Further Historical Details
In the early days, baptisms took place in the open air and there were as many as twenty-four people baptised at a time – usually in the canal at Hilperton Marsh or Ladydown.
Even larger crowds would gather to watch these services than filled the chapel. As time went on, however, it became clear there were problems using the canal – it was not very clean. So an indoor baptistry was built within the church – and is still there today – hidden under the pulpit.
In 1870 a major renovation of the interior of the chapel was carried out. The local newspaper reported: ‘We have seldom seen a more pleasing change in the interior of a similar building in so short a time. The old fashioned pews have been swept away. The square pulpit from which John Warburton preached for so many years has been replaced by one of the neatest most serviceable constructions we have ever seen in a baptist chapel.’
There has always been a strong tradition at Zion of working with children and young people. A Sunday School was started in 1828, and one of the teachers in those early days was one Isaac Pitman – later to become the father of modern shorthand. For many years there was both a morning and afternoon school. Children attending the Sunday morning school were expected to attend the morning service in the chapel. Some obviously had other ideas – there are stories of teachers standing at the end of the path to stop the youngsters escaping!
In 1863 a hall was built to accommodate the growing Sunday School. The church also had a substantial renovation in the 1870s.The Sunday School was still going in 2001 but, by that time, numbers were dropping off quite drastically. It was relaunched in September 2001 when a Sunday Club for children from three years to young teens was introduced.
There has also been a strong tradition of music at the church. Singers originally led the congregational hymns from the gallery; an organ to accompany singing was introduced much later. Today, music is still an important part of the church’s worship and there is an active singing group.
In recent years the church has continued to build on its links with the local community. For several years (2003-2008) BBC Wiltshire’s annual carol service was broadcast from Zion – with contributions from local schools and prominent public figures. The services went out on Christmas Eve and were then repeated on Christmas morning. This gave Zion a unique opportunity to reach out to the community beyond Trowbridge with the real message of Christmas.
There have also been major changes to the church buildings – including refurbishments to the roof, the interior of the chapel and the kitchen. And in 2011, eighteen solar panels were installed to make the building’s own future more sustainable and to help the environment. It was predicted that the church would be able to produce eighty per cent more electricity than it would use.
So the work and witness of the church at Zion continues into its third century. There are currently thirty members – which means since the formation of the church in 1813, there have been 1044 people received into membership. Currently the congregation numbers about forty – and is on the increase.
Our previous pastor, Stuart Burgess, said that, in some ways, the challenges facing Zion are the same as they’ve always been: “We still have a building that needs as much care and attention as it always has. The responsibility is one we don’t take lightly because this place is where we worship God and it should look the best we can make it. Also, our witness to the community around us can show through the way we care for it. But more importantly, this is a church which is not just a building but a community of people who stand firm in their faith. We share the same vision with those people who set up this church – a vision to proclaim the love of God to the community around this place and share with them the gospel of the living Lord Jesus Christ.