Independents in Abingdon

They found their way in ones and twos –
a quiet tree-shaded place
beside the River Thames,
or a clearing in Tubney Woods.
Langley – the last to arrive,
announced the opening hymns.

They lived life by a higher law
than the Act of Uniformity
that prescribed how they should pray.
They felt no need of polished stones
or painted glass. ‘Light shines
in hearts new born in God’s own way’.

The Toleration Act gave license
to meet at Langley’s house
until a hall was built beside the Square
in Abingdon. Men stood apart
from women, crowded galleries,
families in pews as one in prayer.

An old ship’s mast held up the roof.
Some claimed the Pilgrim Fathers sailed
through storms in that same craft,
chancing all on God. More probably,
salvaged from a North Sea wreck,
tailored to keep them strong and fast.

A long week’s work, a long walk down,
villagers stood, in long smock coats, –
lest tiredness rob them of a crumb of truth.
Fisher, a farm labourer; aged man Doe,
‘So long as legs can carry me,
I will worship as the days of youth’.

Poem suggested by reading Two centuries young : Abingdon Congregational Church 1700-1900 by Dr John Stevens.

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