New Year Memories
Whilst January is traditionally a quiet month at Bethel, giving us all a rest and allowing us time to meditate upon God’s nearness and blessings February and March with the promise of Spring not far away usually sees the renewal of energy amongst Bethelites and plans are made for the year ahead. The minutes of the Sunday school teachers meeting in March 1935 recorded that the teachers were contemplating holding the Sunday School treat ‘at a Distance (e.g. Kinver)’ via Charabanc. Unfortunately the Midland Red Omnibus Company was unable to provide the transport required to accommodate the 250 participants in one go so, with regret this plan had to be abandoned. The treat was eventually held in one of Mr Donald Pardoe’s fields at Lutley, it was agreed that everyone would meet at the Wynall Co-Op and all 250 of them would proceed from there, it must have been quite a sight. Many years later Bethelites were still planning coach trips, March 1989 was a particularly puzzling affair when two coach loads left Bethel for a mystery trip. Jacqui Shilton won the prize for being first to guess that Hereford was the destination. There was a sub agenda for the trip in that Bethel needed to fund a PA system to complement the more contemporary style of worship that was happening on a Sunday morning, the proceeds from the trip meant that the money was raised in full. So thank you God that we can enjoy the beautiful music that helps us to focus upon you in our worship.
As a self-funding church, Bethel’s finances always have to be closely attended to, even so the generosity of God has always been evident at Bethel even through the hardest times. The Bethel Mission ‘income received’ book from 1890 kept by the Superintendent Mr Ernest Cox, shows that in the couple of years since it had been formed the society had managed its affairs faithfully. When it was decided to formally appoint a financial committee on 3rd February 1890, the book showed a balance of over £4. In the years to follow the society faced many challenges in order to remain and worship in Lye. They had to borrow enough money to purchase and maintain two subsequent premises, plus, instead of saving resources they often lent generously to the local community, so it must have been a wonderful moment when at the Annual General Meeting of February 1941 it was announced that the for the first time in over 50 years the Chapel was free of debt!!
As is so often the case life can be bittersweet, in the midst of celebrating their solvency, Bethel also mourned the loss one of its founders Mr Albert Perks. He had been Bethel’s first secretary and still held that office at the time of death in spring 1941. In addition to all this Britain was still at war with Germany and the threat to life was ever present. In March 1941 the committee voted to allow the Firewatchers of Hill Street to use a room for their meetings, whilst the secretary was charged with the task of investigating insurance against air raid damage.
Spring is traditionally a time of new beginnings in the church. March 1990 saw the dawn of a new Bethel outreach, Waterhole. This youth club, started by Steve Bloomer opened its doors on 19th March, the prayer had been for twenty young people to attend and on that very first evening nineteen youngsters turned up and stayed rising to twenty-four the week after. Waterhole continued for many years, playing football and pool, going ice skating playing on the computers and just enjoying each other’s company as well as eating Bethel out of house and home on a Monday night. Waterhole continued for over 20 years in that format, but as with all things, times change and interests move on, young people have so many more pulls on their time now, so presently Waterhole is taking a break.
Every year, as January fades into February Bethel’s events calendar seems to fill almost within the space of a few days. For any large church, the logistics of ensuring everyone is informed of everything is a monumental task .However, in the early days of Bethel this was not a problem. Although it was a large church, nearly all of the Bethel church family lived and worked in Lye thus seeing each other on a daily basis; rather, it was hard to keep something quiet! In the 1920’s a Bethel magazine was launched, taking the form of reviewing recent events and news. By the late 1930’s members were not living and working in such close proximity so an effective means of communication had to be devised. The problem was solved by asking all members to contribute 3d ( 1p) every three months toward the printing of a Society plan which would then be distributed by Alfred Worton and George Perks to all society members. The Quarterly plan and the magazine eventually merged and was published for several decades. There may have been a puritanical streak in one of the magazine’s editorial staff for the minutes of 1938 show that it was proposed that advertising was banned from the magazine. The magazine has reappeared over the years in various guises, it seems God refuses to give up on this idea!!!
That we are now able to publish ‘in house’ is largely due to the wonderful office facilities we have at Bethel. The office is the hub of the administration for all the Bethel departments. We are always humbled by the generosity of God and never take for granted all that we share at Bethel. A church as large and busy as Bethel needs an excellent administrative staff (with which we are blessed) and the equipment and resources to enable the staff to do an effective job, these things Bethel now has in abundance. Yet, the Bethel office is a relatively new innovation in the Bethel story. In February 1990 the editor of the Bethel Magazine (Glenda Harvey) proudly announced that as a result of successful appeals for donations of equipment, the Bethel Office was now in working order complete with filing cabinets, desk and a rather smart swivel chair courtesy of Judy Winning! We were still hoping for a word processor and photocopier all of which the Lord later provided through the generosity of his listening faithful servants. The office was manned (or womanned) every Monday morning. Further excitement was to follow a month later when, as a result of various fundraising events including a coffee evening hosted by Wendy Weston, the telephone was installed.
Traditionally one of the first events in the start of the New Year at Bethel is the Sunday School Prize Giving. At the beginning of the twentieth century books were not as freely available as they are today and each book was a valued possession to the recipients. On February 17th 1929, 200 prizes were given out in recognition of attendance throughout 1928. We are fortunate that families have donated to the archives some of the Sunday School Prizes of their loved ones. The earliest Prize we have was presented for good attendance to Beatrice Watkins in 1906.
It is such a joy to see all the wonderful young people, who are God’s promise to us that there is hope for the future of His world, receive their books. Over the years children have chosen books or had books chosen for them, in the early 1930’s children were allowed to request particular books which were obviously prized by all family, so much so that the 1935 Bethel Magazine announced that it had been observed that ‘children had been asking for books that were of no interest to them- being obviously for parents or older members of the family’ so for that year the choice of books was limited to those approved by teachers as being suitable for children!!’ During the Second World War acquiring suitable books was becoming a real problem, ships which normally carried paper pulp were being requisitioned for essential supplies and paper was in short supply and in 1944 the decision was taken that Prize Giving could not he held that year. On a happier note the February 1945 magazine was anticipating the imminent end to the war and expressing the hope that paper supplies would soon improve in order that children may receive books in 1946. I am happy to report is exactly what happened.
Throughout the years Bethel has been entrusted with the precious privilege of being able to tell children about Jesus. The Prize is a symbol of Bethel’s thanks and appreciation to each child for their allowing us this joy. In 1991 it was decided to offer children the opportunity to choose their own book the week before Prize Giving. More recently the children are given a surprise book chosen specifically for them by their teachers.
In earlier times the books were given out class by class but nowadays it is in random order. As the children and young people go forward to receive their prizes it is wonderful to see each of those precious children and know they are safe in the care of Jesus. Thank you, God for blessing us with so many beautiful children to teach.
Bethel - Home of Song to Worship God at Easter time and always.
This is a newspaper cutting from 1982 and the report that goes with it starts: “For nearly 40 years, 74 year old Fred Dickens and his choir have been gathering in Lye.”
Since then, Bethel has continued to be the home for an Easter performance—usually of Stainer’s Crucifixion, but in more recent years we have risked “Olivet To Calvary” a few times too. The newspaper article also says “many of the choir have never missed a performance, and even the soloists - Cecil Drew (bass) and Herbert Bowen (tenor) have been the same for over twenty years.” Actually, we celebrated over 50 years of that marvellous combination of soloists.
Here is the photo of the choir at the 50th celebrations, in 1992 with the soloists at the front - Herbert Bowen on the left and Cecil Drew on the right. The editor of the 1992 magazine, Glenda Harvey states that the choir that particular year provided the ‘best shout of ‘Crucify’ so far! They earned their tea and hot cross buns that year.
Another couple of decades or so on, the Choral Society now makes a Christmas and Easter performance, and the legacy of music and choral singing given by Fred lives on.
For Christians the most holy festival of the year is Easter. The celebration is a roller coaster of emotions, from the happiness of Palm Sunday we go to sadness as we remember Jesus betrayed on Maundy Thursday then crucified on Good Friday.
