WORSHIPPERS at an historic South Lakeland church are celebrating its 350th anniversary this year.

Tottlebank Baptist Church, near the village of Greenodd, was founded in 1669 by seven dissenting men who came together to form a “Church of Christ.”

Pastor Michael Bonser has been at Tottlebank since March 2017, when he came down from Dunfermline. He described coming to the rural church, which is not connected by any public transport services, as a “learning experience” for him.

“It’s completely new. I’ve always been in urban congregations so there’s a lot to learn about the way communities work,” he said.

A number of events have been organised to celebrate the church’s anniversary. Last month, a talk was given by retired Methodist minister the Rev Dr David Jackson on ‘17th century Protestant dissent in South Lakeland.” On Sunday June 2, at 2.30pm, the Dorian Players - a group of musicians who use 17th century costumes and instruments - will be performing to give a flavour of the time during which the church was founded.

The Westmorland Gazette: Paster Bonser with his wife ValPaster Bonser with his wife Val

The anniversary weekend - August 17 and 18 - will be marked with a gala afternoon on the Saturday and a visit from Brian Stanley, Professor of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, on the Sunday.

There is also a prayer and praise evening on July 17, beginning at 7.30pm, being run in conjunction with the baptist churches at Millom, Barrow and Hawkshead Hill.

The precise date when the Grade II listed church was open for worship is unknown. But an indenture exists indicating that in 1697 it was transferred over to the church elders for “the sume of ffive pounds of Lawfull English money” to be used as a meeting house.

The small group of men who founded Tottlebank in 1669 had originally met in private houses. At the time, using houses for this purpose was illegal and, apart from a brief time between March 1672 and March 1673, this state of affairs continued until 1689. In 1695, the group found itself in need of a new leader. It was at this time that David Crossley - the church’s first Baptist leader - was appointed.

“For me church is about people and community and we are sitting in the middle of fields,” said Pastor Bonser. “We are not sitting in a community.

“We are not just an historic building. Tottlebank Baptist Church is an active faith community meeting for worship each Sunday.”

In the lead up to its anniversary, Tottlebank Baptist Church is open to visitors every Wednesday from 10am to 4pm, with tea, coffee, and cake available for free.