Waiting in front of Surrey Chapel, Lizzy heard the pipe organ begin to play. Scanning the road, she pulled her shawl tighter. Horse drawn carriages dropped off people, but not Henry, her fiancé.
It was obvious he had been running. Flustered, top hat askew, he approached Lizzy while pressing a handkerchief to his nose.
“Why didn’t you order a carriage?” Lizzy wanted to know.
Kissing her on the cheek he panted, “It’s un-Biblical to drive on the Lord’s Day.”
“Well, Pastor Hill doesn’t think so,” Lizzy said while they entered the packed church, nicknamed “The Round House”. Rowland Hill believed a round building didn’t provide the devil with a corner to hide in.
“You’ve got a cold?”
“No. Why? Oh, because of the hanky?” Henry wiped his face. “The stench in the streets makes me nauseous. How can you live here?”
Lizzy shrugged. “I’m used to it. Gloucester was the same.”
Seated on the balcony, Lizzy whispered, “How are you?”
“Good meetings at the Missionary Society,” Henry patted her hand. “Tell you later.”
Sunlight streamed through the arched windows, illuminating the “comely and honest pulpit” king Edward VI had ordered every parish to install. A man stood at the lower level reading desk of the two-decker pulpit, and made announcements.
It was the first time Henry visited this church, and he was amazed to see rich and poor sitting side by side. Lizzy nervously adjusted her bonnet. She dreaded the upcoming talk, for in his last letter Henry wrote that God called him to China; after their marriage they would sail together. But Lizzy wanted to stay in London.
Several hymns later, a tall, vigorous and energetic, white-haired man, dressed in Anglican clergy garb, ascended the wooden staircase to the pulpit’s upper level. A wooden back panel merged with a carved canopy bearing a crown. He put his worn Bible on a cushion with gold tassels and addressed the crowd. Lizzy loved his fiery, lively sermons, preached in simple language. Many said that Rowland Hill was a dissenter, a heretic. However, his open air meetings reached people who otherwise never would come to church, and many got saved.
Pastor Hill concluded his sermon by reminding the congregation to have their children inoculated against smallpox.
“WHAT?” Henry responded vehemently. “The pulpit’s no place for such announcements!”
People turned around and stared at him. Lizzy cringed when he hissed through clenched teeth,
“Smallpox is God’s punishment. Inoculation is a tool of Satan!”
Blushing from shame, Lizzy looked down at her trembling hands.
When prayer petitions were handed in, Lizzy presumed that Henry’s hastily scribbled note was in connection to his missionary preparation. Pastor Hill took a petition, read it aloud, prayed, and moved on to the next note.
“The prayers of the congregation are requested,” he began, “for the Reverend Rowland Hill—-“ He hesitated, then continued,“That he will not ride in his carriage on Sunday.”
Henry ignored Lizzy’s accusing look.
“If the writer of this piece of folly and impertinence will come into the vestry after service, and allow me to put a saddle on his back, I shall be willing to ride home upon him instead of in my carriage.”
Amidst roaring laughter, Henry angrily stomped out of the crowded bench towards the exit. Utterly embarrassed, Lizzy followed him.
“Who does he think he is?” Henry fumed when they stood on Blackfriars Road.
“How could you, Henry?” Lizzy’s cheeks were blazing from shame and anger.
“Lizzy, I forbid you to go to this church!”
She raised an eyebrow. “I work here. And love it. You can’t stop me.”
“Marry me and come to China,” Henry pleaded.
“Henry, I’m needed at the Sunday School. We have 13 classes, 3000 pupils. London is my mission field.”
Lizzy’s heart sank when she realized how far they had grown apart.
“What Hill preaches from that pulpit is blasphemy!” Henry said vehemently.
“You call speaking out against slavery blasphemy? And saving lives through inoculations? He also supports the Bible and Missionary Society!” Lizzy became angry.
In a clipped voice Henry said, “Lizzy, I give you another week to give me a final answer.”
Lizzy knew it wouldn’t work.
“I don’t need another week, Henry. Dear Emma will be sad I won’t become her sister-in-law, but I can’t marry you. I’m sorry.” She offered her hand. “I pray God will use you in China. Good-bye Henry!”
“Give liberal”, Pastor Hill called from the pulpit when Lizzy sank in her seat.
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