Palm Sunday 1992 year was one to remember too, it had been decided to hold a joint afternoon service at which the children would march into church carrying banners and palm leaves whilst the choir sang ‘Makeway.’ They also sang several other songs including a ‘make-it-up-as-you-go-along’ song when the choir and keyboard briefly parted company! Happily they managed to coincide a little further on! Later in the week on Maundy Thursday Bethelites shared the deeply moving experience of eating a Passover meal as our Lord would have celebrated on the night before He died. The evening gave us a chance to look at the traditions and try authentic food and for many it was a rewarding and enlightening experience although there were some very funny faces pulled at the taste of the bitter herbs.
Celebrations often includes eating as a way of sharing and marking the occasion and Easter at Bethel is no exception as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of an eternal home with him in Heaven. In the 1990’s the Bethel church family often shared breakfast after Easter morning service. There were competitions for the young and the daft including in 1990 an egg decorating contest, Glenda thought she would romp to victory with her ‘Eggwina Currie’ but alas it was not to be. In 1993 we introduced the now traditional ‘Sonrise’ service at Wollescote Park. The distress caused by having to arrive at the park at some unearthly hour is forgotten when we see the world in the same light as those faithful women who went to tend the body of their Saviour that first Easter morning only to find that he was not there but risen.
April, brings the promise of lighter evenings and warmer days and optimism swells our hearts as we plan for the brighter days ahead. Earlier Bethelites felt this too, the magazine of April 1934 reported that Bethel Social and Sports Club was feeling very uplifted by the success of their efforts over the previous year to bring the tennis court (which used to be on the grass where the garden is now) up to standard as well as improving facilities for the other sports the club members took part in. They were looking forward to the prospect of enjoying the fruits of their labours in the fine weather to come.
The Bethel Organ Fund committee were also planning for the Spring season ahead, on 1st April 1936 organising a Sausage and Mash supper, using potatoes kindly donated by Mr Howard Homer and Mr W Mobberley. Their generosity did not go unappreciated, according to the April minutes there was not a morsel left. Apparently, a good night was had by all who partook, consuming 144lbs of potatoes and 25lbs of sausages between them!!! Their efforts were not in vain, we still enjoy the beautiful sounds of the prized reed organ.
This was followed a couple of weeks later by a concert in aid of the said fund. The records show that there were many people involved in the planning and execution of the Bethel concerts but I think Mr Fowkes and Mr Hill probably had the best fun being entrusted to operate the curtains! Bethel concerts seem to have been held in some renown, the minutes show regular requests from other groups for Bethel to help them produce their concerts, and one such request appears in the minutes for March 1936 when Bethel agreed to produce Two Gates Concert party.
Bethel Chapel building as we know it today, first opened its doors and invited everyone in for public worship on 2nd April 1900. Contrary to what could well be popular assumption the service was held on a Monday afternoon. Mr E Lucas presided and congratulated the fellowship upon their labours, for many of them had worked on the building in their spare time in order to reduce costs as much as possible. The sermon was taken from Acts 11: 19-21. Mr Lucas likened the founders of Bethel to those who had founded the first Christian church among the Gentiles, at Antioch, in that both were founded by:-
‘a few earnest men whose only qualification, and that a perfectly sufficient one, was that they had received the divine truth, and were constrained to give utterance to the faith that was in them.’
(County Express 7th April 1900)
The opening was followed by a public tea for 200 people and evening worship.
By 1940 the Second World War was overshadowing the life of all British citizens. The members of Bethel, like most of their compatriots, were determined to bring whatever comfort they could to the men fighting on the front lines. To this end, in April 1940 the secretary of the Bethel Comfort Fund was able to report that in the four months since its inception, Bethelites had sent 1400 cigarettes, 15lbs of chocolate, 14 tablets of pears soap, 2 dozen handkerchiefs, 1 dozen towels and 14 pairs of socks; and received numerous letters from the grateful recipients at the front.
For many years the words Sunday School, Spring and Anniversary were synonymous. As soon as Easter celebrations were over, teachers’ thoughts turned to songs and poems. May 1941 newsletter noted the excitement in Sunday School due to the nearness of the Anniversary, it reported that the girls who were in training for the service were diligently attending all the other local Anniversaries, the editor of the time suspected it was for purposes of comparison rather than piety! Enthusiasm to appear on the Platform was often high, in 1936 the Sunday School had to adopt a one child per family policy! whilst the May 1945 Magazine records more enthusiasm than ever for the Anniversary celebration, indeed, some very little volunteers were having to be discouraged from participation because it was felt the demands that three services in one day placed upon the child would be just too much for them, the tradition of three services continued right up until 1989.
For many people early Summer is time of happiness, enjoying the light evenings and being outdoors. Bethelites are no exception in taking advantage of the better weather and many summer activities traditionally take place out of doors. In July 1936 the Sports and Social club were glad to announce their first win in three seasons. Their victory at Stevens Park against Timmis & Co seemed to surprise everyone. Seemingly the lads refused to give up even when all seemed lost, but with 7 wickets down for 37 runs, the last two men, Joe Dickens and Horace Kirton went in to bat and managed to save the day with the final score of 106 to 96. Such were the celebrations that a special victory supper was arranged for the heroic eleven.
The Sunday School movement which began in the late 18th century has its roots in the Non-Conformist Churches. Initiated by Robert Raikes, the Sunday Schools were run by lay people and taught poor children to read using the Bible as their text. To honour Robert Raikes, it was traditional during July for Sunday Schools to take part in local ‘demonstrations’ (a sort of march) which would have been accompanied by a marching band. In the drab early twentieth century industrial town that was Lye it must have made an exciting and colourful spectacle. As the largest Sunday School in Lye and Wollescote Bethel traditionally marched at the head carrying a rather splendid banner. All the demonstrators would be treated to a tea held at the ‘Oxpiece’ now known as the Sandon Road side of the Pedmore Hill Estate. The demonstrations are a thing of the past but the lovely banner remains. It can be seen in Bethel as one enters the Church facing to the right proclaiming the motto ‘God Bless our Sunday School’
Summer treats have always been a highlight in the calendar for all Bethel groups. During the 1930’s it seemed the Mothers Class had got themselves very well organised as there are reports every year in the magazine of their annual day out. Rhyl and Porthcawl seemed to be the most popular destinations when upward of fifty mothers and their friends would set off to enjoy sun, sea and sand followed by high tea, entrusting their little darlings to the tender care of those left behind. For the Sunday School children and staff there was the ‘field’ treat which always included lots of organised games followed by a tea which included cake and sweets. The children who participated in the anniversary also had a charabanc trip, and in the 1930’s when private cars were only for the very wealthy, travelling further afield must have seemed a very exciting prospect. So much so, that there are reports in the July 1935 magazine of some children not eligible for the anniversary trip trying to buy their way on the charabanc! A definite ‘no no.’ During the war years, life became very austere and Bethelites had to be creative as they maintained traditions. One example was the decision to merge the Anniversary and Sunday School treats. In July 1940 the treat was to be held in Stourport, however, rationing presented a problem when it came to providing the treat tea. Always looking to their faith for inspiration Bethelites followed the example of the early Apostles, everyone pooled their meagre resources and it seems the sum total was greater than its’ parts for everyone was able to enjoy buttered rolls and sugar in their tea!
Towards the end of the last century the Sunday school expanded rapidly and the anniversary treat once again became quite a big affair, quite often several coaches leaving in convoy. In June 1989 it was destination Alton Towers, adults and children alike enjoying the delights ranging from the sedate ‘cups and saucers’ ideal for those like myself of a sensitive disposition, to the thrills of the ‘white knuckle’ rides. In June 1990 we visited Chester Zoo unfortunately, the weather was not so kind that year causing many Bethelites to have a prolonged look around the lovely warm tropical house. Conversely, June 1992 saw arguably one of the hottest Bethel treats when happily Southport beach turned out to be the ideal destination for such a lovely day.
