BAPTIZING AT FOREST FOLD
Part of the Autobiography of Mr. Philip Dickerson taken from an old volume of the Gospel Herald
In the year 1840, the writer was called upon to preach in a district of Sussex called Crowborough, about eight miles from Tunbridge Wells, in connection with the late Joseph Sedgewick, of Brighton. The place of meeting was an old barn standing in a wild and almost solitary place, very few houses near; yet a considerable population scattered within the radius of a mile.
The scene was rough, and the appearance of the people more so. The above mentioned old barn had been hired a short time before by our late friend, Mr. George Doggett, who lived in the district and, after a few months, his brother-in-law, the late J. T. Betts Esq., being on a visit, they went to the old barn and, understanding it was for sale, Mr. Betts purchased it, with two or three old cottages, and generously invested it in trust for the use of the Baptist cause for ever. Different ministers came and preached; the Holy Spirit owned the truth proclaimed; many poor people flocked to hear the word of life, and their hearts being touched with a live coal from off the altar, a desire was expressed by several to be baptized and for a church to be formed according to the order of the New Testament.
Under these circumstances the writer was requested to go down for that purpose; and in the month of June 1844, he paid a visit to Crowborough; embracing the Lord’s day previous to the anniversary as most convenient for the object in view. He felt himself, at the time, in quite a new sphere of action. There was no church. He sent a message to those who were desirous of being baptized, desiring them to meet him at the chapel on Friday evening. Seven men and three females came and told their tale of how the Lord had met with them, opened their eyes, convinced them of sin, and brought them to Christ for salvation. We prayed, wept, and rejoiced together. That evening was one which we have never forgotten.
The afternoon of the next Lord’s day we met in a meadow, a short distance from the chapel, which we then called the old barn. In this
meadow there was a large pond. The friends put up two tents at a distance from each other for the accommodation of the candidates. It was a beautiful day and the novelty of the circumstance, a public baptism of men and women having been announced, a large concourse of people gathered together, supposed to be five or six hundred. The scene was very imposing to the eye and produced feelings of no ordinary degree of solemnity. Near to where we stood there were grouped together, on our right and left, a number of young men, many of whom were literally ‘men of stature’, men of unusual size; and before we commenced we observed they appeared to be in humour for a lark, and we could easily perceive if they chose to do so, they could toss the administrator into the pond. We confess we felt some unbelieving fears but our God raised up our heart to Him in prayer which being concluded, we spoke thus: ‘Dear Friends, We are English men and women and, as such, possess the right to worship God in that manner which our conscience dictates, and we desire you to consider that we are worshipping God; that God who made the world, and that Jesus Christ who died to save sinners. He has commanded us to preach the gospel to every creature, and has also said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” That Jesus is now present; He sees us, and sees all our hearts; He now looks down from the skies upon us and it will not be long at the longest before He will come in all the glory of His Godlike Majesty to judge the world, when we must all stand before Him, and receive the sentence from His mouth of “Come, ye blessed,” or “Depart, ye cursed,” we, therefore, beg you will be quiet and respectful while we administer the solemn ordinance of baptism, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost;
for we feel we are worshipping God, and the persons to be baptized are required to worship God in such a manner only once in their lifetime’.
We then proceeded to the work of baptizing; all was quiet, but several looked ready to burst into laughter; however, when we brought the first candidate out of the water, we heard the noise of suppressed weeping: this continued to increase as every fresh candidate was immersed; until by the time we had finished the emotions of many of those rough looking fellows, gaining liberty, they arose to loud weeping, almost amounting to howling, evidently to no small annoyance to themselves; and at the conclusion of the service they stole away as if they had been guilty of something bad. Many of those who formed that large concourse were unknown to our friends and what were the results of that day will not be known to us until ‘the Day shall declare it.’ But one incident occurred several years afterwards. The writer met with a man who told him the address at the water that day was blessed to his conversion. He
said he was filled with solemn awe at the thought that Jesus was looking down from the skies upon us. He said that day was his birthday. We hope there were others; our God has said: “My word shall not return to me void, but shall accomplish that which I please;
and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
At that time they had a minister preaching to them regularly, whose name was Mose, whose ministry was, we believe, much blessed to the people. The latter part of the summer, the next year (1845), we went down again by special invitation to baptize and unite them as a church. The Lord’s day was fixed upon for the convenience of the people. In the morning, the writer preached and baptized seven more candidates; and in the afternoon addressed the friends who desired to be united in church fellowship upon the nature, duties, and privileges of such a relation. At the close of that address, the persons who had been recently baptized, with some two or three who were members of other churches, gave to each other the right hand of Christian fellowship and were solemnly declared to be a Church of Christ; and after prayer for the divine sanction and blessing, the writer told them they possessed the right and privilege of choosing their own Pastor and desired them to do so. They then unanimously chose Brother Mose to be their Pastor which he having accepted, prayer and addresses were delivered to both Pastor and people; after which the newly chosen Pastor administered the Lord’s supper. Thus solemnly closing a public service which was as exhausting to the writer as any he ever recollects.
By this time the ‘old barn’ had become too strait; a new part was erected with stone walls and slated roof; since which time a dreadful hurricane shattered the old building to pieces and a new part has been erected in stone; also a comfortable house for the minister, with outbuildings suitable to the situation of the place; and we rejoice in saying all is paid for.
Many poor people flock there on the Lord’s day and, from our annual visits, we have become identified with the place and from our souls we say:
Peace be within that sacred place,
And joy a constant guest;
With holy gifts and heavenly grace,
Be her attendants blest.
We conclude by adding: So let the dews of heavenly love descend upon the hills of Zion.
According to the Church records the church was formed on June 23, 1844. Fonathan Mose was Pastor from 1844 to 1852. There were ten members of the anginal church to which nine more were added in June 1845.