As part of my mission tour I wanted to pray and preach on Hanham Mount which was in my previous parish in Bristol, for me it is what the Celtic Christians called ‘a thin place’ somewhere that God can be encountered easily. It is a place of history with George Whitefield, John Wesley and Moravian John Cennick all having preached to the miners of KIngswood here in the eighteenth century, and seen God move mightily in their lives many people.
Kingswood was historically notorious for its unruliness and violence. There was a gang,called the Cock Road Gang, who were pretty infamous for their violence and thuggery, local legend has that on one occasion there was a raid in Bristol, where much silver was purloined, and the robbers gave everyone in Kingswood an item of silver to implicate the entire community so no one would snitch on the thieves.
When we were launching Street Pastors I found a report talking about drunken brawls and lewdness in the town all of which more or less stopped completely when the revival began to take hold locally and sweep the nation, I used to pray “God you have done it here before, and Lord we ask you to do it again here in our day”. The Church which is now the congregational Church is rumoured to have built a hurried balcony in their building to accommodate all those people who decided to come en-masse to the chapel such was the passion people had to hear and encounter God and his word. I remember working for a Church in York which told visitors that in the days of the revival people would smash the windows of the Church simply to hear the words of the preacher (ironic now as most of us don’t even down load talks for free on our phones!)
in the eighteenth century Kingswood was considered wild and lawless (and some are a bit sneery about it now it the twenty first century too!), many considered it a ‘no go area’ and certainly many people would have assumed that the miners would not be interested in religion. Yet for some the reputation of the Kingwood miners posed a challenge, if the gospel is true (which we believe it is) then it will work anywhere, including Kingswood, there were reports of brave and zealous Baptists swimming up the river to Hanham to preach to the miners, but largely unsuccessfully until George Whitefield began his field preaching at Hanham mount. Whitefield was a natural performer with a dooming voice and passionate oratory, and managed to gather a regular crowd to listen to him and others, he was also one of the first to invite slaves to hear the gospel message (even though he was, unlike Wesley, an advocate of the slave trade). Wesley took over from Whitefield when he was offered a preaching opportunities in America.
We know that Wesley on many occasions here at Hanham Mount amongst other places in Bristol, and it was here in this city that Wesley condemned the slave trade, urging Christians to join him in boycott sugar and rum that were the produce of slave labour, I wonder if it was here on Hanham mount that Wesley denounced slavery?
Hanham Mount is also known for John Cennick’s ministry starting here, John Cennick was called “the walking Bible” due to his encyclopedic knowledge of scripture and also known as “the forgotten evangelist” as he is somewhat eclipsed by Wesley and Whitefield. Cennick was an admirer of Wesley and Whitefield and -at Wesley’s suggestion- became a school teacher here in Kingswood. On one occasion he went to hear the field preacher at Hanham Mount, but for some reason no-one appeared, and so without preparation the young Cennick began to preach the Gospel to the miners, and this started a career as an itinerent preacher, hymn-writer and Church planter, who had planted over forty Churches by the time he died prematurely in 1755 aged just 37.
So a place pulsating with history, and there is something of feeling like that great crowd of witnesses cheering us on, passing on the batton to see our generation reached and transformed by God like he did with their generation.
Standing on this mount as a stop in my tour I wondered what they would make of my little journey, I suspected they would probably laugh and call me a ‘light weight’, but their energy, persistance and on-going tenacity excites me. I also noticed that we talk about planting a Church, often which plateau around thirty people, yet these guys planted Churches and were a movement. I pondered again on our call to seek first the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ promise that he would build his Church. I wondered whether we have reduced our vision and expectancy of God? I wonder too whether when we were called to be pioneers we have become settlers? Each time we pioneer again is costly and exhausting, starting again can feel discouraging and staying and enjoying something you helped create can feel much more appealing, and yet I believe the Holy Spirit is a restless God calling us not to settle but to keep on breaking new ground and rising to the next challenge; Wesley, Whitefield and Cennick were pioneeers but they were not settlers, they kept on and on breaking new ground and doing the new thing and through their faithful obidience many people came to a life transforming faith in Christ Jesus.
I thought too about how these three incredible evangelists were friends, although they did have some very public disagreements over theology and practice, but I thought afresh about the people we hang around with shape us, our peers often call us to raise our game, dreamers inspire other people, visionaries stretch our prophetic imagination and I believe hearing and heeding -being obidience to the Holy Spirit- is contageous, causing other people to respond with a “yes to God”.
So, standing on the spot where these three preached and proclaimed Christ, with other friends around me, I wondered what would our legacy be? Longing that we in some (albeit small part) might see something of a returning to Christ in this nation.
Gradually people started to appear, people keen to pray for Bristol and our nation, people up for hearing a bit about a crazy fool traveling from Cornwall to Carlilse, and wondering what wacky ideas the Holy Spirit might have been whispering in the ears of those who were standing with us on a spot where history and eternal destinies were changed!