Finally we cannot forget that summer perennial, the Summer Fair, formerly known as the Garden Party. Whilst some of the old favourites remain such as the Darts, Bottles and Stationery, some stalls are no longer with us. The account book of 1963 lists Eastern Trumpet and Spanish Dancers fees under Garden Party expenses, whilst in the summer of 1961 Iris Kendrick painstakingly counted currants so that patrons of the Garden Party could play (yes, you’ve guessed it) ‘How many currants in the cake.’ Bring them all back I say! Summer Fayre this year is on July 4th 12 noon, so please all come along and join in the fellowship and fun as we celebrate the Son in the sun.
The Bethel Summer Fayre is a very renowned event in the Lye locality. It is a happy occasion where we are all able to greet old friends and catch up on news as well as having the pleasure of welcoming new faces in to God’s House. In the history of Bethel, the term ‘Fayre’ can be regarded as a fairly new innovation. The main Summer event previously went under the rather sedate and lovely title of ‘The Garden Party.’
Before any outdoor event at Bethel, our Almighty God is petitioned well in advance for the blessing of fair weather and our prayers are faithfully answered. July 11th 1987 was no exception to this, and the sunny day had attracted a large crowd. That particular year had a fancy dress theme which included all the stall holders. The winner of the fancy dress competition was a little girl dressed as a cat— none other than our own Helen Baynham née Lees. Funny to think this year Helen will be dressing her own children for the fancy dress competition!!
The fancy dress theme for stall holders resurfaced in July 2000, the centenary year of the Chapel building we all love. The theme of the entire fayre was Victorian including the grand opening of the event by no less a personage than Queen Victoria accompanied by her beloved Prince Albert (alias Jim and Judith Dickens). Many families took advantage of the Victorian photographer and had their portrait taken in the Victorian parlour alongside the traditional potted aspidistra. The fancy dress competition has been recently re-introduced and is always well supported. To see the children all looking so proud in their wonderful costumes is always a joy.
Obviously as well as being a very happy social events, the Fayres are a valuable fundraiser and help towards the maintenance of Bethels’ ministries within the Lye community. Transportation has become a major factor in all the Bethel clubs and societies, whether it be taking the children out and about, collecting the bids for the various socials including Cornerstone and Sunday evenings or the many other myriad journeys it makes. These all require the services of a minibus, the first of which was snapped up in June 1989 by our dear Pastor Jill, always a girl with an eye for a bargain. A sweet old blue bus, it only required a bit of work (well a lot of work actually) to make it roadworthy. With the devoted expertise of Mike Bruton it was confidently predicted that the said bus would be fit to make its inaugural trip to Greenbelt in August with a full contingent of Bethelites plus camping equipment. Since then, the demands upon the minibuses have increased, thus it has been, that more than once, the proceeds from the Fayre have gone towards purchasing a minibus— this years’ being no exception now that Reggie the red bus has departed this mortal coil to be replaced by a younger and needless to say more expensive model. We are grateful to our God who has blessed Bethel so much that as a Church, we have so many users, that we need two buses and that God has duly provided them.
Beat the goalie, skittles, Steve Bloomer in a starring role as Aunt Sally braving the wet sponges, Duck the Maiden, guess the name or birthday of a cute doll or toy you name it or hook a bag. Over the years, Bethel has offered all the fun of the fayre. Alternatively you can relax with a cup of tea and a piece of cake or dine like a Duchess on a hot pork sandwich followed by Strawberries and Cream, the choice is yours. But, I know where the children will head for first— the bouncy castle!
In the early 1990’s the records show that for a few years instead of a fayre, there were events such as coffee evenings and sponsored activities. The July 1992 newsletter records a child’s dream come true, when all the Bethel children’s groups were invited to take part in a sponsored bounce the week before the Summer Fayre. Needless to say it was a roaring success and raised £400. What an excellent way to make money out of inflation!!
Summer Wedding Season
People get married at all sorts of days and months and times, but the Summer is certainly the most popular. We started being licensed for marriages here at Bethel in 1915 and the first entry in the register is the marriage of George Harry Hill and Mary Ann Cartwright, 21st of November. Harry Hill was the president here at Bethel for many years and lived to be 100 years old.
Just a few other notable entries of well-known Bethelites include
- Wesley Perrins and Mary Evans, 30th of July 1932
- Alfred Dickens and Gwendoline Annie Dublin 20th July 1935 (Alan’s parents)
- Geoffrey Robert Hill and Olive Margery Keen 16th April 1949 (Glenda’s parents)
- Herbert Harry Kendrick and Iris Worton 10th April 1950
- James Charles Dickens and Judith Ann Harper 11th June 1955
- Alan John Dickens and Ann Cartwright 25th September 1965
- Gerald Lewis Harvey and Glenda Alison Hill 5th April 1975
- Stephen Robert Bloomer and Sandra Elizabeth Floyd 18th April 1981
- Andrew Parkes and Sarah Bloomer 4th April 2012
I wonder who the next ones will be??????
If you got married here and wouldn't mind us looking at the photos - please let us have a copy.
The following has been submitted by Maggie Brookes under the title “Brides at Bethel” -
This is my mom and dad, Stan and Enid Hughes. Some people may remember them from attending Bethel many years ago, or from them owning a shop on the corner of Crabbe Street and King Street. Their wedding was here at Bethel on 8th January 1955. Sadly dad died in 1998 and mom on 8th January 2000 - yes, she died on what would have been their 45th wedding anniversary. I reckon she decided she’d have a better 45th wedding anniversary up there with those who’d already gone than she would lying in a body past it’s sell by date in a bed in Mary Steven’s Hospice.
The bridesmaid on the left is none other than our very own Iris Kendrick (Enid’s sister), and if anyone can recognise any of the other people, I would be very grateful if they would contact us, as I’d love to know who they are.
We are blessed at Bethel to see so many children entering the doors week after week and to have such a lively Sunday School with dedicated teachers. One hundred years ago the situation was no different with the superintendents register for1907 listing many scholars who attended every week without fail. A register was also taken of teachers who shared the same immaculate attendance record as their pupils. It is interesting to note that there was no such things as holidays hence the attendance never fluctuated throughout the year and the only reason for absence noted was ‘S’ for sickness. Newsletters from the late 1930’s demonstrate how things changed when teachers reported diminished numbers due to families being absent for their weeks summer holiday, hop picking!
In the days before the NHS, hospital treatment was a privilege and the poor relied upon the hospital committees fundraising effort to help towards their medical care. The minutes of August 18th 1926 record that the committee voted to loan the tea urns and tables to the Corbett Hospital Committee for their fundraising event, and that this loan would be free of all charge. The records show that Bethel was constantly lending their hard earned possessions to benefit other groups, which was very generous when one considers that this was at the beginning of the depression in Britain, there had been a general strike and work was often irregular. Furthermore the Bethel congregation still owed a considerable sum on the loan repayment for the Chapel building. Their cheerful willingness to put their Christian duty to their fellow humans before liquidating their debt was rewarded. The minutes of August 18th 1936 show that the society was in a position to repay £50.00 that month, which left a balance of £150.00, a further £50.00 was paid the following August.
For those amongst us who blame Global Warming for this Summer’s terrible weather, take heart in the fact that before we had even heard of the subject, Bethel folk in August 1939 were feeling rather fed up with the terrible rain they had been experiencing that Summer. The tennis club had to curtail its summer programme due to the inclement conditions. The Sunday School Treat was a bit of a wash out with cakes and tea providing the only consolation!!
The newsletters of the late 1980’s and early 90’s record that the Summer Fairs were often held in August. Our own Mrs Glenda Harvey was the newsletter editor for many years and in promoting the said Fair due to be held in August 1988 she promised ‘fun and fellowship for all, lots of side stalls and games, a bouncing castle for the littlies, a barbecue for the hungry and a raffle for the lucky!!’ as you can see only the date has changed, the tradition has remained!
