The Mural at Fryerns Baptist Church

Welcome to a bit of history. As you enter the front doors of Fryerns Baptist Church you will be greeted by an exquisitely beautiful painting. This mural or work of art which was actually made in 1954  is a special one – It’s a piece of eye catching beauty that tells a story reminding people of events of historical importance to Christians in England.

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Fryerns Baptist Church Entrance
Fryerns Baptist Church Entrance

Let’s start at the beginning – Fryerns Baptist Church was opened on the 21st November 1953.

First pastor: The very first and founding minister was Pastor Charles B. Phillimore. The church was founded by The Metropolitan Association of Strict Baptist Churches (later named renamed Association of Grace Churches South East A.S.B.C.S.E) and the National Federation of Strict Baptist Churches. Interestingly the land purchase to erect a church in Basildon district was after two churches in London were burnt down. To begin with, a bungalow was erected initially as the first building which was later then followed by a church building. With renewed zeal for evangelism and a desire to reach the people of Basildon with the gospel there were persistent gospel mission outreaches into the community.

Summary of faith: As a reformed baptist church Fryerns is first and foremost a bible centred Christian church. It preaches the doctrines of grace – that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.  And as a grace baptist church Fryerns adopts as a general summary of faith the Strict Baptist Affirmation of faith 1689/ 1966. (See copy here). 

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Let’s go back to the Mural – You see, the mural  illustrates a few men and women who stand in a long line of godly Christian men who have gone before us.

This mural, was painted in 1954 by Lewis Lupton, and it depicts the birth and growth of the Strict Baptist or Reformed Baptist denomination or sometimes simply nowadays referred to as Grace Baptist Churches. The denomination is depicted as a central tree, its knarled old trunk indicating trials and difficulties during its growth. The tree has its roots firmly placed in the Bible, one root in the pages of the Old Testament and the other in the pages of the New Testament.

At the top of the painting is a sketch of John Bunyan baptising Agnes Beaufort by immersion in a mill stream.
The communion table with linked hands represents fellowship and unity of East and West in Christ and above is a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit.

The Center:

The central figure represents a portrait shown to the pilgrim in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress at the house of the interpreter “ a man with eyes lifted up to heaven, the book of books in his hand, the law of truth written upon his lips standing before the world as if pleading with men”.
He symbolises the preacher who tells of the love of God and proclaims the Good News. As a result of the work of the preacher the tree grew and so has branches.

Area I
Hymns – Hymns were introduced in 1691 by Benjamin Keach who wrote a book about hymn singing supporting his argument with scripture. At first they only sang one hymn at the conclusion of the Communion service. Eventually after a period of 14 years they commenced singing every Sunday but only after the sermon. As shown in the mural at first they sang unaccompanied using a tuning fork to pitch the note. Then they started using a violin and eventually moved on to the organ or as one early critic termed it “a fearsome engine of music”, which subsequently became the recognised instrument for use in chapels.

Area II
Preaching in the chapels increased the numbers of believers and the church grew.

Area III
Stands for theology and theologians, professors of doctrine, who taught what they believed the Bible said and codified what they believed was a correct interpretation of Scripture.
The bust is of William Kiffin a member of the first Baptist cause in London, date on the cup 1633. Another, Gifford lived in Bristol but attended the chapel in Devizes, Wiltshire and thirdly Dr Gill a Scotsman who had come to live in London.

Area IV
Depicts missionary endeavour and the early taking of the gospel across the oceans to other lands.
William Carey a Northamptonshire cobbler saw the need of people in India and felt it was God’s will for him to go there. He was turned down as a candidate but was so convinced about God’s call that he founded the Baptist Missionary Society and went as their first missionary to India in 1793. He learnt many languages and translated much of the Bible, he also complied some dictionaries to help other missionaries. He was Professor of Oriental Languages at Fort William College Calcutta for 30 years. The top picture is of Strict Baptist missionary to India Dr Ruth Harris doing her rounds on a piebald horse. When the mural was painted in 1954, she was still in active service on the mission field.

Area V
The struggle for thought and Freedom of Worship.

  • Agnes Snoth was burnt at the stake on the 31st January 1556 at Smarden in Kent for refusing to confess to a priest on the grounds that it was contrary to the scriptures. She was the last Baptist to be burnt for her faith in England.
  • John Calvin represents the Reformers ie: those who protested against the domination of the Roman Catholic Church and the restrictions of religious expression.
  • The Mayflower in which many Baptist as well as others fled to the newly discovered America in search of freedom of worship.
  • The Puritans who whilst wanting freedom of religion rigorously practiced their own interpretation of the Bible.
  • Many ordinary people were put in prison for their faith, indeed one of the first Baptist congregations was formed in prison in London.
  • Slavery is included because the first petition against slavery was drawn up by a Strict Baptist and although it was not successful it paved the way for William Wilberforce to fight for the liberation of slaves in parliament. The picture of chains falling off also symbolises the experience of salvation, in the words of the hymn writer “my chains fell off, My heart was free, I rose went forth and followed Thee”

The following chapels and events  are depicted in the mural:

1) 17th Century Guildford
2) 18th Century Hartney Wintney Hampshire
3) A mission hall in Chobham Surrey

4) Fryerns  5) The Strict Baptist Open-air Mission van which used to go out every Saturday.

(Look for all these depictions in the mural when you visit Fryerns Baptist Church)

FREE Download:  Fryerns Baptist Church Mural leaflet

(Adapted from “The Sermon on the Mural” by Graham Phillimore delivered to the Fellowship of Youth at Fryerns Chapel on 31st December 1959.
Lewis Lupton stayed in the Manse (then in Holden Road) with the Phillimore family whilst working on the Mural in 1954.)

Trivia: Did you know that this mural was once almost completely lost in the 1990s when due to vandalism the front door was broken and the mural was splashed with unknown substances?  Well the mural was re-done by Malcolm Mackinnon and got a new coat of paint to meticulously restore it.

The history the mural depicts is a constant reminder to the current generation of Christians of the necessity of the gospel (even in Basildon) and the need to always keep praying that God would send us as his labourers to a field he has prepared by the work of his Spirit ready for harvest.

We pray that we may come to see and know God’s blessing in our time.