Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: V.
Following the court case that decided the trustees of the Norwich Tabernacle had the sole right to appoint a pastor to the church meeting there, John Alexander had returned to London. However he was soon back in Norwich. A large number of members seceded from the Tabernacle Church, and they wanted to call Alexander as their pastor.
At first he refused. He was a young man, not yet twenty-five, and the idea of his first pastorate being in a new church where he would have to organise the Church on congregational lines and build a chapel was hardly inviting. He had been asked to preach at Kidderminster, and he felt that the church there would be more settled.
God and the people who had seceded from the Tabernacle had other ideas. Many of the seceders were descended from Dutch and Huguenot families who had fled to Norwich to escape persecution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They had inherited their forefathers' determination, and they were determined to have John Alexander as pastor. Finally, feeling that this insistence from godly men and women was a divine call, he accepted, on two conditions. Firstly, the new chapel must be built away from existing dissenting chapels, since he had no interest in sheep-stealing, and secondly that the new church must be organised on strictly congregational lines. Not even the possibility of the congregation being overruled in their choice of a pastor must exist.
The people agreed, and in January 1818 John Alexander returned to the city where he would spend the rest of his ministry, and where at length he would lay down both his labours and his life.
The meetings of the new church (not as yet formally constituted) began on 25th January at the Lancastrian School, Quayside (pictured). Week-night services were held in the French Church (also pictured. You can tell which is which).
The young Mr. Alexander thus began his ministry with neither chapel nor manse, but with a devoted, enthusiastic people. Crowds thronged the school, listening to a young man with jet-black hair preaching from an improvised pulpit. The uncertainty that had at first led him to decline the call was gone. This was the will of God, he was where he was meant to be, and that gave him boldness to preach the gospel. How the old 'Lancashire Apostle' must have thanked God for a son who was being used to bring so many to the Lord.
One of those men was John Stoughton, later a noted minister and historian of dissent. "How the people used to crowd and hear him," Stoughton would say years later, thinking of those days in the Lancastrian School and the French Church.
Of course the church began at once to look for a site further away from both the Tabernacle and the Old Meeting in nearby Colegate. There were many difficulties, but one was found in Princes Street (also known as Hungate Street), behind the church of St. Michael-at-Plea and facing the Church of St. Peter, Hungate. On March 16th 1819 John Alexander laid the foundation stone of the new chapel. He preached and the people sang the 117th Psalm.
The congregation was here to stay, and Princes Street was to become a name linked to that of John Alexander.
Next time, God willing, we shall look at the early years of the church at Princes Street.
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