As the 20th century progressed, August customarily became the month for holidays and outings and socials. Bethelites soon got into the swing of this convention. Outings became a Bethel family feature. Many of the August newsletters describe trips for the various groups, the Mothers class went to Porthcawl.
The younger people hired a charabanc and had fun at Church Stretton and Long Mynd, whilst the Sunday school children of 1947 visited Hartlebury Common for the day. The only disappointment for those pocket money laden children was ‘the lack of a shop and the ‘Hartlebury equivalent of ‘Ambrose’??’ (can anyone enlighten me?). To this day we celebrate the Summer as a church family with social events and just relaxing with each other grateful for the busy twelve months that have gone before and with pleasant anticipation to the impending Bethel Church cycle which is always heralded in by the beautiful celebration of Harvest. We thank God for His generosity and we remember, as did the earliest Bethelites, that He asks us to share this bounteousness with our brothers and sisters here in Lye and throughout the His world.
The great Autumn tradition in the Church calendar is the celebration of Harvest. The celebration of Harvest at Bethel has always been a joyful time of sharing. The magazines and Committee minutes from the 1930’s onwards tell of traditions which lasted for decades. Decorating the Church would often begin on the Friday, in readiness for the traditional Sunday Harvest services, followed by a public tea on the Monday.
The October 1938 minutes record that the charge for that year’s much anticipated public tea was a mere 6d (for those of you too young to be pre-decimal, 2½p!) Following the said feast was the high point of the evening, the ‘auction’. 1938 saw Mr Fred Dickens gamely agreeing to preside over the sale of the Harvest produce, with a good time being had by all. The Bethel archives seem to indicate that Harvest weekend celebrations continued throughout the war years, even when rationing was at it’s severest. The Harvest services thanking God for the food that was available in such austere times must have been very moving, proving that the Holy Spirit that appears when two or more are gathered in His name is stronger than any enemy’s efforts to destroy the fortitude of the people of Bethel and The Lye!.
The Harvest tradition was still in full swing in the 1980’s, and the November 1987 news-sheet recounts a particularly hectic Harvest weekend. Friday saw the Chapel being decorated with many floral arrangements, all having a harvest theme as well as the fabulously colourful fruit and vegetable displays, meant that the Chapel smelled as beautiful as it looked! Saturday was an open day for all who wished to view the wonderful things that were in God’s storehouse, whilst the Sunday School children sang their anniversary songs; it was all helped along by coffee and Madge Berry’s (mother of Pastor Jill) famous Welsh Cakes. Sunday Harvest services were followed by the Harvest tea and auction on Monday evening. The evening began quietly enough, but soon became rather noisy when the bidding commenced . The auctioneer, Mr James Dickens Esquire described each ‘lot’ in increasingly glowing terms. His eloquence inspired many to participate in some rather competitive bidding for many of the items!! The evening ended with many well fed and satisfied revellers and a healthy donation for the building fund to erect the entrance hall and kitchen that we all benefit from today, good result all round I say!!
In the 1990’s the tradition of celebrating Harvest as a church family continued with skittle evenings and barn dances. However, the Harvest service took on a new tradition when Bethel introduced the ‘gift tree.’ Symbolic of the ‘Tree of Life’ financial gifts are placed around this tree during the service, which are then donated to a designated charity each year in order that we may share our harvest a little further afield.
More Autumn Memories
Bethel Chapel has always considered itself the Church in the community and for the community. Enshrined in its traditions is the custom of reaching out into the local community in service and love. Mission is a Biblical command which Bethel feels called to obey. Indeed from its inception in1888 Bethel styled itself the Bethel Mission. The minute book of 1890 tells how in March 1890 the Bethel Mission decided to purchase two cottages in Pump Street for conversion into a Chapel building. It was at a subsequent meeting on 3rd June 1890 that Mr Amos Perrins proposed that the name be changed from Bethel Mission to Bethel Society; this was seconded by Mr A Wooldridge and passed unanimously. The Pump Street property required a lot of alteration which, in turn necessitated a lot of financial outlay. Never ones to shirk hard work, those first Bethelites stepped out in faith, they erected a new brew house, replaced windows and invested in a new broom. A stove to keep them all warm was the last big purchase before the Winter set in, and Autumn 1890 saw the Bethel Society happily settled in Pump Street doing God’s work in what was to be their home for the next ten years.
Whilst Bethel often runs Summer clubs and activities for all ages, September sees the start of the Bethel year. With Summer holidays finished, the Bethel community meets in full again with all the various groups starting up after the sporadic activities and attendance of the July and August months. Sunday School has always been typical of this pattern. For example, the Bethel magazine of October 1935 reported an increase in the numbers of children attending and was advertising a vacancy for an extra Sunday School teacher. The editor confidently predicted he would be overwhelmed with applications as there was of late a tendency for all the lady teachers to be ‘snapped up and married’ very soon after being appointed! We see this pattern again in the September 1897, with the newsletter reporting increased attendances resulting in the appointment of extra teachers to supplement the gifted and dedicated teachers already serving the Lord. Two of those teaching in 1987, Jacqui Shilton and Jane Hodges, still teach those precious little souls entrusted to Bethel and we thank the for their dedication. P.S. Both Jacq and Jane have been teaching now for well over 25 years!!) In addition to Sunday School, a new outreach was started in 1987, called ‘One Way’ Club, and as it was proving to be very popular, by the Autumn of 1987 it too was calling for volunteers to assist Jill and Jacqui (as well as the children) in the gluing, making and baking activities that went on each week (still do in fact), or even just willing hands to clear up after the gluing, making and baking!
September 1989 saw the launch of another new Bethel venture, the Playgroup. Initially started by Judy Winning helped by Wendy Weston and Anita Tollerton, the playgroup opened three mornings a week. October 1989 reports that after the first session which was an open day for children, parents and staff, the subsequent sessions were flourishing. In October 1991 Sandra Bloomer and Mal Hawker took on leadership of the playgroup, re-naming it Little Lambs. The first Lambs arrived late that year as term could not start until the end of October due to completion of what is commonly known as the ‘extension’ and the rest as they say is History!
Bethel considers it a privilege to welcome in the name of Jesus, all who step through it’s doors, but there are some whom we have not had the pleasure of welcoming, so following Jesus’ command to take the Good News to the people, Bethel joined forces with the Lye Churches in September 1989 and took Jesus to the people of Lye. The ‘Makeway’ marchers, resplendent with banners and PA system, sang their way from St Andrews Church in Wollescote via Pedmore Hill to Lye High Street. What started as 130 people plus many toddlers singing joyously in their pushchairs, swelled to over 200 by the time the open air celebration began outside Lye Church. The rain forecast for that day stayed away .
Autumn and Harvest are synonymous in the Church calendar, and in a few weeks, Bethel will celebrate this beautiful festival and as always the Chapel will look and smell wonderful. Every year at the beginning of October, whether in years of plenty or in the lean years such as times of economic depression or war, the Church is decorated as a symbol of our thanks for all our gracious God has provided. Records from 1939 show that despite the declaration of war between Britain and Germany and the uncertainty as to what lay ahead, the Harvest display of 1939 was a lovely as ever. The actual Harvest service was very well attended although not without drama, for the November 1939 magazine records that the preacher missed the bus and had to walk four miles in order to get to the service. Happily, although late, he managed to arrive in time to preach. To read of this level of commitment in order to share the Lord’s Word is quite humbling.
The picture below shows Bethel’s Harvest Festival 1915, and a copy of this picture was sent to all the Bethel lads who were away fighting in the First World War to remind them of all that they were fighting for and how loved and missed they were.
As we thank our God this Harvest for all that we have and for the joy that having Him involved in our lives brings, we also thank God for bringing us to the Church that meets at Bethel and giving us the opportunity to serve the Lord who came to serve us.
