This brief summary is largely extracted from ‘Morton Baptist Church, 1834-2009’ with edits for brevity and clarity.
The work at Morton was founded in 1834 during the ministry at Thornbury Baptist Church of the Rev W.J. Cross, which lasted from 1832-1844. The Church, through generous gifts from his father, was able to start three outreach works at Morton (1834), Berkeley (1835) and Tytherington (1841). Christian congregations still gather in all three places today. (In the later Victorian era, a chapel was also built at Woodford and became associated with Thornbury, but it closed toward the end of the last century and is now a private dwelling.)
The indenture for the building, dated 7th May 1834, provides that the Meeting House is to be occupied and enjoyed by the sect or denomination of Protestant Dissenters called ‘Baptist’. Certain doctrinal standards are written into the deed, which states that all Ministers or Pastors who shall from time to time officiate in the Meeting House, shall hold and preach the doctrines:
– Of the divinity of our Saviour Jesus Christ
– Of the fall of man and his recovery by the free and sovereign grace of God
– Of man’s redemption by Jesus Christ alone
– Of justification by faith in Him alone
– Of the sacred scriptures as the rule of conduct
– Of the inseperable connection of holiness of life with the pardon of sin (meaning that a Christian believer will live a changed life)
The earliest list of members at Morton is from 1853, and it contains 20 names. The church was not independent, but was in a ‘group’ along with the other chapels, governed by Thornbury Baptist Church.
From 1834-1982, meetings at Morton consisted of a Sunday School and an evening service (although some anecdotal accounts of morning meetings exist). The work of the Sunday School was boosted by the building of a School Room which was completed in 1965. Up to 70 children attended the Sunday School, all local to Morton.
By the early 1980s, there were just a few who only met at Morton, and most were members in attendance at Thornbury Baptist Church. In 1983 a group of members felt that they had to seperate from the Thornbury church due to doctrinal differences. After a brief period in which these members met in private homes, it was realised that Morton Chapel was empty on Sunday mornings, and, with permission from the main church, the members began to meet in the chapel on Sunday mornings, also attending the evening service there which was overseen by Mr Matthews, who along with Mrs Grey and one or two others, had kept the chapel open. The obvious next-step was to form a new church at Morton, bringing togther morning and evening congregations, and in 1984 they were allowed to become an Independent Church, leaving the oversight of Thornbury Baptist after nearly 150 years.
The first meeting of the new Church was held on the 23rd March 1984 with a retired Baptist Minister, the Rev. Reg Cox, in the chair. Sixteen members were present. At this meeting, five Deacons were elected and provision made for drawing up a constitution and statement of faith based upon the original trust deed. The monthly church magazine, ‘The Morton Messenger’ was commenced.
Rev. Reg Cox served as ‘Chairman of the Deacons’ from 1984-1987, fulfilling the majority of preaching and pastoral duties on a voluntary basis. He was faithfully supported by his wife, Beryl, and only laid down the work when failing health made it neccessary. Under his ministry, the membership grew from 16 to 30, and the first baptism was performed on the site (previous baptisms were done in the Thornbury church).
From 1987 to 1990, American Baptist missionary (ABWE) Dr Jack Cribbs was the pastor. He and his wife Kitty had been worshipping at the church for some months. He was a Policeman, and was converted aged 32. He later pastored a church in Kansas before coming to England. Dr Cribbs led the church in much evangelistic outreach work, and along with his wife was noted for work amongst the young people and for getting involved in every aspect of church life. A number professed faith and were baptised under his ministry.
Dr Stephen Mitchell served as the Pastor from 1991-1995. When he was called, he was an Elder at Child’s Hill Baptist Church in North London. He combined his pastoral duties with full time work. New members were added and there were also baptisms. Dr Mitchell remained associated with the church for some time after standing down, and also served as a Deacon.
In 1997, Rev. Peter Crowhurst, the pastor of Stoke Gifford Baptist Church, agreed to serve as Moderator, and in 1998 he was called to the pastorate. He initially served as Pastor to both the Stoke Gifford and Morton churches, but in 2003 he ended his service at Stoke Gifford. In August 2006, he resigned due to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, but continued to serve the church as Pastor Emeritus until the end of 2011. On the first day of 2012, Jonathan Hunt became the Pastor, and laid down the pastorate on the last day of 2018. These seven years saw a few encouragements, but only one baptism. The makeup of the congregation and the practice of the church did change considerably over these years, and the church took on a clearer ‘Reformed Baptist’ or ‘Grace Baptist’ identity, in harmony with its position when originally part of the Thornbury Church.
Very many men have ministered faithfully to the congregation over the past years, and many men and women have served in many capacities – providing music, ministering to the young, conducting hospital services, and a wide variety of outreach work. When the church was made independent in 1984, one of the founding deacons was Mr Fred Witchard, and he served continuously as church secretary from 1984 to 2010, when the Lord called him home. Over 180 years of history have passed at Morton – and many faithful servants of God have lived, worshipped, and witnessed here. We look to the Lord for the future of our fellowship, and pray that Jesus Christ may be honoured, and souls saved to His glory, until He returns.