A 350th Anniversary Commemoration of the Norwich & Norfolk Ministers Ejected from their Churches by the Act of Uniformity, 1662.
Dr Alan C. Clifford
Norwich Reformed Church (used here with his permission).
Remember those ... who have spoken the Word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct - Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and for ever. (Hebrews 13: 7-8)
A PAIR OF COUNTY PURITANS
(1) Robert Peck of Hingham
In the decades following John More’s death (1592), the conflict between the Anglican establishment and Puritanism was reaching a climax. With nationwide sympathy for Puritan ideals having grown since the late 1560s, measures to suppress the movement had been initiated by Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and King James I (1603-25). After Charles I (1625-49) became King, the appointment of William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633 saw the re-introduction of ‘Romanizing ritual’ into the (semi-) Reformed
Church of England. These measures included the ‘altarizing’ of the Lord’s Table, suitably raised up on steps and surrounded by a rail to mark it off as ‘too holy for the people’. Ministers were to wear the surplice rather than the Geneva gown (generally worn by Puritans), and preparatory preaching before the Holy Communion was to be discouraged. In short, whatever progress had been made in reforming the Church of England was to be reversed!
These measures were set in motion locally by Matthew Wren, Bishop of Norwich in 1636: ‘he, the more to manifest his Popish affections, caused a crucifix, that is to say, the figure of Christ upon the cross to be engraven upon his Episcopal seal, besides the arms of the See’.
Puritan resistanceAmong the many Puritan ministers in Norfolk to resist ‘Wren’s anti-reforms’ was Robert Peck of Hingham who, in 1638, with his wife and children, followed a large group of emigrating ‘pilgrims’—including Samuel Lincoln, ancestor of American President Abraham Lincoln—to the New World. All this was in consequence of Bishop Wren’s tyranny. However, Peck’s problems commenced much earlier under an equally-bigoted bishop, Samuel Harsnet (1619-28). Ordained by Bishop John Jegon (1602-17) in 1604, Peck became Rector of Hingham the next year. During the next two decades, his ministry aroused an increasing aversion to the rigidly-enforced Prayer Book liturgy with its sacramentalist ambiguities. He and his growing congregation now enjoyed additional informal fellowship in his own house on the Lord’s Day evenings. This included catechizing and psalm singing.
Bishop Harsnet was incensed at Peck’s unconventional practice. Such conventicle’s (secret religious meetings) must cease forthwith! So these nonconformists were enjoined to ‘do penance’, each guilty parishioner being required to say, “I confess my errors.” Those who refused were excommunicated and required to pay heavy fines. The citizens of Norwich presented a complaint against the bishop in the House of Commons. His Lordship’s defence indicated the kind of ‘errors’ he feared. Besides the holding of conventicles:
Mr Peck...had infected the parish was strange opinions: as, ‘that the people are not to kneel as they enter church; that it is superstition to bow at the name of Jesus; and that the church is no more sacred than any other building’.
Friction with Episcopal authority took place over an extended period (1615, 1617 and 1622). Then, when Archbishop William Laud’s ‘altarizing’ agenda was set in motion after 1633, local conflict was inevitable when Matthew Wren became bishop (1635-8). This policy—implemented throughout the Norwich diocese (including St Andrew’s, Hingham)—involved (as we have noted) the elevation of the sanctuary floor above the chancel and nave, the altar being railed off.
True to their convictions, Peck and his Puritan people removed and destroyed the altar rails, proceeding then to restore the east end to its original ‘Reformation’ level, installing a table instead of the stone altar. Such differences in architecture and furnishings indicated a fundamental theological difference, not merely aesthetic preferences. Peck and his people believed that ’the Church’ was ‘the people of God’ not a so-called sacred stone building. They held that the Holy Communion or Lord’s Supper was a celebration of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on a table of remembrance, not a re-enactment of His sacrifice on an altar (as in the Mass). Together with all the Puritans of England, they were battling against Laud’s ‘Romanizing ritual’ in favour of the Gospel recovered at the Reformation. It cannot be denied that these remain defining issues in the Rome-ward ecumenical confusion of the 21st century.
Peck was summoned before a Synod held in Norwich on 9 October 1636. Refusing to appear personally, he was excommunicated by Dr Corbet, Chancellor of Norwich. Naturally, the pressure was getting to him. After seeking absolution in a moment of weakness, his courage returned when subscription to strongly-anti-Puritan articles was demanded. Peck was suspended from his duties, other curates performing the church services and administering the parish revenues as they pleased. This crisis led to an emigration to Massachusetts of a large group of Peck’s people, a contingent including the ancestor of Abraham Lincoln. Peck and his family went into hiding ‘in Essex’ (as one source states). His enemies said, ‘the old fox is
kennelled there’. A year later, they sailed to join their fellow pilgrims in New England.
The Old Meeting House Hingham, Massachusetts (built 1682)In Hingham, Massachusetts, Peck shared the oversight of the Puritan settlers with Peter Hobart (originally from Higham in Suffolk). Several years later (possibly in 1646), with the Puritans at home gaining more power, Peck returned to England—‘a pilgrim who returned’! Sometime prior to Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, he resumed his place as minister at Hingham. There he remained until his death in 1656. In his will, he desired to be buried ‘beside my wife and near my church’. The location of his grave is unknown. Peck’s funeral sermon was preached by his Puritan brother, Nathaniel Joceline, MA, pastor of nearby Hardingham. It is alleged that the sermon was published, but—sadly—no copies have been traced to date.
Perhaps more sadly, Peck’s successor Edmund Dey was not to join the noble 2000 at the Great Ejection of 1662. While he initially shared Peck’s Puritan convictions, he ‘swallowed the oaths at the Restoration’ and capitulated before the Act of Uniformity, dying in 1666.
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