September is the month when we start preparing ourselves for the shorter gloomier days ahead. In Autumn 1933 the evening services seemed a lot brighter thanks to the recently completed installation of electric light by Major Bird Contractors at the princely cost of £26.00. In September 1939 the prospect of shorter days ahead must have seemed even gloomier, for Britain had just declared war on Germany. Bethelites were preparing for the struggles ahead including adhering to the new regulations which dictated that all windows had to blacked out at dusk. In September 1939 committee members decided to purchase fifty yards of black material for darkening the Chapel windows. In October 1939 they resolved do ‘their bit’ even more and formed the Soldiers Comfort Fund committee with Mr G. Hill and Mr G T Share among the founder members. This fund ran throughout the entire war raising money in order to buy comforts such as soap, cigarettes, chocolate and warm socks for the lads at the front. One of the recipients could well have been Simon Williams. Sim, as he was known, was a young Bethelite who was serving in the army. On 22nd April 1944 at the age of 21 he obtained special leave in order to marry his childhood sweetheart Doreen, at Bethel. Sadly Sim was badly injured on D-Day, although he did survive his wounds he died at the age of 41.
There is the expression ‘man proposes and God disposes’ and at Bethel we are very aware that the Holy Spirit moves where it needs to not where we think it needs to. Harvest services being no exception, the minutes of the October 1936 committee meeting records the discussion regarding the printing of the Harvest order of service sheets and whether the visiting preacher would stick to said order. Eventually it was decided to print a footnote advising that the preacher may add some extra prayers. The Holy Spirit still never fails to prod us when we may be spiritually napping, a case in point was the believers baptism service in October 1990, six people had been ‘dunked’ and it seemed the service was drawing to the expected close when another three people announced they felt moved to come forward for baptism, all of whom were without a change of clothes, it was a lovely evening although a few drips went home that night!
In 1938 the sports and Social club was still going strong although not exactly breaking any records. The magazine for November 1938 states that the Billiard players competed in the Wollescote and District League and proved themselves
the ‘strongest side by holding up the rest of the league (from the bottom)’ The report adds they were hoping to improve, well, sometimes the only way is up!
One sure way to dispel November chills is the celebration of bonfire night. In the late 1980’s the Bethel bonfire became a popular family night of fellowship, with food and fireworks proving to equally popular amongst the young. But, as they say be careful what you wish for, because the October 1988 magazine carried an appeal for firewood which did not fall on deaf ears, for on the morning of the bonfire party there was a queue of cars and lorries in Hill Street waiting to off load. Volunteers braved rusty nails and splinters to build a rather splendid and rather large Bonfire. Well the fireworks went, the food went and eventually the fire went out as well but not after a certain fears had been voiced as to the safety of the new paint on the hut (the old church hall which was made of corrugated metal.) At least we weren’t hiding our light under a bushel that night!
November 1991 saw another momentous event when the extension was finally completed. After many years of fundraising we were finally able to build a new kitchen and toilet block and have the space between church and hut covered. For all those who had braved the old cold brew house kitchen and the old toilets which although clean, were definitely not for the squeamish, the extension was wondrous to behold! The dedication service was held on 17th November and the building was dedicated to the memory of Nora Dickens, loving wife of Joe and mother of Jim, who spent her gentle life in the service of God.
Over the years Bethel has been the beneficiary of so many faithful Christians whose dedication to God has been made manifest in the wonderful way they have served their church family and the surrounding community. Our lives have been the richer for their faithfulness, so, as November is traditionally the month of remembrance we reflect upon all those who walked the Jesus path in front of us acting ‘as a lamp unto our feet’ and say ‘we will remember them.’
November is a time for remembrance.
For Bethel, November is traditionally a time when we remember our founders to whose faithfulness we owe so much today. It is also the time when we honour those service men and women who have fought on our behalf in the armed conflicts since 1914 in order to safeguard the freedom we have today.
Throughout the years young men and women from the Bethel community have, and still do serve in the armed forces. The November 1932 magazine reflects upon the 1918 Armistice Day and exhorts the readers not to let their sacrifice be in vain. The writer is concerned about public apathy towards Adolf Hitler in Germany, and asks the good people of Bethel to join the local branch League of Nations in order to educate public opinion ‘so that peace and not war shall prevail in the future’. Sadly as we all know, this was not to be.
In November 1942 the magazine reported that the Comfort Fund (which was set up by Bethelites to raise funds in order to send gifts to those serving at the battle front) reported that they had 36 Bethel soldiers on their list to whom they had been able to send regular financial gifts. The Comfort Fund also sent quarterly consignments of gift parcels to soldiers to remind them that they were held in everyone’s hearts.
In November 2004 Bethel was blessed when the British Legion held their annual service of Remembrance within its walls, and this beautiful service has now become part of the Bethel year. It is with grateful hearts that we thank God for the privilege of being able to join with the British Legion in honouring those who helped make our world a safer place, and especially remembering those who for our tomorrow ‘gave their today’. Amen.
Christmas has always been a busy time for the church that meets at Bethel. December 1936 was no exception, plans were going full steam ahead for the Bethel Christmas dance which promised to be grand affair. The tickets priced at 9d (about 3.5p) included dancing to the sounds of the Savonius band with the promise of a ‘cold spread’ to fortify the revellers. Mr C Newton gamely acting as MC smoothed the evening along.
Towards the end of 1944 Bethelites decided to launch the projector fund and in true Bethel style volunteers formed a committee to ensure the success of the project. The Bethel Concert party, (which raised money for the Comfort Fund used to purchase goods to be sent to the British men fighting at the front), was invited to perform. The concert billed as featuring ‘Items Old and New’ was set for 21st December 1944, all 200 tickets priced at one shilling each sold very quickly. The projector eventually purchased, became the vehicle for much entertainment and teaching for many years.
By Christmas 1945 the war had ended and Bethelites were looking forward the first peacetime Christmas for five years. Whilst giving thanks for the return of many of their young men, there was sadness for those that had been lost to the Bethel community in active service. Men such as Barry Hill whose memorial plaque is on the organ, and Fred Wooldridge who was shot down over Berlin, just before the end of the war.
The magazine for November/January 1945 records ‘If the world is to be saved from passing through another period of chaos and destruction, it will be by the Christian influence of humble men and women whose lives have been consecrated and dedicated to God and the service of others’ faith filled words are timeless and they are as salutary today as they were in 1945.
December 1986 newsletter records how the Bethel Mums and Toddlers group celebrated its first birthday on 18th November. The occasion was marked by a mini party with cake for all. The outreach was started by our own Mrs Bloomer, whilst Madge Berry made the drinks for the enthusiastic young members of the group.
With the 1986 Christmas Carol service looming it was decided that in order for the children to practise adequately, Sunday School would be extended to midday!!!!!. For anyone who remembers just how cold the hut was, it will come as no surprise to learn that there were those who preferred stay at home in the warm rather than brave one and a half hours in that bracing atmosphere; these less hardy souls were enticed back by the promise of continuous heat, courtesy of the two recently purchased fan heaters!!!
The now traditional candlelit Christmas carol service began in the 1980’s with the call going out to members to lend their family silver to illuminate the service. Whilst the children looked resplendent as only children can in stripy recycled sheets, tea towels, and tinsel, the congregation shed a tear, as we will surely do this year, as we experience yet again the wonder of the birth of the infant Jesus, as re-enacted by the youngest members of our church family.
Looking through Bethel archives the thing that stands out is the consistency of Bethel. Throughout it’s history and even though from generation to generation the congregation inevitably changes, the Bethel tradition of ‘humble men and women’ serving God by reaching out into to the local community to share the love that God offers, remains steadfast. At this time of giving, we give our heartfelt thanks for the faithfulness of God over the years and for the comfort and surety of God’s guiding hand upon the church that meets at Bethel.
More Christmastime Memories
Over 2000 years ago in a Bethlehem a little town in the troubled land of Israel a little child was born. As he grew he filled his mother’s heart with a bittersweet mixture of joy and trepidation for, it proved to be as the angel had foretold to her, that her baby son, Jesus, would be the Messiah. This world saving event is joyfully celebrated every year Bethel.
