The Golden Jubilee of the Epsom Methodist Church 1914 – 1964
By Leonard Barnett
One by one, the delegation of twelve men solemnly stepped on to the top of the pile of road sweepings Epsom Council workmen had left conveniently close at hand. They peered over the top of a high wooden fence into the paddock beyond.
One by one, they got down and looked thoughtfully at each other. Little was said; but each one of them knew that their search was over. This, they felt, was the best site in the town for the proposed new Methodist Church. From their vantage-point in the Parade, they felt that Ashley Road would prove, in the long run, an enviable position.
More than 50 years later, we, the legatees of their wisdom, vision and courage, give God thanks for it.
It ought to be confessed that not every single one of their fellow-Trustees was in favour at the start. Two influential brethren had an eye on the site now occupied by Page’s Motors; and wanted to use the old Church (now the Foresters’ Hall in Waterloo Road) as a Sunday School. Children they asserted would never dare cross the busy (!) High Street from the Hook Road-Temple Road area. The result would be that any new Church on the other side of what they obviously looked upon as the Great Divide would be used chiefly by older people. This viewpoint was courteously resisted! A Trustee was deputed to bid for the Ashley Road land, and it was secured for £1,200. When it was learned that the Waterloo Road premises had been sold to the Foresters for exactly the same sum, there may well have been many who felt that the enterprise was already receiving a token of blessing. During the whole of the negotiations “prayer was continually offered in the old Church” and we cannot doubt that those prayers were answered. In the sombre light of the years to come, the early encouragements were memories to be cherished.
The very fact that Epsom Methodists, in the years immediately preceding the 1914-18 War, were energetically debating ways and means of advance was in itself a matter of joyous surprise; for the fortunes of the Methodist cause in the town had been by no means constant. For 80 years, Epsom (Wesleyan) Methodists had had to struggle valiantly to maintain their witness. Now they were feeling that the tide was flowing with them. Let us look back for a moment at the road along which they had travelled. It was a far cry from that day in 1835 when a certain Mr. Harrowell, a local preacher from Brighton, had settled in Epsom. He was instrumental in helping to launch what members now affectionately abbreviate to “E M C.” (Epsom Methodist Church). Until the Society was formed, however, his habit was to walk, twice a Sunday (though we doubt if he would have done it the year round if winters like that of early 1963 were in vogue in the 1830s!) to join the Wesleyans worshipping in a small room in Sutton High Street. He also helped the Epsom Congregational minister, the Rev. Dr. J. Harris, with his mid-week meetings. Dr. Harris helped Brother Harrowell to secure the use of a room in a cottage on Epsom Common, which his own Church members had previously used themselves. Indeed, the first bibles and furniture of the infant Methodist cause were purchased from the Congregationalists – the original Epsom ecumenical movement!
The Rev R.W.G. Hunter, enterprising editor of the Journal, wrote that Wesleyan Methodism in Epsom “was introduced in the year 1840 by the late Mr W. Rivers, a remarkable local preacher.
He conducted open air services on the Common. This led to the offer of a cottage on the Common by a person by the name of Walliss. Soon after, the late Mr Harrowell settled in Epsom and greatly aided the infant cause”. What do the finer details of the story matter? The essential thing was that the Methodist witness began. For seven years services took place in the cottage on the Common, and, in keeping with the vigorous evangelism for which the Methodist people were first raised up, many conversions were recorded. Certainly, when Mr Hunter edited his Journal in 1874, two Methodist Ministers of the day – the Revs J.S. Vint and Thomas H. Harrowell, dated their conversion and call to the ministry to the Epsom cottage and the “rustic barn” mentioned below.
As the strength of the cause grew – would it not be possible, said some, to acquire premises nearer the town centre? The answer was found in the purchase of a barn behind the High Street, “near the London & South Western Railway Booking Office” and standing to this very day as a storehouse belonging to the Corn-merchants – Messrs T. Furniss & Sons. The first Wesleyan Tea Meeting was held there at the opening, the pioneer-spirit Mr Harrowell delighting to record that he along, had sold 100 tickets at 1/- each! It was transformed into a “pretty rustic Chapel”. “Rustic” it certainly was. The congregation was enlivened on one cherished occasion by the unauthorised entrance of a cackling hen which sauntered noisily up the aisle! On another Sunday the door was opened by a sleek donkey, which, however much in keeping with Scriptural tradition, was scarcely felt to be in keeping with the august solemnity of Victorian Wesleyan Methodists at their devotions!
