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A Visit to Millyard

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Who are the Seventh Day Baptists?

A Visit to Millyard

The British Rail train pulled away from Plymouth station at half past midnight to begin the five hour journey to London's Waterloo station. I walked along the narrow passageway of the train cars looking for my sleeping compartment and, finding it at last, I entered, put up my belongings and surveyed my domain. The compartment was smaller than my bedroom closet back home in Virginia. On the outside wall was a window, with a small sink below it. A small rack on one wall provided a place to hang my suit. The opposite wall was taken up by a narrow bed.

There was a knock on the door and the conductor stuck his head in the compartment to ask when I wanted to be awakened and if I would like tea in the morning.
"Six thirty and yes, thank you," I replied.

Within minutes I was laying in the bed staring up at the ceiling listening to the rhythmic clack, clack as the train rumbled down the tracks. As I lay there in bed I couldn't help but reflect on the recent events that had brought me to be on the midnight train to London.

I had read, in the January issue of the Sabbath Recorder, of the death, in November, of Pastor Albourne Peat. He had been the Pastor of the Mill Yard church of London since 1970. Then again, in May, I was saddened to read that no one knew what the status was of the Mill Yard church, or even if it still was a Seventh Day Baptist church. The thought that this, the original Seventh Day Baptist church, might fold or shift to another denomination was a sad thought.

For sixteen years I have traveled the world as I served in the Navy. I met my wife, Lorraine, an English woman, while visiting Israel. Our first home was in Scotland. I came to the conviction of keeping the Sabbath while serving in Japan and joined the Seventh Day Baptist church while living in our present home in Virginia. Now the Navy would soon be moving us again. My wife had traveled the world with me but she had not been home for sixteen years. We both agreed that I should try for assignment to England. Lorraine dreamed of returning to her native country and visiting with family and old friends. I told Lorraine that if we did get stationed in Britain I would want to visit the Mill Yard church. She quickly agreed that it was a great idea. When I mentioned my plans to both Russell Johnson and Kirk Looper they encouraged me. Kirk Looper provided me with the name and phone number of Deacon Ed Codrington, of the Mill Yard church and the phone number for Pastor Lynch of the Birmingham church. But on the day the orders came from the Bureau of Naval Personnel they read Hawaii, literally the other side of the Earth from Britain.

Knowing that Lorraine was disappointed I set out to work with her to find a way we could afford to visit Britain. A benefit the military provides is that you can travel free, on a space available basis, anywhere a military plane is flying. So that was how Lorraine, my two sons and I came to be sitting in jumps seats in the belly of a cold cargo plane on the way to an American Air Force base in Suffolk on the east coast of England.

We arrived in England on the morning of June 22th and spent the day traveling by train across England. But that evening we were at the home in Plymouth my wife had grown up in and where her mother and a brother and sister still lived.

The next day I called the number for Deacon Codrington only to find that the number had been changed and was now "ex-directory" or, as we Americans say, unlisted. No problem, I phoned Pastor Lynch in Birmingham. He informed me that Deacon Codrington had recently been married and was out of town visiting relatives. He did give me his current number, but added that he was still out of town, and gave me other contact names and numbers for the Mill Yard church. As we talked he told me that on June 25th the Birmingham church would be dedicating their new church building and he asked me if I could join them. He added that many from the Mill Yard church would be there. I sighed in frustration. It would have been perfect, go to the Birmingham church dedication and meet with people from the Mill Yard church. Later I would have to pass through London on the way home anyway, I would just arrange to do so on the Sabbath. But, sadly, I was not able to make arrangements on such short notice. I thanked Pastor Lynch for all the help and hung up.

After several unsuccessful calls to Deacon Codrington's home over the next few days I decided to try the other numbers that Pastor Lynch gave me. "Lord," I prayed, "If you want me to visit the Mill Yard church let this next call be successful. Let me make contact with the people of the Mill Yard church." I dialed the number for the Oliver Chamber residence. I had been told that he was an active member of the Mill Yard church. The phone began to ring.
"Hello," a pleasant British woman's voice came to me through the phone.
"Hello," I replied. "Is this the Chambers' residence."
"Yes it is," she said.
"My name is Kyle Pratt. I'm an Elder in the Abundant Life Seventh Day Baptist church in Virginia. I'm here visiting relatives and would like to visit with the Mill Yard church on the coming Sabbath."
"Yes. It was reported in the states about the unfortunate death of Pastor Peat. Many back there are concerned and praying about the future of your church."

Over the course of the next two days, and three phone calls, I meet her husband on the phone and got to know a little of the Mill Yard church. When I asked them if they could make bed and breakfast reservations for my visit I was quickly invited to stay at their home. So it was that I came to be on the midnight train to London that July first morning.

The change in the rhythm of the train as it pulled into Waterloo station stirred me from my sleep. I looked at my watch and saw that it was only 5:40AM and tried to go back to sleep with little success. By the time the conductor came with my tea I was nearly dressed and shaved.

I took the London Underground, the subway, to the Tottenham station and phoned Oliver Chambers. "Which entrance of the station are you at?" He asked. I said I had no idea but I did describe myself and said I would stand on the sidewalk at the entrance. I stood against the wall by the entrance to the station surveying the street attempting to spot the Chamber's car. After several minutes I glanced to my left to see a handsome black man salute me as he walked briskly down the sidewalk. I must have looked surprised because he saluted me again and then, as he approached, held out his hand and said with a proper British accent, "Brother Pratt, I am Oliver Chambers."