The Advent season usually begins with the Christmas Fayre which is a time to welcome friends old and new through the doors of Bethel. This event has become such a permanent feature of the Bethel year that it stands out when the November 1990 newsletter asserted that there would be no Christmas Fayre that December, just a Christmas Coffee Morning with refreshments but no stalls or games of any kind. It had been strongly felt that God had advised people’s spirits against such an event. By the time of the January 1991 newsletter it was quite clear just how wise Bethelites were to listen to this advice. The day planned for the Coffee morning which would in other circumstances have been the day of the Fayre saw such a downfall of snow that most people could not venture out of their front doors let alone make the journey to Church. Oftentimes our gracious God gives us the solution long before we even know there will be a problem!
As we celebrate our Saviour’s birth the chapel abounds with parties as the various departments and groups celebrate the birth of our Saviour. Dear old Santa always visits to join in with all the fun, delighted to see all the children whilst they are awake rather than asleep! In December 1990 he dropped in to visit parents and children after the Nativity Service, in order to distribute presents to the Sunday School children as well as collect gifts they had asked him to give to those less fortunate. Unfortunately for him and the rest of the adults someone had forgotten to switch the urn on, so whilst Rudolph and friends were doing quite nicely on the roof eating carrots poor old Santa had a bit of a dry time. After much laughter, kettles were found, pressed into service and eventually Santa went on his way north, refreshed and restored.
Never let it be said that the Christmas fun is confined to the littlies, the adults too have had their share of parties over the years. There have been dances, discos and dinners a plenty, whilst the more mature Cornerstone members always enjoy a rather splendid lunch party. The committee members planning the festivities in 1947 received an intriguing proposal from Mr E Dickens and Mr F Stinton - they suggested that “we have a men’s effort for Christmas” I vote we have one of those every Christmas!
In December 1940 the war was affecting every aspect of life. It was decided that Committee would meet before Sunday evening service, the service itself would be limited to one hour exactly, and the Sunday afternoon classes were to amalgamate in order to conserve fuel. Sunday School would continue in the mornings as usual, however, because the regular nightly air raids kept many people out of bed for most of the night, attendance was very sparse because anxious parents tried to ensure that their children caught up with lost sleep at weekends.
By the late 1980’s Sunday School attendance was very high and with many parents choosing to stay rather than go home the morning service enjoyed a new lease of life. In 1989 the Sunday school decided to do something rather innovative with customary nativity service. They took the service past the manger scene and bought it up to date by celebrating with a party, in fact the service was subtitled ‘Heaven Invites You to a Party’ and culminated with party poppers, streamers and banners. The church was packed for the carol service and many took the joyful message of Christmas home with them.
The Children, in their opinion have always had much more fun partying with Santa. In 1991 he even brought a magician along complete with fluffy white rabbit. During the war years due to flying restrictions he was not always able to make it the parties so, in December 1942 the children were treated to a film show entitled ‘Father Christmas in other Lands’ apparently the children were fascinated by the contrast between their own wartime Utility Christmas and the abundance of things the film showed Santa taking down chimneys in other lands, all I can think is that it must have been a pre war American film!
As the advent season draws upon us we reflect that it is a time of mixed emotions, for many it will bring laughter, for others it will be tinged with sadness and maybe even loneliness but the beautiful truth is that God loved each of us so much that he risked entrusting us with his precious son so that we may say ‘Yes’ to him. A birthday worth celebrating I think; Happy Birthday Jesus. May His Holy Spirit cover this Earth and bless each of us who dwell upon it with a peaceful, Jesus-filled Christmas.
‘A bit of snow and everything seems to grind to a standstill’ has been a phrase oft repeated recently and I am sure we have all been reminded by our elders ‘this is nothing compared to the winter of 1946/1947!’ Contemporary Bethel magazine reports reflect the severity of that winter listing some activities as having to be curtailed or cancelled. The Bethel Choral society was one such casualty, it had been enjoying a renaissance after the war, as the young men returning home from the front meant that Tenors were no longer in short supply. The choirmaster lamented the fact that they had not been able to meet for seven weeks due to the inclement weather but he was quietly confident that the weather was about to turn and there would soon be arias a plenty once again. The Sunday School report for the same period records that due to good foresight and anticipation they were able to keep a fire burning throughout the winter in spite of the scarcity of coal whereas many other local Sunday Schools had been forced to close. The Mothers’ class recounted that despite the difficulties their members found in coping with post war rationing they too were grateful that most Sundays there was a bit of coal left for a fire as they met together to worship.
There seems to be a Bethel tradition of being at the cutting edge, maybe it is a characteristic that is inherited when becoming adopted into God’s family. In spring 1947 and throughout the rest of the year, Bethel life seems to have been revolutionised by the purchase of a projector, it appears that all the groups were being treated to a ‘talkie’. There must have been some who were grumbling that a little too much pleasure was being had via this cine projector because the editor of the Sunday School report for March/April 1947 is at pains to explain that it is not Sunday School’s intention to become frivolous rather to teach these young and precious minds with all suitable means and the ‘eyegate’ was just one of them. Innovation was evident in Bethel’s very early years for one of its founder members Mr Ernest Cox was involved in the Bible ‘Vanners’ They were people who spread the good news by travelling to areas that were poorly served by churches either due to locality or social class. The ‘Vanners’ arrived via a horse drawn van which was equipped as a Sunday School ready that to teach any who wished to learn.
In more recent years the Nativity Service has returned to traditional roots, with the children of Little Lambs and Sunday School blessing us as they present to us the story of Jesus’ birth.. The witness of their happiness and wonder and genuine pleasure as they worship and give thanks for someone who was once just like them, reminds us that Jesus told us that it is to children ‘such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs’
May we all find the child in our hearts this Christmas and as we celebrate our gift from God, our own share in the kingdom of heaven. May we remember to share this gift with all those that we meet so that we may all feel the touch of heaven on earth.
Yet more Christmastime Memories!
The lead up to Christmas is a beautiful, if somewhat demanding time at Bethel and central to our festive celebrations are the younger members of our Bethel church family. The importance of young people in the life of Bethel has been one of Bethels core values almost since the chapel was founded. The minutes show that in September 1897 it was decided to open a Bible class for the young people who had outgrown Sunday School, originally it was to run for a one month trial but proved so successful that three months later on 26th December 1897 the class was made a permanent fixture. Under its leader, Mr Charles Dickens, the class met on Sunday afternoons and flourished well into the middle of the twentieth century. It seemed the only worry of the scholars in those early days was that as they were no longer officially ‘Sunday school’ they may lose their attendance marks and not receive the highly valued book prize at the end of the year! Eventually it was agreed that ‘their marks for prizes would count proportionately.’ In these days of cheap books and other media resources that enhance our understanding of the Christina faith it is humbling to realise just how precious the book prizes were to the recipients
How blessed by God is our beautiful chapel? When we look at all we have now we realise how indebted we are to the vision and faith of Bethels founders. Two years after its inception in 1888 Bethelites moved into two houses in Pump Street which they converted into a chapel with the agreement that if the Chapel flourished the houses would be paid for, if it failed the owner would take back possession of the property. The agreed purchase price was £74.00 - a leap of faith when the accounts for December 1890 show the weekly offerings averaged five shillings which, for those lucky enough not to remember pounds shillings and pence is 25p. One interesting expense for Dec 1890 was the purchase of bags of sawdust for the chapel floor, this would have been used to absorb all the mud and wetness from congregations boots. God is good and these days we praise and serve Him in a beautifully carpeted building. Having said that, the carpet is a relatively new innovation, first proposed to committee in December 1936 it was voted out; the dream eventually becoming reality in January 1989 after much hard work and fundraising the Christmas Fayre proceeds enabled us to buy the red one that is still in situ today.
Yes, the Christmas Fayre was mentioned and yes it would not be the Bethel we know and love without this annual time of fun laughter fellowship and aching feet. This year it will be on 28th November so see you there. Enjoy the games, win enough bottles of bubble bath and sauce to last you until the next bottle tombola, then, treat yourself to a hot pork sandwich followed by a mince pie and nice cup of tea whilst deciding what competition to enter. Sadly we can’t emulate the Christmas Bazaar of 1964 where bizarrely one of the competition prizes was a nightdress! I guess you will just have to console yourself by estimating the weight of the Christmas cake this year.
