Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2
Next year, Christ Church will be 160 years old. For those newer members of the church, it may not yet occur to you to think of those who came before, who funded the stones of the building, the stained glass windows, the fixtures and fittings that surround us each time we visit the church building. Those who have been part of this church for many years may well be able to look back over a lifetime of previous members of the church and remember how much each of them gave of their time and resources as they invested in both the buildings and the people. Yet even those with longer memories would struggle to think back 100 years or more. We might have an impression of those people living in black and white, old-fashioned times very different from our own. But though much may have changed in over 100 years, many things are the same, and humans behave in very similar ways. We would recognise their hopes and fears and struggles as being like our own. They were flesh and blood like us. This can be difficult to realise if all we see left of them are names inscribed in stone that we walk past every Sunday, or an organ, or a memorial hall (who knows anything about Henry Page, in whose memory the Mem’ Hall was built?). Yet what would we do without that hall, without the sacrifice those names represent?
This magazine is our own record of concerns for today, which may be read by those who come after us. In the same way, we can read the concerns of those who came before us, in their church Parish Magazines and Annual Statements.
In 1881, when the vicar Alfred Oates was a year into the job, his annual accounts record: “The break-down of the heating apparatus at the beginning of the winter was the only misfortune of the year. A special appeal for contributions to secure its immediate and thorough repair was generally well responded to. About £60 had to be expended on it” That would have cost us around £3000 today. The heating seems to be a recurring problem at Christ Church!
Rev Oates stayed for more than 30 years, and even when he left, continued his association with the church. The new vicar, W E Daniels, must have felt in his shadow, and faced the challenge of starting his ministry in 1914, as the First World War broke. Rev Oates was invited back to give the sermon on Jan 3rd 1915, which had been declared a special day of intercession for peace throughout the country. In his sermon he says:
It has been a strange and wondrous year. The very elements have been uneasy. A hurricane of quarrelling swept over the land. Even our sport was demoralised. Our religion had fallen from its high estate: many of our people were living without God in the world. It was becoming civilisation without Christ; democracy without an inspired guide-book; secularism without a Christian conscience; a House of Parliament hired to meet and vote. As once on Calvary there was darkness over the land during high day and a cross was faintly seen, and One hung on the cross to whom Barabbas, a robber, had been preferred, so, during the year which has gone, the cross of Him whom the Father sent to be the Saviour of the World was shrouded in the gloom of a deposed faith, a pleasure loving life, an angry self-will, an impaired national character.
Are these sentiments we recognise today? We are fortunate in many ways. The church listening to that sermon, and reading it in their church magazine, were in the midst of a terrible war. Subsequent magazines contained the names of church members who would not be coming back from the front line in France and Belgium, and whose names are now engraved on a plaque beside the altar. Think of the people we know who come and help with children’s church each week on a Sunday, and imagine having to put a note in the church magazine to say that one of our regular helpers has been killed in action so more help would be needed. A 1915 article reported that Private Percy Huggins ‘had been looking forward to resuming his work in the Sunday School on his return. He has now been promoted to a higher Service’. I wonder if those reading that in their church magazine gave thanks for those still able to help, or wondered if they should offer their services?
The day before war had broken out, Christ Church had begun a daily service of Intercession held at noon, which continued through the war and was attended by two or three each day. Rev W E Daniels wondered at this in the church magazine in April 1915: “At such a time as the present, surely the Church should be crowded” he says. He continued the theme in other magazines ‘Intercession ought to have a stronger place in our daily duty’
In spite of the concerns of war at this time, Christ Church still wanted to share the gospel with local people. In 1915 they continued with Open-Air Services. Reverend W E Daniels wrote in the church magazine in May that “There is surely no work nearer the mind of Christ than this. He Himself was an open-air preacher of the Galilean hills and lake.” He concludes by asking the congregation “to support this work with your prayers; where possible with your presence. Give it, at any rate, your cordial sympathy, and I claim it on the ground that we are doing the Master’s Will; second, that we are seeking the lost; third, that our own faith is being strengthened; and fourth, that prejudices may be removed and men and women drawn into the House of God.” In collaboration with the other Churches in Ware we will continue this work with our ‘Escape!’ evangelistic event at King George Field on 15th September next year, so look out for details of that after Christmas.
Christ Church Annual Statements show that, besides repairing and maintaining the church and paying for all the elements of the church (vicar, organist, organ blower, choir, verger, bellringer, heating, printing, washing, etc.) money given was also spent on the school, the Mission Room in Amwell End, a Penny Savings Bank scheme, a children’s shoe club, a clothing club, a coal club (most would still have coal fires at this time), a soup kitchen, and many other ‘parish works’. Behind the figures in the accounts are no doubt stories of children going shoeless, families unable to afford to heat their home, people without enough to eat.
We know from the 1881 census that Amwell End was home to over 1000 people in just six yards with tiny dwellings. There was no National Health Service until 1948, so the church also funded a nurse for Ware. But those unable to support or care for themselves could end up living and working at the Ware workhouse. Life inside was cruel. Families were separated. Everyone was expected to work long hours and do difficult jobs in return for food and a bed, such as breaking stones and scrubbing floors. It may be that the generosity of the people of the church at this time was the only compassion shown to people in need. We may think it sounds Dickensian – workhouses, shoeless children, a soup kitchen. But people need food, clothes, shelter, always have and always will. Christ Church people faced war, loss, shortages of their own, and yet they continued to give to the different parish works, because it was what Christ had called them to do, to share his love. Rev F Hobson opens his Annual Statement of Accounts for 1926 saying that “…they record the result of much self-sacrificing giving for the maintenance of the Church’s work, for the relief of the Sick and Needy, and for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom in the world”.
Hopefully we continue today to meet the needs we see around us, and those needs aren’t so different. Our CAP debt centre helps those struggling with finances, and the Christ Church people support and encourage those who come to us, showing them compassion that the world sometimes seems to lack.
The Bible, as we are hopefully seeing from our Bible Challenge, is one story, the story of God and His plan to save the world through setting apart a group of people whose role is to demonstrate God’s love, holiness and power. Though we see that they cannot do this in their own strength, the centre of the story is how Jesus sacrifices his life to bring them back into relationship with God, and shows them how to live the life they are called to, for the sake of all the people of the world. This is the continuing story of Christ Church, from its founding almost 160 years ago, to the present and on into the future: we are to live for others, to show them God’s love and to sacrifice for them. When we struggle and fail, we are to come back to the centre, to Jesus, and remember the forgiveness he has bought for us and the example he is to us, and how he has equipped us with the Holy Spirit. We are to remember God’s faithfulness, His promises and prophecies fulfilled, from the Bible, from our history, and from our own lives.
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh”. Ezekiel 36:25-26
So as we have fleshed out what concerned Christ Church people in the past, their struggles, their sacrifices, all that they tried to do in the name of Jesus, do we think about this crowd of witnesses with which God has surrounded us and give thanks – for those from the distant and near past, and those around us now? Do we consider ourselves to be one of that crowd cheering others on in the race of life as they attempt to throw off those things that hinder them? Do we think of how we can continue to bless those who come after us, and be those that Christ Church members of the future might look back on and say “Thank God for their generosity, for all that they gave in time, money and resources, for the way they built up the people of Ware, for the way they proclaimed the name of Jesus in word and deed, for their faithfulness in praying continuously”?
Sian WoodwardTags: Magazine