In the two hundredth anniversary of our chapel, I suppose it is timely that we should begin to reflect on our history. May 23rd (1813) is really the exact date of our anniversary. It was reported to the Meeting of Presbyterian Ministers in Manchester that, "On Sunday, May 23rd, 1813, that a large and convenient room was opened up for Unitarian Worship in Oldham near Manchester."
However, in line with the centenary celebration held at Unitarian Chapel, Lord Street, Oldham in 1913, our official commemoration is now the date closest to November 15th. Therefore, our bicentenary will be celebrated between the dates of Saturday November 16th and Sunday 17th, 2013.
Our Unitarian chapel in Oldham is descended from the original Parish church and from the Independent Chapel at Greenacres, Oldham. The struggle for independence in matters ecclesiastical can be traced back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, where a continuing Oldham Parish Church rebellion took the form of the refusal to "contribute their share of the blessed bread, wine and candles for the mother church in Prestwich." In that same spirit perhaps, it's not surprising that the then minister, Robert Constantine refused his assent to the Act of Uniformity in 1662 and was consequently ejected.
Constantine was a friend of Henry Newcombe, who as you may know was the founder and first minister of Cross Street Chapel, Manchester. Robert Constantine eventually came to found Greenacres Chapel in Oldham. Through his ministry, his chapel became known "for its struggles for constitutional freedom but also for a liberty to cast aside creeds as unnecessary to the establishment of a true religion, and liberty for the soul to work out its own salvation."
Unfortunately, in 1785, the chapel became Calvinist and the congregation split. When Richard Wright the Unitarian Missionary came to Oldham in 1812, the Greenacres Chapel committee expelled the anti-Calvinists within the congregation who then formed a Unitarian group around him. This was the culmination of a Unitarian controversy that had had been raging in the area for decades and some of this controversy had even spilled over onto the pages of the Theological Repository a journal edited by no other than Joseph Priestley.
Eventually, the first Unitarian congregation in Oldham met for worship on May 23rd, 1813. The first minister was Benjamin Goodier; he was a follower of the expelled Methodist minister Joseph Cooke. In Goodier's words, they could now 'unite the zeal of the Methodists with the information and liberality of the Unitarians. On 21 July 1813, a Statute was passed with the title: "An Act to relieve persons who impugn the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity from certain Penalties." The Unitarian Toleration Act was born. It could be argued that the law was bowing to the inevitable, to the will of the people and that given our history our Unitarian chapel in Oldham would have continued with or without the blessing of parliament.
I hope that you found this interesting.
Best wishes as always,