Pastor ES Heron & Doctor JW Heron

Ebenezer Sloane Heron was pastor here at Salem from May 1844 and remained for five years, working hard to build the congregation before moving on to Denholme in Yorkshire. He seems to have had a good time here and the members were sorry to see him go. After Denholme he moved to Bingley, where it all went terribly wrong. At first, he seemed to prosper. He opened a new Sunday School in 1862 but two years later, 132 members presented him with a petition calling on him to resign. He submitted himself to an ‘arbitration committee’ who exonerated him but suggested he resign for the good of the church or the church be dissolved, which happened the following January, leaving only the trustees.

Rev. Heron sent our tickets calling his supporters to a meeting; those uninvited found three policemen outside refusing admission to any not bearing a ticket. This Church Meeting resolved to ignore the former trustees and arbitrators. The following July, a new Bingley Congregational Church (using the previous building) was formed; members of the former church who came to protest were sent before the magistrates. Meanwhile, other former members of the old church demanded to hold services in the building. Pastor Heron padlocked the doors and ‘marched sentry with a dog’. They broke the padlock and 300 burst in to hold their service. Complaints were made to the Charity Commission, who referred both parties to the Keighley County Court in 1869- the members of the old church versus members of the new. The courtroom, according to a copy of the Leeds Mercury printed at the time, ‘was crowded’. Mr Hopwood, solicitor for the ‘old members’ urged the judge to ‘remove the minister’, a power which the judge claimed the court did not have. The judge, Mr WTS Daniel QC, eventually ordered the appointment of new trustees who would choose a minister, allowing Mr Heron to resubmit his name, if he were willing. After this, Mr Heron finally agreed to resign, and the trustees offered him the usage of the manse for the next ten years, after which it would be let ‘to any respectable person’. 

The local press lapped it up- decent members of a large congregational church publicly fighting a civil war through the courts. On 6th April 1870, a defeated Pastor Heron left England for America where he bought a farm in Tennessee, where he remained until he died. However, I have evidence that before he sailed, presumably from Liverpool, Pastor Heron returned to Martin Top to say farewell. I have his entry into the Church’s minute book, dated April 1870 (the 3rd, presumably):

Though I left Martin Top in November 1848 I have visited my ever dear and valued friends many times up to the present date (April 1870) and preached to them with great pleasure the glorious gospel of the grace of God. This has probably been my last visit. May God give them grace, mercy and peace and greatly bless and prosper them all [4 words unreadable]. Rev ES Heron (It either ends in 'Rev ES Heron', or it is 'Rev ____ chapter and verse, ES Heron').

I’ve read these words before, but they become all the more poignant when one realises he was, that very week, fleeing to America, leaving behind a terrible church split. The little country chapel at Martin Top with its simple folk with whom he cut his ministerial teeth must have felt refreshingly quiet after the turmoil of Bingley. 

Pastor Heron’s contribution to God’s kingdom did not cease with his American retirement. His 14-year-old son, John William Heron, was doubtless with him at Martin Top in April 1870. He later declined the offer of professorship from the University of Tennessee, instead preferring the life of a medical missionary to Korea. He founded Chejungwon, later Namdaemoon Presbyterian Church, helped translate the Bible into the Korean language and founded the Korean Religious Tract Society. In 1890, he was tending to the sick during an outbreak of dysentery, to which he himself succumbed. On his deathbed, he told his friends: "Jesus loves you. He gave His life for you. Stand by Him!“

I don’t know what triggered the original fall-out between the Bingley Congregational Church and the Bingley Congregational minister: no-one seemed to record it. Perhaps they too had long forgotten it; by the time it went to court, the blame and recriminations had grown to such a degree that they overshadowed the initial disagreement. From what I can see, Pastor Heron did not handle it as well as he might have, but he was only a man, and his people could have been more supportive. Had he not emigrated to America, certainly crest-fallen if not utterly deflated, his young son may never have become the Presbyterian missionary who saved so many lives and gave the Korean people the Bible in their own tongue. Truly, God uses our most sorrowful times as springboards from which to launch even grater acts of service.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

My thanks to Sally, the Secretary at Bingley United Reformed Church for sending me a copy of Alison Kuhne’s Three Hundred Years of History 1695-1995: Bingley United Reformed Church (Formerly Congregational), (Bradford and Bingley Building Society, 1995).

To Mrs Kath Scott for researching the archived newspaper articles from the period, including the Leeds Mercury.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information website, for information on Dr John Heron.

Dr Heron Photo: Swangirl, Find a Grave

Dr Heron Grave Photo: Chris Nelson, Find a Grave