The Opening of the United Methodist Church

A postcard image of the chapel not long after its completion. The site had been occupied by a larger town house called ‘Rose Villa’ – the adjoining ‘Willow Cottage’ can be seen on the right. This card was unposted, but was published by John Whitby & Sons Ltd of Bridgwater and Burnham.

Bridgwater Mercury 1911 – article kindly supplied by Kerry Miller

METHODIST CHURCH IN BRIDGWATER

INTERESTING OPENING PROCEEDINGS

CONSUMATION OF A GREAT AMBITION

SPARKLING SPEECHES FROM MANY VISITORS

When some years ago three nearly related religious bodies obliterated their slight differences of internal government and fused together under the style of United Methodist Church it was generally conceded that the union afforded an opportunity of signalling the auspicious event by the erection of a new church. The idea was embraced with much heartiness, but financial reasons demanded cautious progress of the scheme. The United Methodist cause in the town was fortunate in having at the time the guidance of such zealous and optimistic minister as the Rev. J.G. Williams, who has spared no effort to bring the project to a successful issue. In the course of time, thanks to the substantial sum realised by the sale of the old Free Methodist chapel in St Mary Street, and the energy and generosity of the members of the cause, the financial standpoint was considered to be such that a start in building was justified. New Sunday school premises were deemed the more pressing necessity of the time, and a splendid pile of up-to-date buildings was erected on a site in Monmouth Street. These premises were opened some months ago, and their great utility have for a considerable while been realised. On the completion of the school building a commencement of the work of the erection of the church was made, and on Thursday last, with interesting eremony, the completion of the great undertaking was celebrated. In our last issue we gave a description of the new church, which occupies a commanding position in Monmouth Street, with a dignified frontage to that busy thoroughfare. The building is of a very comely appearance, and reflects the highest credit upon the designer, Mr W. Dinsley, architect of Chorley, Lancashire, and the builders, Messrs Westbury and Jarman, contractors of Bridgwater. The exterior of the new church is very striking, and the unanimous verdict of the townspeople is that it is a building of graceful dignity. The interior is in keeping with the beauty of the outside, and visitors on Thursday were loud in praise of its appearance, which suggests a sense of neat proportion. The lighting, both natural and artificial, is distinctly good and altogether the United Methodists of Bridgwater are to be warmly congratulated upon the successful issue of their splendid enterprise. Erected in the heart of a busy working class district the position of the church is an admirable one and should be the centre of great usefulness in the future. Having completed their great task it was only natural that the United Methodists should seek to observe the happy ending of their labours by a time of rejoicing. Thursday was the day selected for the formal opening of the church, and despite the wintry conditions of the weather the proceedings were characterised with great success and heartiness.

LUNCHEON IN THE SCHOOL HALL

The events of the day commenced with a public luncheon, which took place at 1.30 in the spacious school hall. There was a large and representative attendance, the building being well filled. A reckerche repast was provided by the ladies of the church in a manner that could not have been excelled by any public caterer, whilst the pleasure of the luncheon was enhanced by the assiduity displayed by a large band of ladies and gentlemen, who acted as waitresses and waiters. At the conclusion of the meal congratulatory speeches were delivered by some of those present.

Mr. J.W. Harris, the church secretary extended on behalf of the trustees a warm welcome to those present, and in the course of a witty speech said he regretted that Mrs R.A. Saunders (wife of the member for the division) and Mrs Joseph Butler (of Bristol), who were to open the new church, were unable to be present at the luncheon. The name of Butler was an honoured one throughout the connexion (hear, hear) and the whole of the family had helped them in the past. Then they had the Rev. George Hooper, from London (applause) a minister of their own connexion of whom they were proud. He was a leader of the Metropolitan Free Church Council and a member of the National Council Executive, whilst his reputation was wide as a platform speaker. They had also the minister of their own town there, and they were delighted to see them with them (applause. They were always ready to come to their help whenever they called upon them. They had also with them one of their ministers from Weston-super-Mare, and the secretary of the Bridgwater Free Church Council. There were also present five of their town councillors, and they had also a centenarian amongst them (applause). The latter event was surely an exception one for a function of the kind, and they were surprised to see how young Mr James Creedy looked, and they hoped  unless life became a burden to him he would live to see even another century (laughter and applause). They were also pleased to have with them that day the architect and the honorary clerk of the works (applause).

