Theophilus Lindsey (1723-1808): A man whose conscience led him to change the course of his life

3 November 2008 marks the bicentenary of the death of Theophilus Lindsey. He was a man who, in 1774, took a very brave step. In doing so he helped to found the Unitarian movement. He was very pleasantly situated, as clergyman, as the vicar of Catterick in North Yorkshire. But he felt unable to agree with some of the doctrine of the Church of England. In particular, his study of the Bible led him to reject the concept of God as three persons (Father, Son and Holy Ghost). For him, God was one. As far back as 1755, when he became the vicar of Piddletown in Dorset, he had been worried about having to agree with every one of the 39 Articles of the Church where the doctrine of the Trinity was set out. In particular Lindsey had doubts about the divinity of Jesus. He tried in 1772, by means of what became known as the Feathers Tavern Petition, to persuade the House of Commons to free clergy in the Established Church (the Church of England) from the demand that they accept the Articles. Many clergy supported the petition but in Parliament it was rejected. The following year Lindsey resigned from his position at Catterick. His conscience would not allow him to remain in a situation where he felt he was living a lie.

Lindsey and his wife, Hannah, moved to London where, on 17 November 1774, Lindsey opened his own chapel in Essex Street, just off the Strand. Lindsey hoped to reform the Church of England from within and provided his Essex Street congregation with a revised form of the book of Common Prayer, altering those phrases he disagreed with. The Deed of Foundation stated that 'services were to be held 'according to the liturgy of the Church of England reformed'. However, leading Nonconformists, like Joseph Priestley, supported Lindsey and the chapel's first trustees were described as 'protestant subjects dissenting from the Church of England'.The Essex Street Chapel became the first openly Unitarian chapel in the country.

The Feathers Tavern petition

Lindsey's letter of resignation from his living at Catterick

Lindsey's new chapel in Essex Street

An idea for talks to children based on Lindsey's concern that the children in his parish should be inoculated against smallpox

Suggestion for a primary school assembly

Suggestion for a secondary school assembly

A short prayer

A hymn that might have been sung at Lindsey's chapel

Some other people who have changed their path in life

Things to discuss or do

Some words to get to know

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