We are a community of people, of all ages, who love Jesus and have found that life makes sense in Him. In fact, we believe life is found in Him. We want others to discover this too. Basically, we're here to help people find their way back to God.
The church has set a few people aside with special responsibility for Leadership (see below), but the idea is that the whole church works together as a team.
For us, following Jesus, is about a real, vibrant, relationship with Him here in the present. However, the history of Christians gathering in St Peters is fascinating, and in-particular the history of the Baptists. If you're not so interested in history then you may just want to skip this bit.
The story begins back in the days when Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of all England in 1653, following the execution of Charles I in 1649 (Did I say that the story is a bit gory?). Cromwell only permitted the established Church of England and passed a number of laws to enforce this. One of these laws meant that any person not attending church worship in the Church of England on a Sunday morning would be fined one shilling (5 pence), a decent sum of money in those days.
Following this and other Acts of Parliament in 1662 (The Clarendon Code), early Baptists faced bitter persecution. This resulted in non-conformist groups meeting secretly in different houses, or in woods and fields. Some ministers and members of congregations were repeatedly imprisoned for preaching and holding meetings. The Conventicles Act in 1664 made it unlawful for non-conformists to attend their own worship or to gather in groups of more than five apart from families. A £5 penalty or three months imprisonment was imposed for a first offense, doubled for a second, followed by deportation to Virginia for a third offense.
1653 (see Cromwell above) is also the year of the earliest records that confirm Baptist gatherings in Thanet. In between St Peters and Margate there was a chalk pit in the middle of a field, this is where they began to gather. Concerned about being caught, because of the laws mentioned above, they met to worship in hiding, for privacy and protection from persecution. Keeping their voices low and refraining from singing, in case of being overheard. A guard would have been posted at the top of the pit to keep watch for informers, and yet many people came from miles around to worship here, from as far afield as Sandwich, nine miles to the South of St Peters.
In 1689, the Act of Toleration was passed at the beginning of the reign of William and Mary of Orange. This meant that for the first-time non-conformists had the right to openly worship God in their own way. The non-conformists continued to meet in this area known as the Shallows, which could be in reference to an underground stream that ran down to Dane Valley and into the sea at Margate. Although it could also be in reference to a certain Mr Stephen Shallows who bought the land where they met. The records say that in 1690, Stephen Shallows paid Richard Mockett, a Church Warden of St Peter's Parish Church, the sum of ten shillings "for land and the pit". Mr Shallows did this along with Mr Peter Cramp, who paid Richard Mockett eight shillings 'for Parish land'.
If you go for a stroll down the St Peter's Footpath towards Margate, you will eventually leave the Parish church graveyard (apparently the longest 'closed' graveyard in England). After about half a mile or so you will come across a cottage on the left-hand side of the footpath. Records suggest that this cottage was built in about 1733, it resembled a chapel and contained a large room which could house about a hundred people for worship. Despite the sparsity of historical accounts, for what happened between them buying the land in 1690 and the 'chapel' being built around 1733, we do know that the church was flourishing. The church continued to flourish, from 1797, because of their need for larger premises, they hired the Wesleyan Chapel in St Peters (where John Wesley had preached in 1787 on a visit to Thanet). By the end of 1799 the church decided to expand its work by splitting into two and begin meeting separately in Margate and St Peters. The Wesleyan Chapel was purchased in 1816 for 100 guineas and is still used by our Baptist Church today. The Shallows Chapel also continued to be used until 1835 and was then converted into a tea garden.
So for the past 220 years or so the church has worshipped on its current site. Older people in the community will remember it being called Salem but for the past 20 years it has been known simply as The Baptist Church, St Peters. There have been many ups and downs. At one time the church had to move off-site following a break-in and a fire. Our neighbours in the St Peter’s Parish church next door kindly let us use their community hall for our worship gathering on a Sunday morning. Following a time of growth at the end of the 1990’s and beginning of the 2000’s the church went through many struggles and following a few years of decline we had to approach our Baptist friends down at the Queens Road Baptist Church, Broadstairs, for some support in 2014. In early 2015 we were encouraged to begin praying regularly with our neighbours in the Parish Church and Oasis Elim-Pentecostal Church, who had also experienced some difficulties in recent years. We simply prayed together: "Darkness Go, Spirit Come".
It is now five years later and we continue to pray together every week and now there are five churches represented. Over the five years we have sensed God at work in St Peters bringing His church together to help bring His light to the community. During this time our current Minister, Rhodri, came with his family and a few others from Queens Road Baptist Church, Broadstairs, to see what God was up to in St Peters. It has been an exciting journey since then. We have launched a school’s work: ACTS (Active Christianity in Thanet Schools). We have opened a Well-Being Space: Renew13 – to provide a safe space for those in the community where it’s Ok not to be Ok. We are providing a base for Inspiration – an amazing inclusive creative arts company.
All that we do is in partnership with others, we sense that God has given us a Key to unlock doors to bring people together whilst we seek to fulfil our mission of "Helping people find their way back to God".