The barn was largely purchased as a result of the generosity of one Dr Graham, who was obviously one of the leading figures in early Epsom Methodism; as were the Keelings of Ormonde House, who settled in Epsom in 1855, and the talented Greatbach family, who swiftly became leading workers. Mrs Greatbach must be looked on as a Founding Mother of the W.F. – she “rendered invaluable service by organising and superintending a working meeting of ladies, by which means the debt was extinguished upon the old chapel (the “barn”) and a handsome sum was raised towards the new chapel.” Epsom Methodist Church has been blessed by God right down the years, and until this present time, by the spiritual heirs and successors of Mrs. Greatbach!
The “new chapel” referred to meant that the chapel-in-the-barn had been (soon) found inadequate for the needs of the growing Society. Under the leadership of such energetic spirits as the Keelings and the Greatbachs new Church buildings in Waterloo Road were erected in 1863 at a cost of £1,300. Later, a school and class-room were added. Despite the faith and vision of these folk, however, the cause went through hard and difficult times. “From various causes” wrote Mr Hunter at the time of the Great Bazaar in 1874, “the Church has fluctuated in numbers. We are now praying and hoping for a revival of God’s work.”
One of the formidable obstacles was the persistent legacy of the building debt, then standing £655 – a crippling sum for those days for a tiny Society struggling to maintain itself.
Epsom Methodism was characterised by a good deal more than working-tables and what-nots. There was, it seems, from the very start, a sturdy determination to exercise a real and many sided ministry to the town: and there would seem to have been – and to have existed ever since – a splendid tradition of warm co-operation and friendship between Epsom Methodists and fellow-Christians of other communions. Successive 19th-century Vicars of Epsom were most kindly and helpfully disposed towards Epsom Methodist Church and ‘lost no opportunity of showing regard and respect’. 20th century ones, we rejoice to remember, have followed the same pattern. An early record speaks of the anxiety caused by the ‘floating character of the congregation’ – a delightful phrase to conjure with! – but which makes us wonder once again, as do sundry other aspects of Epsom Methodist Church history, as to whether there really ever is ‘any new thing under the sun’!
During these years the Epsom Society came under the sheltering wing of other Methodist causes grouped together in the Croydon Circuit. A facsimile of the Circuit Plan for the Spring Quarter of 1871, shows Epsom then to have been one of a circuit of ten churches – including Croydon (Tamworth Road and Addiscombe), Warlingham, Wimbledon, South Norwood, Sutton (very low down the list!), Merton, Croydon Common and Cottenham Park. It is interesting to discover that one sentence still appears on our own current plan, in form only fractionally differing from the 1871 version: - “Every Preacher is expected to attend his own appointments, or himself to provide an accredited substitute.” The problems of superintendents have a long history!
That quarter, Epsom Services – at 11.0 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. – as if we couldn’t have guessed! – enjoyed the presence of the Supt. Minister – the Rev E. Lightwood, at both services on Easter Day; the Rev Dr W. H. Rule took three complete Sundays; students from Richmond College three more; and eight appointments were filled by local preachers, including one each from Epsom and Ewell. From the appointments, it would appear that Dr Rule had pastoral oversight; though it is of note that all the four Circuit ministers lived in Croydon.
At the beginning of this century, the membership of the Church was approximately 150 and – history repeating itself yet again! – the Trustees and Sunday school workers were seriously challenged by the growing inadequacy of the Waterloo Road premises. An account speaks of the erection, at the turn of the century, of a new school, with classroom and kitchen, at a cost of about £330. “So rapid, however”, went on this account, “has been the growth of the school, that the work is again being seriously handicapped and carried on under very cramped conditions. Before long the Trustees must inevitably face the fact that new and adequate Church and School premises cannot be delayed without serious injury to the cause.”
At the time this account was written, new hopes had risen with the appointment of a resident minister – a supernumerary – the Rev J. Rowland Gleave – to Epsom. But the capacity of an elderly minister was hardly equal to the challenge and opportunity of the times. Let Mr E. H. Barrett (the Grand Old Man of Epsom Methodism up to his passing in August 1963 at the ripe old age of 93, take up the tale. He was the sole survivor of the twelve good men and true who climbed up on the dust-heap in the Parade, and solemnly viewed the Ashley Road site. For very many years, Mr Barrett was the Secretary of the Trustees’ Meeting, and no-one knew more than he about the interesting beginnings of the church buildings, the Jubilee of which we now celebrate.
