Monday, 17 July 2017

Celebrating Methodist lay leaders at Tolpuddle

"Tolpuddle" is a name I seem to have known all my life.  I think it was probably in Sunday School that I first learned about the Tolpuddle Martyrs - six Dorsetshire labourers who, in a desperate attempt to save their families from total degradation in 1834 at a time when wages were falling, formed one of the earliest trade unions.  Because they then also took an oath to secrecy, they were tried and sentenced to seven years' transportation to Australia - an extremely harsh sentence which caused major public outcry.  After three years they were pardoned and able to return, and their names and their courageous actions have lived on ever since.  You can read much more about them and their stories on the Methodist Heritage webpages.

Annually in July the Trades Union Congress (TUC) organise a festival in the village of Tolpuddle which now attracts about 10,000 visitors and yesterday (Sunday 16th July) I made my first visit.  It was everything a festival should be - sunny and hot (with no mud in sight), happy and noisy, celebratory and yet serious, as all sorts of unions, groups and organisations took the opportunity to highlight their desire for justice and holiness (although they may not all have put it in those words!)



I was proud to march under the church's banner, which, on the reverse listed the names of the six martyrs along with their Methodist connections.  Rev. Steph Jenner, the local superintendent minister, has done much to increase the involvement of local Methodists and other Christians in the festival and to take this opportunity to bear witness to the faith of the martyrs which led them to take their courageous actions.  As Rev. Inderjit Bhogal commented to me as we marched, "all these people are here because of the commitment, faith and actions of Methodist lay preachers" - Wow!

We did glimpse the festival's most famous visitor - Jeremy Corbyn - who has been attending regularly for over thirty years, but now draws crowds in his own right of course!  Inderjit preached powerfully at the service which ended the Festival in the "new" Methodist chapel (around 150 years old, but newer than the "old" chapel, which is the focus of a major restoration project) and I was glad to lead prayers there too.  In a day which focused on justice, liberty, faith, government, heritage and celebration, there is still much to pray for around the world.  Jill

1 comment:

Donald Sharp said...

A very moving service, and meeting fiends.