1662 – and all that
For me the important celebration of 2011 was the 400
th anniversary of the publication of
the King James Bible. I have rejoiced to explore something of its history and continuing
influence. It has been, I believe, a celebration that has been widely shared throughout our
Now we move on to 2012 in which mark another important event and its influence within
the church. The significant date is 1662. The event to mark is the 350th
anniversary of the
Book of Common Prayer. The BCP was part of my early life. From age six I attended,
every Sunday morning, Willowfield Parish Church in Belfast. By the time I was 8 I could
make all the responses in Morning Prayer. I was familiar with its phrases and intonations.
At the age of 12 I joined Boys’ Brigade at a Congregational Church and was no longer part
of Anglican worship. I had become a non-conformist, even if at that time I was not fully
aware of the significance of that phrase.
In 1962 I moved to Nottingham to begin studying theology and preparing for ordination. I
was immediately aware that English Congregationalism was marking a 300th anniversary
but it was not a celebration of the Book of Common Prayer. It was a deeply felt memorial
of what had come to be known as the Great Ejection. I began to discover the significance
of both events and the connection between them.
Now, 50 years later, I am again using the Book of Common Prayer. I rejoice in the
ecumenical opportunity given to me in retirement to be counted an honorary member of the
Blyth Valley Team and to lead worship in the parishes of the benefice. I remain a minister
of the United Reformed Church and a non-conformist. It is from this joint perspective that
I reflect on the events of 1662.
Some brief history is helpful. Charles II was restored to the British throne in 1660
following the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. The Church of England would again be the
dominant Church in England. On 4th April 1660 Charles signed the Declaration of Breda,
which he and his advisors had drawn up to help prepare for his return. The phrase in it
which relates to the concerns of this article is as follows: we do declare a liberty to tender
consciences, and that no man shall be disquieted or called in question for differences of
opinion in matter of religion, which do not disturb the peace of the kingdom; and that we
shall be ready to consent to such an Act of Parliament, as, upon mature deliberation,
shall be offered to us, for the full granting that indulgence. I believe that Charles was
utterly sincere in this. Many believed that a system would be worked out whereby
dissenters and the Anglican Church could live alongside each other, with different patterns
of worship and church structures, yet with respect for one another.
It was not to be so. Parliament enacted the so-called Clarendon Code regulating what was
permissible for the English in matters of Religion. It consisted of 4 Parliamentary Acts:
The Corporation Act (1661) This Act prevented dissenters (defined as those not
taking communion at a parish church) from holding municipal office. This strict religious
test excluded a substantial section of English Society from public affairs, and also from
obtaining university degrees. Dissenters could not attend Oxford or Cambridge
Universities. This Act was not fully repealed until 1828.
The Act of Uniformity (1662) Following the publication of the Book of Common
Prayer Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity. All clergymen were required to give
complete and unqualified assent to the Book of Common Prayer and its use in worship by
St. Bartholomew’s Day, 24th August or they must leave their livings. There is general
agreement that about 2000 clergy refused to give assent and were ‘ejected’.
The Conventicle Act (1664)
This act forbade coventicles (a meeting for
unauthorized worship) of more than 5 people who were not members of the same
household. The purpose was to prevent dissenting religious groups from meeting.
The Five-Mile Act (1965) This final act of the Clarendon Code was aimed at
Nonconformist ministers, who were forbidden from coming within 5 miles of incorporated
towns or the place of their former livings. They were also forbidden to teach in schools.
This act was not rescinded until 1812.
There was also a Quaker Act passed in 1662 requiring people to swear an oath of allegiance
to the King, which Quakers did not do out of religious conviction. A further Test Act,
passed in 1673 required holders of civil and military offices to profess the established
religion and to receive communion according to the rites of the Church of England. This
Act was not fully repealed until 1828.
The intention of all of the Acts of Parliament was to eliminate dissent from the life of the
nation. The effect was to entrench dissent in the life of the nation. The events of 1662
decided not only the future of church life in England but also the very shape of English
society. To understand the divisions and structures of society since the seventeenth
century requires an awareness of the events of 1662.
I hope we will take time to reflect on this. I hope we will find good cause to celebrate the
350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer. I hope we will find reason, in this more
ecumenical age to repent of past church divisions looking to the future with greater hope of
being one people in Christ. This we need to do in our separate groups and congregations
but even more so in united acts of worship and shared study. One opportunity to do this
will be at Walpole Old Chapel on Sunday 24th June at 3.00pm. I will be leading a service at
which Clive, Bishop of Dunwich will preach. It will be for us an opportunity to reflect on
the events of 1662 with thanksgiving and repentance. There is good reason for both.