After proper introductions we walked to where his car was parked and on the ride back to his home, which I found out was just around the corner from the Mill Yard church, he answered many of my remaining questions. "Yes," Brother Oliver told me, "the church is determined to remain Seventh Day Baptist. No, we still don't have a full time pastor but we do have a part time one, Pastor Douglas Chapman. He comes down from Lincolnshire on the first Sabbath of each month." "So, he will be down today?"
"Yes, he will."

Brother Oliver took me to his house and I got to meet, in person, his lovely wife Sylvia and his children, Corey, Ipana and Jordan. But unfortunately Sylvia had to work that Sabbath so she could not attend church. At about 10:00 AM Brother Oliver, his children and I walked the few hundred yards to the Mill Yard church. The original church disappeared long ago under the urban sprawl of London. The modern church is a large converted two story row house at 41 Vicarage Road in the Tottenham district of London. I knew that a vicarage was the house that a vicar, or minister, lived in so I asked where the street got that name. Brother Oliver replied that it came from a Church of England further down the road. By then we were standing at the Mill Yard church and he was unlocking the doors and turned on the lights. We walked into the sanctuary that covered most of the ground floor. At the front end of the sanctuary on the wall above a raised platform where two wooden tablets, of obvious antiquity, with every word of the Ten Commandments in beautiful script. Between the plaques of the commandments were large windows. Below the windows, on the platform, were three chairs. The center chair was a large old wooden chair. Also on the platform was an equally attractive wooden pulpit bearing the inscription "Mill Yard Church." A piano stood below the pulpit on the left hand side. At the rear of the sanctuary was a magazine rack with copies of recent issues of The Sabbath Recorder. Chairs for about fifty people were set out already. Brother Oliver opened a vault at rear of the Sanctuary and showed me a green ledger book containing a yearly listing of members dating back to 1670. Upstairs he showed me the church office, a kitchen and fellowship room and another small room used as a library. In this small room were Bibles dating back well over a hundred years, pamphlets dating back almost as far and modern copies of The Sabbath Observer, the magazine of the Mill Yard Church.

As families and members of the congregation arrived they went into the sanctuary. When they noticed the stranger, which didn't take long, they came up and introducing themselves to me and shook my hand. After introductions the congregation sat for a short business meeting and the singing of a few hymns. It was now almost time for Sabbath school to begin. The children were dismissed to their class and the adults remain in the sanctuary. Deacon Barrett led the adult Sabbath school from the Helping Hand. The topic quickly became centered on, are we called to be God's voice to the world. The discussion was lively and ended, appropriately enough with the hymn, Dare to be right. At noon a hand bell was rung and the children returned to the sanctuary. They recited parts of their lesson on Jesus' first miracle at Cana for the congregation. When this was done they rejoined their families.

While the congregation was singing a hymn I noticed another person enter from the rear of the Sanctuary. After the hymn I was introduced to this gentleman whom I had already guessed was Pastor Chapman. I soon found out that he had not known that I was coming, so I quickly explained to him who I was and why I was there. He asked me to join him in leading the service and, reluctantly, I agreed. Brother Oliver, who made up the bulletin, had already penned me in for the reading of the Psalm, the responsive reading and the Benediction. I chose as the Psalm one of my favorites, Psalm 90:1, 2; Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even form everlasting to everlasting, thou art God." Sister Jennifer Markland then sang a hymn for the children, "My God is good, so strong and so mighty, there is nothing he can not do." At this time I was asked to introduce myself to all the congregation. I told them my personal testimony and how I came to be a Seveth Day Baptsit. I closed by stating that the church in North America is very concerned about the health and future of the Mill Yard church but from what I was seeing today that concern was unwarranted. Afterwards Pastor Chapman read Job 28:1-4 and then spoke on the Christian difference between knowledge and wisdom. Man has gained much knowledge since the creation but wisdom is often lacking.

The service ended at about two o'clock and the congregation adjourned to the upstairs dining room for lunch. By the time I got there I found that I had been given a seat of honor beside the Pastor and my plate was over flowing with food. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with more singing and Bible discussions. It was during this time that I got a chance to speak with Pastor Chapman alone. He told me that he was trained as a Seventh-Day Adventist minister but had come to believe differently and had left that church. He was now committed to the Seventh Day Baptist church and wanted to do what he could for the Mill Yard church. He was working to develop local leaders and was hopeful for the future of both the Mill Yard church and the Seventh Day Baptist church. Millyard SDB Church congregation.
Finally he said he should start the long drive back to Lincolnshire. We shook hands and said our goodbyes. It was now after five o'clock. My attention turned back to the sanctuary were a discussion on how to live the Christian life in the world was winding down.

Even when the discussion ended people were lingering. These people were not just friendly, they were friends. Slowly the last few people drifted out. It was a little after six o'clock when Brother Oliver locked up the church and we walked home together. It had been a good Sabbath.

Who are the Seventh Day Baptists?
Copyright 1998-2000 Kyle Pratt - The Chehalis Group