He came to Epsom – then a compact little rural community of 18,000 souls – in 1908; and remembered the attitude, now happily extinct, which divided Epsom into two classes. The ‘real’ Epsom lived on the ‘right side of the tracks’ – to the South! (Actually, nearly everybody lived there! Epsom really consisted at that time, of the estates of Lord Rosebery and the other ‘landed gentry’ – the Earl of Crewe, the Astons, the Northeys, the Braithwaite’s and Sir Thomas and Lady Bucknill – and their ‘cottagers’ on the estates; the rest – ‘the poor’ – lived on the other side of the railway line – just the Common people – with a small ‘c’!) Mr Barrett, discussing our cause in Waterloo Road was soon told that ‘there had been some talk of closing the place’; and he decided to throw in his lot with Methodism. At the time, weekly congregations were small, despite the large Sunday-school; and collections varied from £1 to 30/- weekly.
“However, I certainly had a surprise one Sunday morning at 10.55, Mr Barrett was to write in a letter 40 years later – “when a carriage and pair stopped at the Church; the footman got down and opened the carriage door – and a venerable old gentleman with white hair and a very Victorian elderly lady got out and entered the Church sitting in a reserved pew at the back. At 5 minutes to 12 you could hear the sound of horses’ feet – the carriage had come”.
A day of new hope dawned for the cause in 1910 in the appointment of the first young Minister – the Rev J. Wesley Howells, who alas, was destined to lose his life a few years later in the Royal Flying Corps. He left the mark of his dedicated vigour on the Society. Mr Barrett remembers the way the congregation increased. A Wesley Guild began, as effective in its appeal to the teenagers of England then as is MAYC nowadays. Mr Howell’s varied talents were never better symbolised than in the vividly contrasting facts that he both regularly travelled into London at 7 in the morning to study at the British Museum – and that also he was capable of making excellent sausages for Church social occasions!
Under the subsequent ministry of the Rev Leonard Shutter, the advance begun under Mr Howells was maintained. Inevitably ‘growing pains’ became more acute. “At the time” records Mr Barrett, “the Circuit Steward was Mr E. E. Harmer – he was largely responsible for the beautiful Methodist Church at Sutton and afterwards, Wallington. At a Trustees’ meeting, the question came up of better premises. I replied – ‘we haven’t any money!’ but Mr Harmer said that if we would put down a scheme on paper for a better church, he would support us at the Circuit Quarterly meeting. The next news was that if the Trustees went ahead to build a new church, Mr Farmer-Atkinson would subscribe £1,200. We soon formed a committee!” said Mr Barrett. The decision to go ahead in faith was taken deliberately and it was a venture of faith. The appeal for funds was made by the Revs G. Marris and L. Shutter. “Heroic measures alone” it said “will enable Epsom Methodism to bear its full share of the glorious burden of proclaiming the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Had the folk who gathered on November 1st, 1913 for the laying of the Memorial Stones of the “New Wesleyan Church Buildings” known what was to burst on the world in the August of the following year, they would have come with heavy hearts. One wonders with what unexpressed fears and forebodings the crowd gathered for the opening ceremony of the finished buildings on March 11th, 1914. In all the fifty inches of small type coverage, including a fair synopsis of Dr Dinsdale Young’s sermon on Justification by Faith – which the local paper gave to the great event, there is never a mention of the possibility of the storm so soon to break. 1914-1918 was a strange and worrisome period. The premises had cost £7,700 (see Footnote) altogether but the remaining debt, after a magnificent initial effort, hung heavily round the necks of the folk on the spot through the war and for many years to come. It was by no means an inglorious burden but it took courage and stamina of a high order to cope with it.
The Rev. George Alway, living in retirement in Scarborough with the bride he married at Epsom, recalls the brighter side of the picture; the large regular weekly congregations, augmented by troops encamped on Epsom Downs and billeted in the town (5,000 at one time), to whom EMC extended a ministry of caring friendship via home friendships and a “Forces Canteen”. Joseph Rank gave £250 to equip the Canteen – others gave, with equal generosity, of their time and personal service. (Mr Joseph Rank and his wife and Sir Ernest and Lady Lamb – later Lord and Lady Rochester – were worshippers at Burgh Heath during those years and took a keen interest in Epsom Methodism. When Rev. Alway celebrated his wedding, the Lambs lent the happy couple their Isle of Wight home for their honeymoon.)
But not all Epsom based servicemen were Methodists! Rev. Alway recalls the shocking night when the Canadians rioted in the town in search of comrades arrested by the police. A pitched battle, watched by two appalled lady helpers in the EMC canteen on the site of our car park, was fought across the road, in and around the recently closed police station. Station Sergeant Green – a member of EMC. – was killed in the affray and Rev. Alway conducted the funeral at which 1,000 Metropolitan Police and four military bands were in attendance. A sad and violent incident, which must have brought the real cost of warfare, in terms of human well-being and happiness, very close to the town and church alike.