The Rev. J.G. Williams (pastor) announced apologies for the absence from Mrs Saunders, from the Rev. H. Butler (Fore Street Congregational), and Mr Casley.

The Rev. George Hooper, in acknowledgement of the welcome, delivered a brief but very humorous speech of the after dinner character. It was, he said, his first visit to Bridgwater, but he had often heard of the town. There was one Bridgwater man he had known for a generation and half, viz. Alderman F.C.Foster. He had met Alderman Foster nearly everywhere but he did not know whether Alderman Foster was the representative of the borough to the world (laughter). Referring ot his local preaching days he recalled his first experience in Yorkshire. Returning to a farmer’s house to dinner his host exclaimed after the meal, ‘if thou preached like thou hast eaten it must have been a mighty fine sermon’ (laughter). He (the rev. gentleman) had never heard the local ministers preach, but he had seen them at lunch, and taking the Yorkshire farmer’s view, he felt convinced that the pulpit eloquence of the Free Churches of Bridgwater was stupendous (renewed laughter).

The Rev. James Bryant (Wesleyan Superintendent minister) followed and remarkd that he was glad to be there as a representative of what they called the North ‘the old body’. He congratulated the friends present that day on the amalgamation of the two bodies that formerly existed in that town. Some people had gone so far as to say that this amalgamation was prophetic, perhaps, of a very much larger amalgamation in Methodism (hear, hear). That might be possible, but he did not thing it was at present very probably. At the same time he for one thought there were features in which it might be good for Christianity in general if the old body and the new body were one (hear, hear) but he thought when that came to pass they would be within easy sight of the millennium. He though if it did come to pass then all the churches might be one (hear, hear). He thought there was very little after all that divided them, certainly nothing that was of very essential character. They were members of one common Head, they were fighting for one common King (hear, hear) and the only difficulties that divided the Free Churches today were those of administration, which perhaps, wiser heads than his would be able to settle and put right so that the Free Churches might be one. He congratulated the church there upon having such a splendid suite of buildings. He thought that they stood there in a capital position for commanding a very fine congregation. They were in the midst of a great population, and a population very largely, he was afraid, that went to no place of worship, and he thought that in the near future they might have, which he trusted they would, a very strong and flourishing church. He was glad to find there was such a friendly feeling existing between the different religious bodies. He did not know he had been in any town where the feeling of unity and goodwill amongst the Free Churches especially was so strong and beautifully manifested as in the Free Churches of that town. He trusted that the richest blessing of the Almighty God would rest upon them in that church, and that their future would be full of great and blessed prosperity (applause).

The Rev. H. Wyatt (pastor of the Bridgwater Baptist church) followed, and said he was glad to be there to rejoice with them in their joy, and he was glad to see quite a number of his own congregation present also (hear, hear). They would like to congratulate them on one or two things. He would like to say personally how very glad he was at the style and beauty of their new place of worship. He thought their sanctuary would be to them a source of joy and delight for many years to come, and he thought also they would find in their new place of worship a sanctuary congenial to all that was best and noblest in the spiritual life. Then they jejoiced in their unity. He thought that the new chapel was the outward expression of that unity, and now he thought all signs of past divisions would be for ever forgotten (hear, hear). They all recognised the splendid work of Rev. J.G. Williams had done (applause) in promoting the scheme of building the new chapel and in promoting the good feeling amongst those who belonged to it. When Mr Williams left Bridgwater he was sure it would be with the conviction that he had done a work which would live and which under God;s blessing would be of great spiritual good (applause).

