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17 - Going West, 1980

Alan Argent
Affiliation:
Trinity Congregational Church, Brixton
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Summary

In 1980 Elsie Chamberlain began two new ministries in the west of England, at Chulmleigh, in Devon, and at Taunton, in Somerset. The two churches are situated over 40 miles apart and this unusual pastorate required Elsie to make the journey between them at least twice a week, because she intended to spend half her time with one church and half with the other. Taunton is an historic town, with a castle dating from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, which is noted as the site of the ‘Bloody Assizes’ of the notorious Judge Jeffreys, following the failure of the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion against the Roman Catholic King James II in 1685, after which many of his forlorn supporters were condemned to death. Chulmleigh is an old market town, situated on the hills of north Devon, with a parish church dating from the fifteenth century. Despite their obviously attractive settings, these churches were to offer Elsie no soft options in her later years. She certainly did not see herself as settling down to a comfortable sinecure by which, in exchange for her stipend, she undertook the minimum of duties in two idyllic backwaters.

Indeed, if Chulmleigh might be seen as a tiny Nonconformist community in a small country settlement, superficially seeming to demand little from her, Taunton's needs were evidently greater. Taunton is a busy county town, prone to traffic jams, with its fair share of the usual problems found in any comparably sized commercial community – unemployment, restless youth, a sense of hopelessness, the poor, the elderly and lonely etc.

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Chapter
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Elsie Chamberlain
The Independent Life of a Woman Minister
, pp. 214 - 235
Publisher: Acumen Publishing
Print publication year: 2012

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