A KNUTSFORD church is marking the historic day when everything changed for Christianity in England.

Brook Street Chapel will be remembering the sacrifices made by around 2,000 clergy who left the Church of England 350 years ago when they were forced to follow their conscience.

An ultimatum was made in 1662 when the Act of Uniformity went through Parliament to create stability after civil war.

Ministers had to conduct prayers and ceremonies in strict adherence with the Book of Common Prayer or leave the State Church.

The ‘Great Ejection’ then followed on August 24, St Bartholomew’s Day, when many dissenters faced hardship.

“They would have been living in houses belonging to the State Church,” said the Rev Jean Bradley.

“Many were left homeless and penniless with no prospect of employment.

“The clergy were not allowed to continue with their ministry, and could not live within five miles of their previous ministry.

“If a private individual was found to have endorsed worship between a minister and more than five family members, the punishment would range between heavy fines, imprisonment and even transportation.”

Yet over time new congregations were formed in secret, such as the Methodists and Unitarians.

Jean, a Unitarian minister, said: “It was important to them that every human being should hold a faith at one with their own conscience and intellect.

“I believe that those 2,000 members of the clergy and their followers should be honoured.

“How many of us would be prepared to give up our homes and our employment over a matter of conscience?

“In this 21st century, we enjoy a tremendous amount of freedom – we can say what we want, when we want.

“We don’t have to conform to any political or religious point of view.

“It is because those people, 350 years ago, made those protests for us that we can enjoy our freedom today.”

In recognition of this anniversary many Anglican clergymen are meeting clergy from dissenting chapels in a spirit of reconciliation.

The day will be remembered in Knutsford with a scarecrow festival, with drama and music depicting life in the 1600s, and everyone is welcome.

Brook Street Chapel would particularly welcome other members of the Knutsford area’s clergy to the event, which is taking place at 2pm on Saturday.

If you would like to attend please call ahead on 01625 828 279 for catering purposes.