Gathered Church Life and the Experience of Dissent
This chapter introduces Church Life: Pastors, Congregations, and the Experience of Dissent in Seventeenth-Century England. It addresses the rationale behind this volume, explains its structure, and summarizes its contents. It explores in detail the key terms of the book’s title: ‘church’, ‘church life’, and the ‘experience of Dissent’. It does so by reflecting initially on the election of the preacher and writer John Bunyan as pastor to the Congregational meeting at Bedford in order to demonstrate something of the rich and complex nature of ‘gathered’ church life as experienced by many Protestant Dissenters throughout the seventeenth century. This chapter also considers what the ‘experience of Dissent’ encompasses, shifting the traditional focus of enquiry beyond the individual believer and the ‘experience’ of religious conversion and its narratives to the more collective concerns of a communally-centred and mutually-shared experience of Dissenting church life as captured especially in manuscript church books and records.
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