Forthcoming talks with Adrian Gray

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Adrian Gray with a copy of his new book, From Here We Changed the World

Thursday 18th October 2017, 7.30pm – Gainsborough

Adrian Gray will be giving a talk on Thursday 18th October at 7.30pm at Gainsborough House in Gainsborough (opposite the Old Hall) on ‘Religious Liberty: The Contribution of Notts and Lincs to Global Tolerance’.

Adrian, who leads ‘Pilgrims & Prophets Christian Heritage Tours’, will speak about how leaders from Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire helped to spread an understanding of religious tolerance that has been helping to change global attitudes.

Saturday 21st October 2017, 7pm – Lenton, Nottingham

Thomas Helwys, Baptist pioneer and campaigner for religious freedom, is one of the great men of Nottinghamshire history. Adrian Gray explains three key reasons why he is important in the World today, although he died in Newgate 400 years ago at a talk at Thomas Helwys Baptist Church (NG7 1SJ).

Tuesday 25th October 2017, 7pm – Wilmslow, Doncaster

Adrian Gray will give a talk on the puritans and pilgrims entitled ‘Why did they all come from here?’ at the Doncaster & District Family History Society, at the Doncaster School for the Deaf, Wilmslow (DN2 6AY).

Thursday 3rd November, 2-4pm – Lowdham

‘Nottinghamshire Christian Heritage’: Adrian Gray will give a talk explaining the contribution of Nottinghamshire men and women to the global development of Christianity. Full of human interest, bravery and tragedy.

Friday 4th November 2017, 9am-5pm – Retford

‘The Mayflower Pilgrims Tour’: This tour tells the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims through visiting the places where they lived and worshipped. Learn the history of your area! A great day out full of human interest. Coach tour £27.50 including lunch. Picks up at The Hub in Retford (09.00) then Retford at The Well and Worksop. Book by email to mail@pilgrimsandprophets.co.uk or ring 07724 848958.

Thursday 8th February 2018 – Retford

Talk on ‘Why did they all come from here?’ The Origins of the Mayflower Pilgrims – for Retford Inner Wheel at Ye Olde Bell, Barnby Moor.

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.”

 

Thomas Helwys: religious pioneer from Bassetlaw

A special event will be held in March to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the death of Thomas Helwys. Helwys was the founder of the Baptist denomination and has become known as a pioneer of religious liberty for all.

The event will be hosted by The Well in Retford at 10.30am on 12th March 2016.

Who was Thomas Helwys?

Helwys was from a North Nottinghamshire family and was probably born at Askham, near Retford. The family held lands there, at Saundby, and in Lincolnshire. His uncle Gervase was governor of the Tower of London but was executed after an important prisoner was poisoned.

Thomas’s father moved the family to Broxtowe Hall where he also brought up his own family; he became a friend of the puritan and separatist, John Smyth, and helped finance the escape of the Pilgrim Separatists to the Netherlands in 1608.

There, Smyth and Helwys became Baptists, but Helwys felt called by God to return to England to start an illegal Baptist church – the first congregation of the Baptist denomination.

He also wrote the first book in English to argue that all people should have freedom of religion, for which he was imprisoned by King James and was never released. The message of freedom was taken up by other Baptists, including John Murton of Gainsborough, and taken to America by Roger Williams who was married to Mary Bernard, daughter of a friend of Helwys, who had been vicar of Worksop.

Thomas Helwys is of global significance because:

  • Helwys was the first Englishman to explicitly state that people of any religion – Christian, Jew or Muslim – should be free to exercise their faith without government interference; the importance of this view has increased greatly in recent times
  • He founded the English-speaking Baptist denomination – the largest single Christian group in the USA and with nearly 50 million Baptists worldwide
  • In an age dominated by strict Calvinists, he preached that God’s love was available for any person who wanted it.

How are we marking 400 years since his death?

There will be two keynote speakers, a short film about Thomas Helwys, some music, and a chance to talk with representatives of groups campaigning for religious liberty today. A buffet lunch will be followed by an optional tour of local churches relevant to the Helwys story.

This free event is being held at The Well, also known as Retford Baptist Church. This is the nearest Baptist church to Helwys’s most likely place of birth and has been part of his denomination since at least 1691, when Baptist churches became legal. We are very grateful to the Well for their hospitality.

The commemoration event will include two keynote speakers:

BARONESS ELIZABETH BERRIDGE:

Elizabeth became Baroness Berridge of the Vale of Catmose on 20th January 2011 and is a working peer. She sits on the Select Committee for Social Mobility and the Ecclesiastical Committee, is a member of the London Policing Ethics Panel and the Co-Chair of the All Party Group on International Freedom of Religion and Belief.

Since 2012, Elizabeth has become a key voice in the deepening worldwide discussion on freedom of religion and belief as defined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

2014 saw the beginning of a partnership between the British All Party Parliamentary Group and United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which resulted in the launch of an International Panel of Parliamentarians (from 18 different countries), of which Elizabeth is Chair, whose pledge is to work together to end belief- based persecution worldwide.

In addition to her Parliamentary work, Elizabeth is a trustee of the think tank, British Future, which focuses on identity, integration, migration and opportunity. She is a member of the advisory council of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East and an active member of her local Church, St. Michaels, Chester Square.

She has lived in Trinidad and Tobago and Ghana and continues a special friendship with British African Caribbean and British African Church leaders.

Elizabeth will explain the importance of Helwys in the World today.

REV TONY PECK:

Tony is General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation (EBF) and also an ordained Baptist minister. He has spoken widely on religious freedom and wrote a well-received report on the history of religious freedom in central Europe.

Following his upbringing in Scotland he studied music and education at the Guildhall School of Music and the University of London, and theology at the University of Oxford. He was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1984.

He has worked as the pastor of a local church, a regional minister and a Baptist college teacher, before taking up his present post in 2004. In his work for the EBF he has travelled widely in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East visiting the 57 member bodies of the EBF.

His main academic research interest is in the concept of religious freedom, especially as pioneered by the English Baptists in the 17th century, as well as its contemporary role in the modern concept of human rights. He has written on this theme, as well as on aspects of Baptist identity and contemporary missiology.

Tony has participated in several ecumenical dialogues, most recently between the Baptist World Alliance and the Roman Catholic Church. He is a past member of the Conference of European Churches Commission on Church and Society and its Human Rights Group.

Tony will introduce us to the life of Helwys.