‘The church that plays together stays together’ is a well known saying and not to be outdone by the children, maturer Bethelites have always enjoyed their own festive merriment. Looking through the old records it seemed that the most popular event was dancing the night away to sound of a local dance band. By the nineties things had got more adventurous with the merry band of revellers partying in Stourton, sampling the gastronomic delights of chicken and chips whilst skittling in Kinver, or enjoying the sophistication of Dingos wine bar in Halesowen, in fact it was there in December 1989, twenty years ago, that a certain lady pastor who shall remain nameless, celebrated her thirtieth birthday (can you do the maths?).
At the end of the visit each child met Santa who gave them all a gift to help them remember their day.
This Christmas as we open our gifts, let us remember the most wonderful gift of all.
Jesus was given to us as a perfect gift in an imperfect world.
Don’t leave the gift unwrapped, - open and reveal its treasure.
The Bible is very clear about the importance of music in the worship of God. Music has always featured prominently in worship at Bethel. Wesley Perrins, son of one of founders of Bethel, claims the first Bethelites originally came to faith via the Salvation Army. Attracted by the bright banners and rousing sounds of the brass band as the Salvation Army marched down Lye High Street these men and women stayed to listen to the preacher and became converted. We next come to a significant musical moment when Wesley records how the same men and women unhappy with the doctrine being preached at the Gospel Hall they attended made the decision to leave the said fellowship and worship together the home of Mrs and Mrs Charles Dickens in Crabbe Street. As they left the Gospel Hall service on that fateful Sunday evening they all stood together by the door and sang a hymn before departing. Sadly the lady who witnessed the event is unable to recall the hymn that gave them strength.
The newly formed Bethel Society eventually purchased premises in Pump Street where they continued to worship until the current chapel was completed in April 1900. The Committee minutes of 1895 record the rather lovely decision to suspend the Annual General Meeting every half hour for prayer. Their determination to make a beautiful noise for the Lord is also evident when one reads further on that the committee purchased from Mr Stanton of Tipton ‘a best French H----‘ , ‘H’ standing for Harmonium. Wesley Perrins muses that the secretary was not sure how to spell the word and intended to check and complete it later! The sound of the Harmonium accompanying worship in Divine Service at Bethel was reprised in 2000 at Bethel’s Centenary weekend celebration when a Moody and Sankey themed evening service let us all indulge in those wonderful hymns once again.
Eventually Bethel set it sights upon a Reed Organ and in true Bethel fashion a fundraising committee organised concerts, sold scented cards and made sausage and mash suppers until in 1936 they were able to place the order for the marvellous instrument which is as wonderful today as ever it was.
The archives have several photos of Bethel Choirs through the decades, including the one printed, which features a rather young and charming Alan Dickens (prize for spotting the smile). [Can you recognise anyone else?] Choirs have moved us every Good Friday Since the 1930’s by singing Stainer’s Crucifixion although in recent years Olivet To Calvary has occasionally been rendered.
The Bethel Choral society has had a revival in recent years thanks in part to the talents of Mrs Beryl Hill, a renowned local Soprano.
There were some Choral renditions in the 1990’s for example the Palm Sunday 1991 recital of Jerusalem Joy, which included the particularly mesmerising song “Jesus rode a Donkey into Town.’ For those not yet acquainted with the song, tapes are available!! The newsletter of April 1991 records that it was a busy weekend for John Woodhouse, baptised on Saturday and singing the part of Jesus on Sunday, the church waited for his next performance with bated breath!!
As Bethel moved into the 1990’s Worship for the Sunday School and morning church became more contemporary demanding a different type of musical accompaniment so the Bethel Band was born. Although originally consisting of Pastor Jill and John Woodhouse, Bethel is gifted with a talented congregation and they were quickly joined by others. But, there was a PA system to be bought and yes... you have guessed it, fundraising commenced. So one grey March morning in 1993 an intrepid band of Bethelites set off on a sponsored walk to raise the said funds. There were some amongst our brothers and sisters who chose not to walk, but to sponsor Pastor Jill rather generous amounts of money to do one of the things she most disliked namely, walking!!
Nowadays at Bethel services we enjoy praising God with both traditional and modern worship music. We are so very blessed with all the wonderful people who express their faith through their musical talent and lead us in worship every Sunday. We give thanks for the musicians who have served Bethel down the years, for it is music which helps us respond emotionally to God and His people, as we sing of God’s works and give Him thanks and praise, and encourage one another to live for Him.
Go out of the main Bethel doors turn left down Hill Street and eventually, across the road and to right you will see this building. It is the old Gospel Hall and was the original place of worship for the people who went on to found the church that meets at Bethel. It was paid for by Colonel Michael Spratt (1825-1908), a distinguished army officer and devout Christian.
Colonel Spratt advertised his desire to work amongst the poor in a national newspaper. He was invited to Lye in 1880 by a Mr Joseph Heathcock, who lived at Hayes House in Perrins Lane. Colonel Spratt initially rented a disused warehouse in which to base his mission to the people of Lye and Wollescote. His ministry offered spiritual sustenance and practical help and the congregation quickly began to grow. Former members of the Salvation Army joined the worshippers and the community of believers were soon in need of larger premises.
Colonel Spratt was a comparatively wealthy man and as such was able to purchase land in Hill Street where he built his new and spacious Gospel Hall. This generous and faithful soul also equipped the hall then subsequently met the running costs. At this time there was no electric lighting and the poverty in Lye meant that very few could afford the luxury of lantern fuel for anything other than essential tasks, so Colonel Spratt kept the Gospel Hall lit a couple of evenings a week in order for people to study the Bible. This opportunity to study the Bible in peace enabled some in the congregation to deepen their understanding of the Christian faith so that they were able to identify truth and reject false Christian doctrine
False doctrine began to infiltrate the mission in the guise of the Plymouth Brethren. Their undue influence over Colonel Spratt coupled with some questionable religious beliefs led to dissension among the leaders, compelling some members to leave the Gospel Hall community and found the Bethel Society which is now Bethel Chapel. Consequently Colonel Spratt’s mission floundered and eventually he sold the Gospel Hall, whence it became a clothing factory known as J Clewitts. However, despite the closure of the Gospel Hall as place of Christian fellowship, and Colonel Spratt’s disappointment at the failure of his mission, his generosity towards the people of Lye was warmly remembered, the Bethel archives record that he was an honoured guest a Bethel service in the late 1890’s.
Sadly the main part of the hall was destroyed by fire on January 5th 1910. The small Gospel Hall we see today was the original vestry of the main building and managed to survive the fire. Happily, after the fire the hall was reinstated as a place of Christian worship and remained so well into the first half of the twentieth century.
In common with many churches at the turn of 19th century Bethel encouraged football amongst the young male members of the community. The picture shows the Bethel team of 1914 posing proudly for the County Express newspaper. Although they did not rise to the dizzy heights a of another local church team namely West Bromwich Albion the Bethel team gamely did their bit for the honour of Lye.
1930 saw the founding of the Bethel Sports and Social Club, which proved to be a great success. Initially, billiards was a popular winter pastime, although the magazine regretted that as yet they had not been able to find an indoor pursuit for the ladies!! The club boasted cricket and football teams as well as being prominent in the local bowling and billiards leagues. In time Bethel purchased some extra land which enabled members to create a bowling green and in 1934 after much hard work and fundraising members laid a full sized hard tennis court
Bethel tennis teams played for the local church cup as well as the ‘Presidents Cup’ for singles, this cup is often still on view in church being used for floral displays. The Bethel news of 1934 congratulated Dorothy Round of Dudley who had won the Wimbledon ladies championship and went on to win the mixed doubles with Fred Perry three years in a row. This local lass who was a member of a Dudley church and may have played at Bethel in her earlier amateur days, was cited as great encouragement to the budding champions of the Bethel team.