The first Epsom Manse, in which the Always lived, was a secluded old house in Worple Road. The Church, on the other hand, was steadily moving forward into the mainstream of the town’s life; and the Always look back upon their first shared home and ministry with deep affection. They remember well, various families in our Church, members of which are today still happily contributing sterling service to the life of the Church – names like Hartley, Harwood, Beard and Gage.
When the 1914-18 War ended, the church debt still stood at £3,465. The inflated congregations of wartime Epsom finally disappeared. The church life took on a more normal appearance again. For a considerable number of years, the Society had to fight hard to maintain itself and its witness, against the background of an increasingly secularised population. Church loyalties, including Sunday worship, in the ‘twenties and early ‘thirties, were the living tradition then as now, of only a fraction of the people. Churches everywhere had suffered grievously in addition, however, from the appalling loss of the flower of the nation’s manhood during the holocaust of the war: things could never be the same again. But the work and witness of EMC was tackled by a succession of ministers who knew their job and did it faithfully. If theirs seemed to be largely a “holding action” they did it well. If no spectacular success attended their efforts, there was never the remotest re-emergence of the talk about “closure” with which the young Rev. Barrett had been greeted back in 1908.
During the ministry of the Rev. Ernest Odell, starting in 1927, the church installed its minister in the present delightful manse at 29 West Hill Avenue, which has brought joy and blessing to every EMC minister and his family. In the same year the Scouts started and by 1930 the Camp-Fire Girls and the Bluebirds (see Footnote2). In September 1931 the Rev. Arthur Gregory was offering congratulations to Scoutmaster Geoffrey Harwood on his marriage to the Cub mistress, Miss Hartley. In 1932 Methodist Union, the word “Wesleyan” appeared for the last time in the Monthly Notes. “I am not sure how I shall like the change” wrote Mr Gregory, “but I am sure that no one would be more pleased at it than John Wesley himself.” In 1933 we find reference to the visit of a Cambridge Fellowship Group team – who were to produce deep effects upon the spiritual life of the Church.
In 1934 we note that a young couple called Tavender were welcomed on their arrival at EMC. In the same year the new organ was installed. In 1935 a band of volunteers visited “several hundred new houses”, inviting people into the fellowship of the Church. The Church was deepening its family life and growing up whilst relinquishing nothing of its youthful vigour. On the contrary, by the time the 21st Birthday Celebrations were held in February/March 1935, the gifted young minister of Epsom could write “We rejoice today in a steadily growing Church.”
The 21st Anniversary Public Meeting was addressed by a dynamic young man who was setting Methodism and the larger world beyond by the ears. His name was Donald Soper (of Islington and Tower Hill) said the handsomely produced programme.) The EMC minister who invited him has also had a finely distinguished career within the ranks of the ministry. How fitting it is that we should be celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the Church during the very year when Methodism invests that same minister with her highest honour – the Presidency of the Conference. The Rev. Frederic Greeves has travelled far since his Epsom days.
He tells us modestly that he doesn’t recall ‘any staggering events’ during his ministry here. Perhaps – the 21st apart – this is true but what did in fact happen during those years was the deep strengthening of the Church fellowship. During the ministry of his predecessor – the Rev. Arthur Gregory – the foundation had been firmly laid. One present member of the Church remembers the dynamic effect, for her, of the visit of the Cambridge Group team (in which a future Oxford professor called Charles Coulson played a vigorous part) and its after-effects. “There was a real revival”, she writes, “eyes were opened and souls brought to God. It was a wonderful time of awakening among young people and perhaps Mr Gregory remembers it still.”
Frederic Greeves built upon this foundation. “We concentrated”, he says “on fellowship, both in Groups and in other forms of personal contact.” New beginnings were made in youth work. The ‘Methodians’ (“the strange name was invented in my house by young members of the football team” says Mr Greeves!) began their career. Above all – “it was caring for needy people – in South Wales and especially the folk whom we brought each year from London for a day on Epsom Downs – which began to teach us all that a church must be a caring church.
When the Greeves arrived, the church had something of a reputation – unjustified, as he thought – for being aloof and cold. It is a criticism from which few, if any churches escape and sometimes is levelled by people who unconsciously want to justify their abstention from its disciplines and involvement. There is no doubt that EMC’s increasing reputation over these last two decades as a warmly caring church, owes a good deal to the ministry of this year’s President. The annual outing of inner Londoners to Epsom Downs had started in 1936 with two ‘bus-loads’ of children from Deptford. (In Jubilee Year, the enterprise will have been going for over a quarter of a century.) In 1937 children from the Coloured Men’s’ Institute in Victoria Dock Road visited us. In 1938 old folk started to come year by year instead of children, first from Clerkenwell, then from Camberwell and (following a visit from the Rev. Reuben Skinner) in later years, from Camden Town Mission. This annual event really symbolises the way in which, along so many avenues, Epsom Methodist Church people attempt, in partnership, to make genuine friendship real to those beyond their immediate orbit.
