A Brief History of the Church

Chertsey Street Baptist Church, Guildford, used to be called "the Old Baptist Chapel" because it has a long, continuous history of people believing the Bible's teaching about God's grace and organising church life according to Baptist church principles.

First meetings

There is no exact date known to us for the first Baptist congregation in Guildford, or for founding this church, but the first allusion to a non-conformist group appears in a land deed from the 1590s. The first pastorate of the church is dated 1645, but the beginnings probably go back quite a time before that. We know that by 1669 there were some 60 to 100 people with these convictions meeting regularly in Guildford. Less than 20 years later a barn was converted into a meeting house and called the "Charcoal Barn Chapel" because it was on the site of the town's charcoal store.

The simple statement of these facts ought not to conceal that the church began in days when those who held to Baptist principles were severely persecuted. For example, it was during this century that John Bunyan, the Baptist writer of The Pilgrim's Progress spent years in Bedford jail for his faith. The church in Guildford was founded and grew in the face of fierce opposition.

The Charcoal Barn Chapel was situated in what is now the Tunsgate, just off Guildford's cobbled High Street. It was reconstructed and became the centre of the worship and witness of the church until 1953, when the town council developed the site and the church moved its meeting place to our present building in Chertsey Street (formerly a Methodist Chapel).

The story of the intervening years varies from times of great experience of the Lord's blessing to a period when the spiritual state was so bad that there was nothing more than a regular Sunday morning service. Only by the Lord's grace can we speak of a continuing church.

In 1837 a group of people broke away to form a new church. They first met in Quarry Street, and later in Commercial Road and now form the Millmead Centre congregation. Another group of people, with Hyper-Calvinist convictions broke at the end of the 19th century, which resulted in the building of Bethel Chapel in the Bars in 1910.

The first half of the 20th century was marked by 38 years of ministry by Pastor John Peters who cared for the church through the difficult years of the two World Wars. In addition to a countrywide ministry, Mr. Peters also served on the council of a number of national Christian organizations.

In 1992 the church was completely full on Sunday mornings and the leadership were beginning to wonder what should be done to accommodate everyone. At about this time we received a phone call from the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) saying that the small church in Guildford Park was about to close but could we help to restart it. After a lot of prayer, the church decided it could help and a small group moved over to Guildford Park and began morning meetings, under Chertsey Street's wing. In 1996, Graham Jones was called to pastor Guildford Park, and under his ministry, supported by his wife Sally, the church there began to grow. By Easter 1999, Guildford Park was self-supporting and amicably became an independent congregation again.

The Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ, has given us a long history. Behind these facts is the spiritual pilgrimage of hundreds of humble believers. There is a story written in heaven of souls redeemed, the binding up of broken hearts, the recovery of lost sons and daughters and a thousand other works of the Spirit of God. It is our business to serve the Lord faithfully in our generation as our fathers did in theirs. It is our privilege to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ and through earnest prayer and service to wait for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

This is an extract from the church records which demonstrates the sincerity and godly concerns of those who served God in this church before us. It is dated 1744.

"We the church of Christ, baptised upon profession of our faith, meeting in Guildford, Holding the doctrines of personal election, particular redemption and the final perseverance of the saints... For as much as the state of religion is sunk in general and in particular amongst us to our great sorrow; In that the ordinances and order of God's house have been very much neglected amongst us, We therefore come to a resolution to endeavour to revive the Lord's work in this church; As we have been assisted by the Spirit of God... We do therefore renew our church covenant with God and with each other

  1. In a solemn way of fasting and prayer to the Lord our God that we may be blessed in our understanding of this great affair, and first we have given up ourselves to God, we are resolved to make the word of God the rule of our faith and practice, but again as we have given up ourselves to each other in a church covenant, it is with a view to watch over each other in the Lord; for we are persuaded that it is our duty to reprove one another in the spirit of love as occasion may offer; and we are willing to be reproved and to be under those good laws of discipline which our Lord Jesus Christ has left us in his word, for his church to govern themselves by; and farther we do resolve not to receive in any members but such who believe the holy scriptures to be of Divine authority and a perfect rule for faith and practice.
  2. They must be such who believe the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity; viz. That the godhead do consist in Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and that these three are one living and true God; the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
  3. Such who believe that our Lord Jesus Christ did keep the law of God perfectly and that Christ has suffered and did die for our sins; and by virtue of it has made a full atonement for our sins.
  4. Such who believe the threefold offices of Christ, viz. Prophet, priest and king; for these offices of Christ are of great importance to the church of Christ.
  5. That the righteousness of Christ is the complete matter of our justification before God; it being imputed to us by the Lord; and that the comfort of it do redound to us by receiving Christ and his righteousness by faith.
  6. Such who believe the doctrine of regeneration by the Spirit of God whereby all the powers and faculties of the soul are renewed and it is commonly called the new birth.
  7. Such who are resolved in the strength of grace to live a holy, godly life and conversation; and to deny themselves daily and to be willing to submit to all the laws of discipline as mentioned above.
  8. Such who hold the final perseverance of the saints by the Spirit and grace of God; moreover we do engage ourselves to give our attendance at all church meetings except sickness or any other just reason can be shewn why we are absent.
  9. Such who believe the glorious doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust.
  10. Such who believe the doctrine of eternal judgment.
  11. Such who believe that a holy, godly life and conversation is the fruit of a saving faith and true gospel repentance, or that which do always accompany it.
  12. We do engage to keep the church's secrets...and to pray one for another and to the end we may come into gospel order.

We have chosen our brother Diodat Hoare to the office of being our pastor, to watch over us in the Lord, and to administer the ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ amongst us, and farther we do engage ourselves to encourage and assist our brother Hoare in carrying on this good work amongst us as much as in us lie under the help of the Spirit and grace of God, as witness our hands this 29th day July, 1744."

 

Old 'Charcoal Barn' chapel in Tunsgate

Old 'Charcoal Barn' chapel in Tunsgate

Typical dress in the 1600s

Typical dress in the 1600s

An old map of Guildford

An old map of Guildford

The last wedding in the Tunsgate chapel - August 1953

The last wedding in the Tunsgate chapel - August 1953

Church leaders in the early 1900s

Church leaders in the early 1900s

Pages from the original church record book of 1744

Pages from the original church record book of 1744