On a more sedate level the Beetle Drive held in the relative comfort of the hut proved to be a popular draw for the unattached looking for companionship (this information was volunteered by the late Mrs Norris) although, it was equally popular with the attached who were looking for thrills
After the war Lye entered a period of change with young people having to move out of the area in order to find housing, and the pitches became overgrown. I am informed that a happy and well fed pony grazed them for a while!! House building in the 70’s saw a new influx of young people in Lye and Bethel’s congregation began to grow once more.
On Friday 17 July 1987 the One Way Club was launched by Jacqui Shilton and Jill Berry. It turned out that Miss Shilton was a bit of a closet sportswoman, winning the ladies Table Tennis at Halesowen Zion Pentecostal Church’s sports day in August 1990. Her competitive streak came to the fore during the summer evenings when Rounders became established as a popular game with the One Way members. Bethel on a Friday evening became the venue for many a fiercely fought game of rounders, on Bethel barbecue nights the competitiveness could reach fever pitch with our own dear Pastor and Miss Shilton vying for victory for their respective teams.
The purchase of a skittle alley in the 90’s led to many a happy Bethel church family night with successive newsletters recording a certain Mr John Weston as being King of the Pins!!!
Bethel has seen a renaissance in its sporting tradition over the last twenty years with the legend known as Steve Bloomer being at the forefront of this. Steve’s enthusiasm for sport has inspired others to become involved and over the years many children have enjoyed the sporting opportunities that Bethel has provided for them. April 1991 newsletter records the achievements of the Bethel Sunday School football team, whilst the Bethel ‘big boys’ team captained by Steve Bloomer were busy storming the indoor 5-a-side league.
Steve and all the dedicated people that help him, make sure that all of the Bethel young people are able to participate in sport should they wish. Thus, building their skills and therefore their self esteem and confidence whilst enjoying themselves.
Jesus wants us to enjoy life in all its fullness and to this end Bethel’s sporting tradition enables people to enjoy the physical gifts that God has given, such as the pleasure of running, enduring, competing and sometimes winning. The book of Hebrews assures us that this is good training for running and winning the race of life that God asks us to complete, for our good and for the good of all his Church. Amen.
By Val Woodhouse
We see another example of Bethel ‘go ahead’ in the 1934 spring issue of the magazine, it describes how attendance at the Sunday afternoon young peoples class was greatly boosted because so many were keen to partake of the Gramophone recital that was being offered to the Sunday scholars. The programme was ‘Religious works of Music and Song’ with the promise of further sessions of this nature to follow. Talking of creative, Bethelites had their powers of invention tested when in February 1948 God blessed Sunday School with triplets called Maureen, Margaret and Michael. Whilst Michael was easy to recognise it seems the two girls were posing quite a challenge as they were almost indistinguishable except to their mother, who took pity on the teachers and told them the secret of identifying who was whom.
The months after Christmas can leave us feeling a bit low so it is good to have something to look forward to. In February and March 1990 it seems there was a determination to liven things up a bit. The first event was the Bethel family party held in the old hut where the sight of Bethel ladies dancing an impromptu Can Can was something not to be missed. Apparently there were many requests for further parties but I think sadly the Bethel belles was a once in a lifetime performance. Further excitement was to be had in March 1990 when a car treasure hunt was organised. About 50 people set off in various directions trying to unravel clues. They all eventually made it to the finish (some via Kuwait it seems) at the Bridgnorth Motor Museum. The winners on mileage were declared to be Jill San Steve and Sarah. For the less energetic and more sedate Bethelites entertainment was available in the form of the newly opened Bethel library, offering on free loan a wide variety of Christian books tapes and videos.
A regular feature of March is the Ladies day service always held on Mothering Sunday. We give thanks to God for the women who gave us life and those who nurtured us, not always one and the same person. Traditionally ladies are always presented with flowers, but in March 1991 there was a further treat in store when a bunch of dashing waiters replete with dickey bows appeared to serve tea and cakes to the assembled ladies. Closer inspection was followed by amazement when the waiters were unmasked as the very men we knew and loved but who had always seemed a bit afraid of using a kettle! God does indeed work miracles!
It is good to belong to the Bethel church family. We laugh together and cry together, care for each other in good times as well as bad. As with all families some of us are scattered far and wide, others have work and carers commitments or health issues which precludes them from getting to Bethel, but nevertheless we are all children of God and therefore part of His family and bonded by the wonderful birthright we share as part of this family, for we share the security of knowing that thanks to the love of our Lord and His gift of the Holy Spirit we will never be alone again.
Credit Crunches Past!
The Credit Crunch is a topic that one does not seem able to escape from at the moment. For those of us of maturer years this ‘Crunch’ is not the first and probably not the last, and hopefully we have gained enough wisdom to realise they are temporal and transient, they are human in their manufacture and they come and they go. Financial constraints have often been a major consideration for Bethelites since the Chapel was founded, but, what God orders God pays for and armed with this trust, the Bethel Society purchased their first Chapel building in Pump Street. There being very little money for the refurbishment, it was agreed that materials would only be ordered when there was enough cash to pay for them. To keep costs to a minimum the majority of the conversion work was done by members after work and at weekends. Despite their best efforts some professional help was necessary and a local contractor Mr Samuel Brettle was approached. The deputation from Bethel waited anxiously to hear how much money they would have to advance to secure his services, but all Mr Brettle required was an undertaking that the account would be paid when the bill was presented. It would seem that this very generous soul had no intention of charging for the goods and labour he supplied and by 1950 the records show that the bill had still not been presented. It is heartening when so much is swept way in order for profit to be made, that there are business people for whom profit is not the only consideration.
Looking back over the decades it seems that each generation of Bethelites have, by the grace of God, been able hand His House to the next generation of custodians in good order, so that the work of Bethel Chapel,
started by such faithful servants of God over 100 years ago, can continue until the Lord returns.
In 1926 Britain was again in the grip of a deep depression, but the ‘Lords Vineyard’ known as Bethel Chapel was flourishing. The visible fruits of the labourers in the vineyard being so many scholars in Sunday School (classes included adults as well as children in those days) that new classrooms were needed together with a cost effective heating system. In December 1926 a letter was sent out to potential benefactors asking for donations and interest free loans, it was estimated that a total of £800.00 was needed. The letter acknowledged that the timing was not ideal but added that they believed the work of God must not stop. Despite the economic gloom of the time the generous response to the December appeal enabled these needs to be met.
Although not immune from the vagaries of economics, Christians know the certainty that God’s love for us can always be banked upon, and the joyous festival of Christmas celebrates this. For Bethel the seasonal celebrations begin with the Christmas Fair, formerly the Christmas Bazaar. The account books of the sixties reveal that the Drapery stall was a favourite at the Bazaar, whilst a very popular competition appears listed as ‘Chicken:’ Whatever that was I can only leave you to imagine! The Christmas Fair in 1986 had a new and rather lovely innovation, where the Sunday School children were all sponsored to sing at the Fair and for the half hour between 3.30 and 4.00 everyone was invited to join with them to sing all the well known Christmas favourites. This year the Fair is on 29th November, and as always it is wonderful to see old friends and new. So come along and join the queue for Santa, hot pork sandwiches, bag a bargain or just guess Rudolph’s birthday. Whatever you choose to do we can promise a happy, Holy Spirit filled beginning to the Advent season..
Christmas and parties go together; and there is a lovely description of the Sunday School party of 1936 in the teachers’ minute book. Armed with a budget of £2, the teachers managed to cater for 150 children each of whom had two cakes with icing and a packet of sweets with their party tea. After two hours of fun, the happy souls departed, replete with paper hats and a small novelty toy very kindly donated by the local co-op. Again, we see the generosity of the local business community.
In 1989 the Sunday School party went ‘on the road’ all the way to Ashend Farm in Tamworth. The children and the grown ups enjoyed a special time together feeding the animals and visiting a Nativity scene in a stable complete with live donkeys!