During the centenary occasion in 1940 Epsom Methodist Church remembered its history and braced itself to meet the fateful years to come. By pastoral work of a high order, the minister held the church together’ during those fearful and disruptive years. We find JWW (Rev Jack Waterhouse) appealing successfully in 1941 for homes to be opened as ‘Centres of Fellowship’ at which the family life of the Church could be nourished and maintained. In 1942 we find the Youth Club starting – ‘to foster the interests of Church and community and to co-operate in the Government Service of Youth Scheme.’ In Jubilee Year, the Club celebrates its 21st Birthday – and many will recall the succession of splendid youth leaders to whom the Church owes so much. The Youth Club down the years has been used of God as a great instrument of Christian friendship and evangelism amongst hundreds of teenagers. Together with the other youth organisations of the Church, Men’s Forum and the ‘Young Mothers’ Guild’ it certainly offers the greatest opportunities we have for reaching out beyond the boundaries of church-associated families to the vast community beyond, which it is our privilege to serve.
We note that in 1943 the organ was out of commission for two weeks for a complete overhaul! The Monthly Notes had shrunk to a single sheet and continued so for a few years to come but Mr Wigner still told all readers month by month to apply to him for permission to use our rooms – even in the very issue which carried the news of the wrecking of the premises by flying-bomb! This leads straight on to the most disastrous event in EMC’s World War II history. It occurred in the early hours of Monday July 3rd 1944. Mr Waterhouse wrote an account at the time:
“The first flying-bomb was launched against the London area on Thursday night, June 15th 1944. During the next few weeks, the attacks became quite intense …. On the night of Sunday July 2nd there was a constant stream of flying-bombs”. Finally, at 4.40 am Mr Waterhouse heard the thunderous explosion of a bomb which seemed to him to have landed near the church. He jumped on his cycle and pedalled fast from West Hill Avenue. “My first anxiety,” he wrote “was for the safety of our two Fire Watchers at the church, Miss Jessie Cook and Mrs Ina Northcott who were on duty. I rode over a sea of glass. When I turned the corner of Ashley Road, I found ….. the great block of flats known as Ashley Court, adjoining our field, had been hit. The front was a pile of rubble and somewhere under the rubble blazed a fire …. Partly by it’s light and the first dim light of dawn, I looked at our church. The building seemed a shell only …. the windows, the doors, much of the roof was gone …. the masonry round the windows had disappeared …
I made my way round to the vestry and was amazed to find there an electric light burning.” In the vestry was Miss Jessie Cook, unharmed but imprisoned. Mrs Northcott (who was a nurse) had climbed out of a window and was giving first aid to the injured.
“I cannot speak too highly” he goes on “of the work which Mr and Mrs Thomas, the caretakers, did during ensuing days and weeks. They started to clear up in the same manner as they would after a Guild Party” (what must the Guild have been like in those days?) “and were never dismayed. We were all greatly helped on the first day by a party of some twenty Canadian soldiers who turned up, out of the blue, and worked like navvies on our behalf ….. In the evening crowds gathered outside in Ashley Road. I chalked up a notice: “Hitler may destroy our buildings but never our faith!” which many saw and read.
Members of the Youth Club arrived in large numbers that evening and gave help. Night after night, for weeks afterwards, they toiled on and showed their true loyalty to the church. We made doors out of splintered wood … frames for the windows of the Lower Hall … Immediately after the bombing, we had generous offers of hospitality from the Congregational Church, the Parish Church and Christ Church … We accepted the first offer from our friends of the Congregational Church. For one month we had united services with them, in an atmosphere of great friendliness … on Sunday August 6th my last Sunday in Epsom we returned to our own building, holding our services in the School Hall”
The church had passed through the Valley of the Shadow.
The burden had been gloriously carried once again.
Now, another minister arrived, whose gifts were splendidly matched to the hour. John Blamey, married a month earlier, came to Epsom in the prime of his manhood. His dynamic leadership laid down a pattern of advance lasting to the present time. The church girded itself for the opportunities of the post-war world. Methodist Class Meetings, still the sinews of our church’s inner strength, are a living memorial to the energetic strategy of this ambassador for Christ. When he was called so suddenly to higher service in the autumn of 1962 on the very day he was due to address the Men’s Forum – (another memorial of his ministry here), there were many grieving hearts among us. Our affectionate prayers went out for Marjorie Blamey and her three daughters, who were all born in Epsom. We rejoice to know with what splendid courage they have met their so sore loss.
