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Church keen to be radical
A church with a history of radicalism and non- conformity is celebrating its 350th anniversary.
Witney Congregational Church, in Welch Way, started life by rebelling against religious repression under King Charles II in the 17th century.
Three-and-a-half centuries later it continues to evolve, helping to set up youth centre Base 33 and offering a home for a muslim prayer group.
The church, which has about 70 regular worshipers, has hosted a range of events to celebrate the birthday and plans more in the coming months.
The Rev Jason Boyd, church minister, said: “We hope we can continue to bring the people of God together and continue to be radical in the future.
“I would like to see us continue to welcome outsiders and be a place where people can find acceptance for who they are, not what we want to shape them into being.”
Witney Congregational Church was created in 1662 during a period when King Charles II and his supporters were suppressing religious non-conformers.
Between 1660 and 1662, an estimated 1,909 ministers across the country refused to use The Book of Common Prayer and were ejected from the Church of England. They were forced to hide and hold services in barns and fields.
One of them, Francis Hubert, was ejected from his parish in 1662 and, having moved to Witney, is thought to have been the town’s first congregational minister.
As the church grew and religious repression decreased, a chapel was built in Marlborough Lane on the site of the current Scout hut.
In the 1800s, a new church was built in High Street, where the Co-op is now, but the building fell into disrepair and worshippers moved again to St Mary’s Close.
The church moved to its current home in Welch Way in the 1970s.
The building was extended into its current state in 1994.
In 1998, along with St Mary’s and High Street Methodist, the congregational church set up Base 33 to look after youngsters from challenging backgrounds.
One of the most radical decisions the church has taken recently was to allow a Bangladeshi and muslim group to use the church for Friday prayers.
Mr Boyd said: “Just as 350 years ago we were not able to worship in the way we wanted to, we thought it was important that groups finding it difficult to worship freely now had a home. We have opened our doors to them and made them feel welcome.”
Witney in the 17th century
Witney has a history of religious non-conformity with Methodist, Quaker and Congregational churches forming.
Despite this, the town largely escaped the English Civil War.
Both King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell stayed in the town during the period – the former in June 1644 at the White Hart Inn and the latter on his way to Burford in 1649.
The town, which was leased to Lord Cornbury in 1670, began to grow on the back of its famed blanket industry and, in 1711, Queen Anne granted Witney’s Master Weavers the Royal Charter of Incorporation
Such was the influx of people, that Henry and Mary Box built Henry Box School in 1660 for the town’s children.
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