The story of Leonard Strong is remarkable in that whilst working for the Lord in Georgetown, British Guiana, he was breaking bread without any connection with similar meetings convened in Dublin in 1830. For some, the so-called ‘Brethren’ movement began in Dublin, but Strong is a testimony to a movement of the Spirit of God that was far wider and that caused many in the denominations of Christendom to reexamine their position in the light of what they read in scripture.
Leonard Strong was born in 1797, the son of the rector of Brampton Abbotts in Herefordshire. Whether there was any Christian influence in the home is difficult to determine but the young Strong joined the Royal Navy at 12 years of age and became a midshipman. This was a time of considerable military activity and Strong saw action in the American and French wars, ‘being present at several engagements’.1 He was mercifully preserved and whilst serving in the West Indies he had a narrow escape from drowning that ultimately led to his salvation.
Following this incident, Strong left the navy and went to Oxford to study. As Stunt comments, ‘the university records [show] that he matriculated in 1823 as an undergraduate at Magdalen Hall’.2 It was early in 1824 that Strong expressed his desire to be a missionary. Although unclear as to where he would like to serve - he told the Church Missionary Society (CMS) that ‘he did not think a warm climate would agree with him’3 - it was initially thought that he would go to New Zealand. In preparation, he was told to pursue his studies at home, and he was later ordained as a priest of the Church of England in May 1826.
It was Strong’s engagement to the daughter of Mr Reed that was the catalyst for a change of direction. Pressure from the Reed family, including their friend W. E. Gladstone, a British Prime Minister, meant that Strong must go to Demerara if he wanted to marry Reed’s daughter. As Stunt comments, ‘The CMS bowed to the vested interests involved and resolved that if the Bishop of Barbados would license Strong, and if Gladstone would undertake to build the church, then that was where Leonard Strong would go’.4
Although these political machinations had sown seeds of doubt in Strong’s mind, he set sail for the West Indies in late 1826. His desire was that he might preach the gospel and ‘promote the spiritual profit of the slave population’.5 However, Strong’s activities generated some disquiet amongst the slave owners. Apart from preaching the gospel, exactly what he had done is unclear, but he was forced to relocate parishes.6In the providence of God, this was a further challenge to his position within the established church. As he was inducted to his new parish, he was obliged to assent to the tenets of that church. He wrote, ‘I yielded, but with a bad conscience. I was installed, and I returned to my Christian wife, saying, “I am rector of this parish; I have now a field for labour in the gospel, but I am a liar”. I could never shake this off from my conscience … I never taught the Catechism or allowed it in the parish. I did not baptize the children of unconverted persons … I never read the whole of the burial service over the unconverted dead. Indeed, I never used the Prayer Book when I could help it’.7
Finally, in 1837, Strong handed in his resignation and seceded from the Church of England. The challenge of this decision is outlined by Henry Pickering, ‘he gave up his living, worth £800 per year, and his manse [home], and met simply for worship amongst his converts … The first meeting was held in a large shed used for drying coffee, about 2000 being present’.8
The work established and prospering, Leonard Strong left British Guiana in 1849, returning to the United Kingdom to settle in Torquay. This was fifteen years after the commencement of the assembly in the town and it was beginning to outgrow the building in which it met. Thus, Strong threw himself into the work to build a new hall on Warren Road. Finding that other areas of the town offered opportunities in the gospel, he was also instrumental in the opening of an off-shoot company in the St. Marychurch district. Apart from this practical work in support of the gospel, Strong taught the word of God across the local region and beyond.
Strong died in London in 1874. He had served the Lord in Georgetown, and Torquay, but was buried in his beloved Torquay. Beattie summarizes his contribution, ‘he gave up a lucrative living … [to] devote his life and energies on lines which … the Scriptures had shown him to be the true way. Thus, Leonard Strong … was not only meeting, in like manner as we are today, with native Christians whom he had led into the light but was laying the foundation of a missionary work which spread through the West Indies’.9
David J. Beattie, Brethren, the story of a great recovery, John Ritchie, 1944, pg. 66.
T. C. F. Stunt, Leonard Strong: the motives and experiences of early missionary work in British Guiana, published in Christian Brethren Review, 1983, pg. 95.
Quoted from L. Strong, Personal Testimony, cited in T. C. F. Stunt, op. cit.
Beattie suggests, ‘he sought to liberate from sin’s bondage as well as lighten the oppression of the cruel taskmasters’, op. cit., pg. 66.
L. Strong, op. cit.
Henry Pickering, Chief Men among the Brethren, Pickering and Inglis, 1968, pg. 23.
David J. Beattie, op. cit., pg. 316.
Your Basket Is Empty