“The girls and myself send the Epsom Methodist Church our greetings as it celebrates its Golden Jubilee. We pray that the work and witness of the Church in Epsom will continue to grow from strength to strength. Marjorie Blamey”
One outward sign of the Epsom Methodist Church ‘forward movement’ came early in 945, when after a visit from Mrs Oliver Hornabrook, “a leading member of the newly formed Women’s Fellowship of the Methodist Church”, our branch of the W.F. was formed. It continues to make an outstanding contribution to the life of the church. Many hundreds of women know what they owe to the stimulus of the meetings week by week. It is particularly good to record the way in which the “W.F.” and the older “W.W.” have allied so happily: the ‘Women’s Work’ monthly meeting gearing in with the W.F., each deriving help and encouragement from the other. ‘W.W.’ has raised over £1,600 for the overseas work of the church during the last ten years – a fact which speaks volumes.
It is significant to read in Monthly Notes for 1947, of what is called there the “ferment” in the life of the church. New opportunities, problems, attitudes, ideas, jostled for pride of place and clamoured for attention. One innovation was short-lived – the ‘Ashley Society’ representing a brief marriage of the Guild with the Men’s Forum and ending with a judicial separation lasting until the present day! Another, the remarkable revival of the Class Meeting system proved to be a Godsend, destined not only to be the means whereby Epsom Methodists honoured their own distinctive church tradition and pursued their spiritual quest together, but also – how immensely significant over these latter crowded years – the means whereby the expanding Church was saved from becoming a mere crowd without any real sense of personal ‘belonging’.
The Class Meetings have helped Epsom Methodist Church. as much as any single factor to become a true family, with personal friendships nourished within the fellowship of each Class, meeting monthly in the cheerful setting of individual homes. Another outreach was represented by the new Sunday School started at Ruxley Lane in the summer of 1948. From then until now, Epsom Methodist Church. volunteers have taken their place on the staff and added much to the School’s life and work. So expansive had the life of the church become that when Jack Kaye arrived in 1950, he wrote ruefully in October – “If the meetings we have together continue at the same rate, and for the same length of time, I shall have passed out of this world in about six months from now!” (We seem to hear his successors muttering – ‘You can say that again!’)
Happily the forecast proved wrong, even if the cri de coeur went unheeded! In the next few years church membership was to rise dramatically. The Methodians sustained a vigorous life alongside the re-organised Youth Clubs. The church altered its weekly programme to enable one night to be reserved as Sunday School Training Evening for the staff engaged on this skilled craft.
Other enterprises are equally symbolic of this outward look during the early fifties. The substantial help sent for instance, in cash, food and clothing to Pasto Henze of St Andrew’s Church, Lubeck, Germany, was evidence of the church’s concern at the pitiable plight of fellow Methodist and other destitute folk, in that part of Germany. (Jack Kaye recalls a Communion offering of £100 for this purpose). We find the church – spurred by Mr Hartley – taking seriously the plight of aged Methodist ministers too old to have joined the State pensions scheme and retiring on slight pensions after having served the Church for a lifetime. Mr Hartley is still involved with our continuing efforts for this Auxiliary Fund.
Also in 1953, we find the Ebbisham Hall services begun as an attempt to reach out to those “without”. Special services in church too are recalled at which young people surrendered their lives to Christ in moving fashion. The ‘Eleven Plus’ began, as “an integral part of our Senior Department” and has continued its boisterous life to the present time, as the ‘Junior Club’. Epsom Methodist Church. also gave impetus to the newly started cause at Gt. Tattenhams (transferred from Burgh Heath in 1953), the Epsom Methodist Church. minister being charged with the pastoral oversight of the new cause.
In September 1955, the visit one Sunday of a certain Rev Leonard Barnett of the Youth Department was very properly overshadowed by the far more significant meeting four days earlier of the whole Society, called to consider the plans of a reformed Trust to cope with the future of a church now bulging at the seams. (Shades of the past!). Hundreds of young people were thronging grossly inadequate premises. What was to be done? Some were for a larger church, remembering that the present building was positively intended, when built, to serve only in a temporary capacity, until such time as a church proper could be erected. No, said others, the age of large churches is over for good.
Better accommodation is needed first in which mid-week work among older and younger can proceed apace without cramping restrictions. Our present sanctuary is big enough. The Chapel Affairs Department came down decisively on the side of the latter view and so it was decided. Epsom Methodist Church. now stands possessed of the finest hall in Epsom – the envy of outside bodies who long to use it, together with a car park equally envied by every non-Methodist car owner in the Borough and beyond! The hall is complete with stage, modern kitchen and smaller rooms. The plan also included a well built flat for a resident caretaker – another urgent necessity.
