Worshiping in the Cornish Chapel Style

Shoalhaven Chapel NSW.  Introduction (1)

We come from many different places…….but it is my pleasure on behalf of the Committee of the Southern Sons of Cornwall to welcome you to the Tomerong Union Church.

Christian worship in Cornwall has its roots in antiquity—and it is an inseparable part of our heritage. There have been many expressions of the faith, from the church in Rome to the travelling Celtic Saints from Ireland and Wales, through the Reformed period to the Established Church of England—then the non-conformist Quakers, Salvation Army and Methodists.

The Bible Christian Church was part of the Methodist family and it began at Week St Mary near the Cornish-Devon boarder in 1815.

So today in a simple way we are celebrating the tradition of the non-conformist Cornish Chapel. To help us do that we will actually follow the order of service approved by the Bible Christian Conference held at St Austell in 1838.

We are not going to try to re-enact the rowdy, spontaneous, Glory-Hallelujah!!!! Praise the Lord!!!!! style—but similar to our forefathers we will try to avoid anything they would have called CHURCHY!! We will not kneel, sing or chant the Lords Prayer or any Amens at the end of hymns.

(With Beryls help I will provide a brief background commentary on some parts of the service)

Precentor of Music (2): Good morning! Before we sing and join in the first item of the Approved Service of 1838 I would like to introduce myself  today as the CHAPEL PRECENTOR OF MUSIC. The writer of Psalm 150 could well have been a Cornish relative of Billy Bray because he writes,

Praise the Lord, hallelujah,

Praise God in his sanctuary,

Praise him with the trumpet,

Praise him with the lute and harp,

Praise him with the tambourine and dance.

It is a perfect description of the small orchestra of brass, flute and fiddle that led the music and set people tapping and clapping in the early Cornish chapel. The organ or harmonium eventually replaced the chapel band. However the minutes of the Bible Christian Conference of 1820 issued the following warning,

“Suffer no choirs of singers in the preaching houses. Choir singing has a tendency to beget formality. Encourage singing by all the congregation.”

Surprisingly because the sermons were longer, the simple chapel service only included 3 hymns. Few attenders could afford a hymn book and many could not read so hundreds of people would sometimes sing without a book. We will not attempt it today but the Precentor of Music would pitch the note, call the words of a few lines for the Congregation, then give a lead by bursting into song.

So with our forefathers and the advantage of having words that we can read, we all sing Charles Wesley’s song that expresses the uncontainable release and joy that comes with personally knowing that your sin is forgiven and that you are at peace with the Great Redeemer.

Prayer (3)

Minister: The prayer of faith is the way we acknowledge our own frailty and reach out to call on God. Before we take up this second aspect of the Approved Chapel Service  and dedicate this service to God we gather a little more historical background.

Precentor: Methodism was steeped in prayer and it grew out of a tradition where all were expected to kneel for prayer. Sometimes a prayer from the Common Book of Prayer was read. Some thought the practise of kneeling was a ‘Popish invention’ while the practise of sitting in the pew with the head slightly inclined was known as “the modern non-conformist crouch.” John Wesley advised preachers not to pray for more than 8 minutes. A preacher might call on someone to pray an extempore prayer that could sound something like this,

“ Stir us up Lord—we’ve been sitting so long in Zion that we’ve got stiff in the joints.”

If they were too long they were interrupted by the announcement of the next hymn.

Bible Christian’s usually held a regular prayer meeting after the Sunday Service and it was said this was where, (and I quote) “the fire of love was kindled which glowed in the breast of every Christian.” However people were saved— lives were changed Praying for revival was a matter of ‘prevailing prayer’,–a  practise and way of praying that has long been lost to today’s church.

The Bible  (4)

The Holy Bible was reveried and central to the life of the Chapel attender. The head of the family would read the Bible as family devotions at the end of the evening meal. Preachers knew their Bible well and the Old Testament stories were taken seriously.

The Biblical text was often interpreted literally and William O’Bryan, leader of the Bible Christians was meticulous in duplicating and practising the Lord’s Supper exactly as it was recorded in the Gospels.

The majority of preachers used the appointed lessons printed on the preaching plan while others regarded that process formal and churchy and would prefer to open the bible at random to see what passage confronted them. Many chose biblical names for their children like Elijah, Samuel, Mary, Josiah and chapels were named Bethel, Zion, Ebenezer, Erith and Zoar.

Preaching   (5)

The preacher is the prophet called to proclaim the gospel with fervour and conviction.

Open air preaching and revivals continued through the19th century into colonial Australia where preacher/missionaries were intent on reaching Setters with what the Bible Christian’s described as the “Word of Life.” They believed that through preaching an encounter with God, combined with the clearing of land and education a a new paradise would be ushered in.

Preaching was the climax of worship that could last for 45 minutes. The power of oratory was important. Without power point projection and  film clips the art of being able to dramatically tell a Bible story was important and the louder the better.

Paul the Apostle said, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” and the chapel took uneducated miners, labourers and women and made them preachers and exhorters. It was Billy Bray who once said,

“I ain’t a bit of a scholar—not—I,—– ma’y of you can read better than Billy Bray—but taint that, it is hee ‘art that’s got to be tended to as well the ‘ead.”

Prepared by Rev E.A. Curnow




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