Dorothy Kelly was an English Puritan, living in Bristol. She desired to see the Church of England reformed – cleansed from the wickedness and laxity found in its members and clergy. On Sundays, after attending the services of her church, she would join others in private homes for prayer and the reading of more Biblical sermons. One of the men attending those meetings was an Anglican cleric named Hazzard. Over time, Rev. Hazzard, asked Mrs. Kelly, a widow, if she would marry him, and she agreed. The Hazzard home become a meeting place for Puritans. And since Bristol was one of the ports from which travelers to America embarked, the Hazzards hosted many people seeking what they called “religious freedom.”
Mrs. Hazzard became more and more disenchanted with her church, its sermons, the reading of the Book of Common Prayer, and abuse of the Lord’s Supper. One week when her husband traveled to Lyme to avoid taking “Holy Communion,” Dorothy heard that Mr. John Canne, a noted dissenter – a Baptist – was staying in a local inn. She sent word inviting the man to lodge at the Hazzard home. When he found a group of Puritans in one of their meetings, he urged them to give up the Church of England entirely and gather for their own worship and prayer. Mrs. Hazzard felt convicted that was what she should do. When her husband returned home, she told him of her plans, and although he never left his church, he permitted his wife to do as she felt led of God. Soon, the group, meeting in a barn, grew to more than 150 souls.
But then the English Civil War began. In December 1642 Bristol was held by the parliamentary army and the “separated church” rejoiced. But then Prince Rupert attempted to capture the city for the king. Mrs. Hazzard even became involved in actually fighting for the city’s defense, but the Royalist troops prevailed. Persecution against the Puritans and the separatists became intense. But in 1645 Bristol was taken once again by the parliamentary army, and the little group of separatists returned to their meetings.
Six years later, Thomas Ewins, of London, was invited to become the separatists leader. During his ministry the congregation became more and more Baptistic. Then in 1654, Mr. Ewin and several others went to London to be immersed by Pastor Henry Jessy. Upon their return home, believer’s baptism was received by the rest of the congregation, and as a result the persecution against them intensified.
But then on this day in 1660, the man who would become the next King of England, Charles II, proposed, “liberty to tender consciences, and that no man shall be disquieted or called in question, for differences of opinion on matter of religion.” Actually, true religious liberty wasn’t fully granted for some time, but the Baptist church in Bristol, which owed so much to Dorothy Hazzard, rejoiced in its limited freedom and continued to serve the Saviour for years to come.