It was resolved to make a great initial Gift Day effort during the last autumn of Mr Kaye’s ministry. For the first time, minister and church treasurer sat from 7 am to 7 pm in the ‘elephant’ (a street repair ten) outside the church. The Gift Day raised £1,370 in cash and £4,700 in promises – a vast encouragement to all. In the queue of six waiting with their gifts at 7 am, was the roadman responsible for the stretch of Ashley Road including our church – a symbol of the friendly interest taken in Epsom Methodist Church both then as now by a host of unknown friends.
In 1956 a three day Fair raised a further £1,350 and thereafter the annual Gift Day was agreed to be the regular opportunity for special giving. Right through Cyril Davey’s ministry and concluding with the first autumn of the present minister, the ‘elephant’ together with church treasurer Alfred Tavender – that epitome of calm faith and optimism – were to become inseparably associated in Epsom Methodist Church minds with occasions on which the generosity of the church was abundantly demonstrated again and again.
By 1957 for instance, a Building Fund Bulletin reported that £5,300 had been raised in 2 years and that local promises amounted to £4,000 more – a wonderful start towards the £18,000 needed. In 1958, after several initial difficulties, the Trust thankfully handed over the architectural planning of the new premises to its secretary, Mr Bill Ward (who had replaced Mr Parkinson in 1951). The hall, the flat and later, the beautiful new transept to the church – are Mr Ward’s design and the church will remain forever indebted to his professional skill and artistry exercised in the church’s service.
In February 1959 Mr A Hartley laid the Foundation of the new hall and in June of that year, Mrs Gladys Ward officially opened the door of the completed building. There was a day of even greater rejoicing in September 1960 when it was announced both hall and flat had been paid for.
But the living church had been growing likewise. From 1956 onwards, the Rev Cyril Davey had been adding a valuable contribution to its widening ministry. Many today testify to the fact that of all our services the monthly midweek Communion is the one which means most to them in terms of spiritual blessing. We gladly recall this tradition as one inaugurated by Cyril Davey. Likewise, in 1958 we find him starting a ministry of personal counselling which continues with real though necessarily private impact, until the present time. ‘Monday night in the vestry’ has been a blessing, we venture to think, both for minister and people alike; a place and a time at which his undivided care can be given as freely as it is called for. There is rarely a Monday night but that the minister is not actively at work for most of the time allotted.
Just before Mr Kaye left and throughout Mr Davey’s ministry, a new phrase began to mean increasingly much at Epsom Methodist Church – ‘Friends of St Ebba’s’. Formed in 1956 “our own church was quick to support” the new venture as the Monthly Notes recorded – and has been faithful in continuing to support this piece of voluntary caring for the patients and visiting relatives at one of the great hospitals ringing Epsom. The annual Christmas Gift Service, at which something like 600 gifts are brought for subsequent distribution to several local hospital, is another obvious symbol of sympathy and friendship.
In 1960 began yet another enterprise associated with the Ockenden Venture – that post-war adventure of faith aiming to provide a good education and stable environment for specially-gifted but stateless children from the homes of Nazi victims. Ockenden has now brought four hundred and ninety-five children from refugee camps of nine different nationalities. Omer Gigovic (a Yugoslav Muslim boy of 11) and Ruth Ploetz (an Estonian Protestant girl of 15 who had lived her entire life in refugee camps and orphanages of Belgium and Germany) are two lively young ‘Ockenden’ people who, through the concern of Epsom Methodist Church folk contributing at the rate of £300 a year towards their upkeep, are being given the chance in life which would otherwise have been denied them. Friends who have met Omer and Ruth on their frequent holiday visits to Epsom Methodist Church homes will have seen the result of this piece of contemporary Christian caring.
It is all of a piece with much more of the Church’s life and work. With the all-night hike for instance, of the Youth Club in 1961, from Holborn to Epsom pushing two barrel-organs and collecting £100 for Famine Relief on the way; with the share which Epsom Methodist Church annually takes in the Council of Churches’ house-to-house collection during Christian Aid Week; with similar efforts on Princess Elizabeth Day; with the ward services held month by month in the District Hospital (and formerly at Ewell Park Hospital) and sustained faithfully for several years; and with the special house-to-house ‘Invitation to Church’ effort which took place in 1961.
