and was only rediscovered in 1898 during restoration work.

In 1897 the north aisle was built in memory of William Bradford.

Austerfield is perhaps best known by its connections with the Mayflower Pilgrims. William Bradford was born in Austerfield and was brought to be baptised on 19th March 1589.

In front of you, when you enter the church, is the stone baptismal font where Bradford was baptized and a beautiful stained glass window on the north side of the church commemorates the 400th anniversary of this event.

William Bradford went on to become the second Governor of Plimoth Colony in America and was the second signer of the Mayflower Compact in Provincetown Harbor.

Bradford was just 18 when he left for Holland with the Scrooby Group of Separatists in 1608, and only 30 when he arrived in America. As a young man he had often been unwell which led him to read and develop an interest in religious issues.

He became a close friend of William Brewster, who was Master of the Post at Scrooby, which is where the Scrooby Group met after Richard Clifton was forced out of Babworth.

Clifton was an important preacher and Bradford and Brewster regularly walked to Babworth to hear his sermons, even though it was illegal at the time.

[As featured on Heritage Inspired]

 

 

 

Helwys commemoration event highlights the need for religious tolerance as much today as in 1616

Religious intolerance and state oppression pose real dangers to personal freedom. And some 77% of the world’s population live under government restrictions on their beliefs.

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Cllr Jo White, Baroness Berridge, Rev Tony Peck and Adrian Gray

These were among the key messages at an event at The Well in Retford last week (Saturday 12 March), commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of local Separatist, Thomas Helwys, who first advocated universal religious freedom.

Addressing an audience from across the UK, Baroness Elizabeth Berridge, member of the House of Lords and Co-Chair of the All-Party Group on International Freedom of Religion and Belief, outlined examples from history – and today – of religious intolerance and state oppression.

She cited the reigns of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I when, to be a loyal subject to the Crown, religious allegiance to Catholicism and Protestantism respectively was required, and the penalty for failure to conform was severe.

More recent history from the Balkan conflict showed the aligning of loyalty to the Serbian state with belief in the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church are forming the same relationship with Russian identity.

In Burma, the Buddhist majority is suspicious of Christian and Muslim minorities, translating into persecution. Iran and Saudi Arabia both practice similar forms of theocracy from opposite sides of Islam. The most extreme current example is that of the so-called Islamic State where religious persecution is being used to attempt to impose a form of government.

Baroness Berridge went on to say that the Pew Research Centre (US)* had estimated that 77% of the world’s population live under governmental restrictions on their beliefs. She explained that an all- party group in Parliament with support from both houses and all parties was trying to raise the profile of the need to stand together to defend the rights of religious freedom for all.

She ended by highlighting that we are today benefitting from the fruits of the sacrifice of Thomas Helwys, who died for his belief in universal religious freedom – for all faiths, and none.

Rev Tony Peck
Rev Tony Peck

Rev Tony Peck, General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation, described the life of Thomas Helwys, including his time spent in Gainsborough with John Smyth, from Sturton. They left for Amsterdam in 1608 and established a Baptist principle of belief in A Declaration of Faith of English People Remaining at Amsterdam in Holland (1611). Helwys returned to England and set up the first English Baptist Church at Spitalfields, London.

He then published A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity, containing the first English language plea for universal religious freedom – for all faiths, and none. He denied the King’s right to impose laws requiring religious conformity and the King responded by imprisoning him in Newgate prison, where he died in around 1616.

Deputy Leader of Bassetlaw District Council and Portfolio Lead for Regeneration, Cllr Jo White, opened the event to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Thomas Helwys. She acknowledged the importance of the area around Retford where the founders of the Baptist, Quaker and Methodist denominations had originated, together with leaders of the Mayflower Pilgrims.

Bassetlaw District Council is proud of this unique aspect of our heritage, she said, and has created an annual Festival of Stories leading up to 2020, the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Pilgrims reaching America. This weekend (Friday 11 and Saturday 12 March) was the start of the Rebels and Religion Festival, with the first national Christian Heritage Conference held at The Well on Friday, which was a great success. She also looked forward to this becoming an annual event.

Local historian, Adrian Gray’s book was launched at this event, entitled From Here We Changed the World. Cllr White commented that this is “a bold statement, but it is a fact, and one we are very proud of”. She thanked people for attending and encouraged everyone to “work together to make positive changes for our future and the future of our children”.

A Release International representative and an Open Doors representative were interviewed by Richard Warren (Assistant Pastor, The Well). They confirmed that 200 million Christians around the world today suffer some form of persecution. The Christian church has become a target for people wishing to express their disapproval of the actions of Western democracies, especially where Christian peoples form minority groups in other cultures.

The event was brought to a close by Adrian Gray. Forty-five visitors joined him for a guided tour of churches relevant to the Helwys story in Askham, Sturton, Saundby and Glentworth; and Gainsborough Old Hall.

Music was provided during the event by Dan Bailey and Lynn Clapperton.

*The Pew Research Centre (US) Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and Hostilities:

“Looking at the overall level of restrictions – whether resulting from government policies or from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups – the study finds that restrictions on religion were high or very high in 39% of countries. Because some of these countries (like China and India) are very populous, about 5.5 billion people (77% of the world’s population) were living in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013, up from 76% in 2012 and 68% as of 2007.”