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Page last updated at 11:30 GMT, Friday, 3 September 2010 12:30 UK
Village chapel celebrates bi-centenary
By Heather Skull
BBC Wiltshire

Penknap baptism
Hundreds of people have been baptised at Penknap since 1810

Ask Guy Davies, the current pastor of Penknap Providence Chapel, how he sums up this celebratory weekend at his church and he doesn't hesitate.

"Hebrews 13 v 8 - Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever," he said.

"And that's a reminder that the Lord Jesus Christ, who has so wonderfully blessed this church in the past, is still our saviour today - so we can look forward to his blessing upon the church in the days to come. "

If you sit in the chapel, which is just outside the village of Dilton Marsh, you get a little sense of that history of worship. And if you study its past, you certainly do.

It had remarkable beginnings as the church came out of a series of open-air meetings led by George Phillips in April 1810.

And, unbelievable as it might seem in England's uncertain climate, the church was named Providence because none of the open air meetings was ever affected by rain.

Those early members, just 30 of them, certainly had a passion and a vision for their church - it was built by October in that same year in a field called Penknap.

Its first pastor was George Phillips and during his time there the church grew, records show that 232 extra people joined.

Guy Davies
Guy Davies is pastor at Penknap Chapel

The church continued to grow until at its 50th anniversary, it had 589 members.

But it suffered a blow, during the late 1800s, when the cloth factories closed and many people had to move away to find jobs elsewhere.

Still, the church continued its work on the edge of the village and kept growing. It had a strong Sunday school for many years, and still today runs youth clubs but numbers are a lot lower than the early days.

This weekend (4 and 5 September) has seen three services marking the chapel's bi-centenary.

Pastor Davies admits with fewer and fewer non-conformist churches, in Wiltshire's towns and villages, this might be an increasingly rare celebration.

Where once there were at least a Baptist or Methodist chapel or sometimes both in the county's villages, now they're more likely to be homes than houses of God.

Guy said: "A number of churches in situations like ours have closed over the last 20 or 30 years.

"In terms of looking forward, we remember the God who our forefathers worshipped all those years ago and look forward with hope."

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