The ‘Church family’ grew again throughout Cyril Davey’s ministry and memorable as many of the Ebbisham Hall services were, they were hardly the final answer to a church compelled to invest in a regularly needed ‘church full’ board. Good for morale admittedly – but only in some ways and to some, an almost irresistible temptation to ‘ease off’. What could be done?
The answer took shape in the new transept of the Church, planned in 1959 and opened in November 1961. Fears that such an addition might mar the sanctuary were proved groundless. The skill of architect and builder combined to construct room for ninety-nine more worshippers in such a way that the simple beauty of the church is enhanced rather than diminished. The contemplated new financial burden – some £5,000 – was faced with goodwill. The traditional Gift Day was sustained and it was the present minister’s joy to share during the autumn of 1962 in the last of the ‘elephant’ series, during which the final gifts necessary to shift the remaining burden of debt were received. It was the end of a great chapter of sustained giving by many hundreds of people.
Another significant event of 1962 was the switching of the Sunday School session from afternoon to morning, enabling families to share together the early stages of morning worship. Then the children leave for their separate teaching session. Begun as an experiment, this change has clearly come to stay.
It involves sacrifice on the part of teachers debarred from morning worship, but it is a fruitful sacrifice which helps children to become at home in the family worship of the church and has brought, together with the monthly Parade Service, a surge of new life. The church is often full to overflowing on Parade Sunday mornings.
The evening congregation does not yet fill the seats available and when the children have left, space often remains, even in the morning. Here is a challenge to Epsom Methodist Church 1964 whose committed members – let alone our many scores of adherents – would more than fill every seat were they all to attend on any one occasion. Do those empty seats represent a general feeling that ‘once on Sunday’ is the right pattern of worship for Christians in our day? The question must be put alongside the fact that Sunday worship is still probably the best regular way in which members, inviting those ‘outside’ to share worship with them, can fulfil their privilege as evangelists and witnesses to the living Lord.The glorious Gospel burden now handed to us is a rich bestowal at Epsom Methodist Church. Our membership stands at over 600. Our Sunday gifts in all average something like £85. Our overseas missionary outcome, that telling index to a church aware of it’s responsibilities in ‘the field which is the world’, has risen from £669 in 1956 to £1,067 in 1962. The Young Mother’s Guild, the Men’s Forum, the Guild, the Sunday School (with its Tuesday Training Fellowship), the Youth Club, the Women’s Fellowship, the “W.W.”, the Junior Club, the Scouts, Cubs, Guides and Brownies, the Church Fellowship, the Badminton Club, the Drama Group, the ’63 Club (formed in 1963 for the 18’s to 25’s as the contemporary equivalent of the ‘Methodians’) flourish every one and hundreds of our members meet regularly in fellowship at one or other of two dozen Class Meetings.
Facts like these represent a vast total of sacrificial service on the part of many scores of church members, young and old.
We give God thanks for it.
We come to celebrate our Golden Jubilee well aware, however, that the problems of success are as trickily subtle as those of failure and determined not to be deluded into that complacency which spells disintegration. So it is that our Golden Jubilee takes two vital and related forms.
We are to install a new organ, badly needed, which will be without doubt, a splendid help to the worship of the Church for many years to come. The trustees have also resolved to redecorate the interior of the Church as an additional visual commitment of the Jubilee.
Of more significance are the plans of the Leaders’ Meeting, the members of which down the years, have often earnestly debated ways and means of effective community witness. Even as this booklet is being prepared, the Leaders’ Meeting is energetically seeking to sponsor “Operation Outreach” by which it is hoped that a great number of Epsom homes will be visited over the autumn and winter of 1963-64 with a personal invitation to share in our church life, particularly through the special series of Jubilee Services. Music, drama, question-and-answer, personal witness, are among the techniques we are planning to use. In “Under Fire” sessions we shall focus upon the stubborn difficulties modern man encounters on his journey towards a living faith. We shall strive to present the whole Gospel and seek to win new disciples for Christ. This is our prime job: this is the way – the only way – in which any living church can worthily celebrate a chapter of its unfinished story.
And so the continuing and glorious burden first laid upon the hearts of our forbears, falls now upon us. Our disordered, beleaguered civilisation still gropes for the Living Way, the unshakable Truth, the Life that is Life indeed. Christ alone, we joyfully affirm, is the Redeemer of men from their sins and fears; the Light that alone dispels the darkness of pride and prejudice; the Lord who beckons us along the secure yet adventurous way of Christian living. He alone is the clue to reality, the meaning of life, the Word made flesh, the Saviour of the world. Our immense privilege is to seek first His Kingdom, proclaim Him Lord of all and point to the exhilarating truth of a Gospel which forgives, heals, restores and makes men new creatures in Christ.