The Rev. H. Mould (Mariners’) also added his congratulations, and said the fact that they were close together he did not thing should deter them from both doing their very best to fill their respective place of workshop. He felt quite certain there was great work for both their churches to accomplish. He was quite sure that the work which they in that church had put their hearts to end which lay before them would deepen all this enthusiasm they could possibly put into that work. It was not sufficient for them to merely open their new chapel, but they would have to work hard if they were going to fill it, and as their friend and neighbour he wished then God-speed in their undertaking (applause).

The Rev. David Lloyd, of North Petherton, secretary of the Bridgwater and District Free Church Council, offered the congratulations of that body to the United Methodist Church on the completion of their great undertaking, observing that it was fitting that the opening occurred during a year when the minister of their church (the Rev. J.G. Williams) was the president of the Free Church Council.

The Rev J.G. Williams then made a presentation to Mr John Harris. He said, as the friends knew, Mr John Harris, of Bridgwater, had been kindly acting as honourary overseer and superintendent of the works during the building of the chapel. He (Mr Williams) thought that every one who looked round the premises would say that they reflected great credit on the architect, for any one who saw the land before those buildings now would acknowledge that Mr Dinsley must have a wonderful head for making crooked places straight (laughter). Mr Harris had been wonderfully kind to them in superintending the building operations, and he (Mr Williams), on behalf of the trustees and the church, had been asked to present to Mr and Mrs Harris a settee as a token of Mr Harris’s kindness (applause).

Mr John Harris, in returning thanks, said he had no the slightest idea in coming there that day theat anything of this kind would take place. He promised to do so when Mr Williams asked him to come and look after the work and see to the different materials that were being used, and he was taken by surprise at their making him this most handsome present. He could only say that they had excellent buildings there, and they had good materials and workmanship. He thought that on the whole they must feel they had the best set of buildings of its kind in the town (hear, hear), both as regards material and workmanship . The builders had done their utmost to carry out the work in a thorough workmanlike manner. He thanked them again for their great kindness

The Rev. J.G. Williams voiced the sentiments of all present at their regret which was felt at the absence of their friends Mr W.J. Coles and Nurse Wilson, whose interest in the building scheme was so well known (hear, hear).

THE OPENING CEREMONY

Immediately following the luncheon the opening ceremony took place, and despite the keenness of the wind and the intermittent snowy showers a large crowd gathered outside the front of the church to take part in the proceedings. Him having been reverently sung Mrs RA Saunders, wife of Mr R.A. Saunders MP for the Bridgewater division and Mrs Jos Butler, of Bristol, took up a position at the North and South doors of the church, and at a given signal simultaneously unlocked and open the doors. They led the way into the church which was speedily crowded by a thankful congregation. The impressive dedication service followed, an impressive sermon being preached by the Reverend George Hooper. A largely attended public tea followed.

EVENING DEMONSTATION

THE REV. GEORGE HOOPER ON THE GOSPEL OF HOPE

His worship the mayor (Alderman H.W. Pollard, JP.) was announced to preside at the evening gathering, but owing to family bereavement was unable to fulfil the engagement. His place was filled by the ex-mayor (Councillor R. O. Sully, J.P.) who presided over a crowded gathering. In the brilliant incandescent gas light the beauty of the church, together with the crowded pews, combined to make the scene impressive and memorable. The Rev Jos Bryant offered prayer, and the singing was led by an augmented choir, miss Nelly Hamlin, FRCO, presiding with much taste at the organ.

Mr JA Harris, the church secretary, first made a statement in regard to the financial aspect of the building scheme. He prefaced his remarks by referring to the absence of Mr W.J. Coles. He said the trustees for some considerable time had greatly missed the help and guidance of their friend, Mr W.J. Coles, and they all earnestly prayed that he might soon be restored to perfect health again and might return to his town and church to take up the work once more which he had for so many years at heart. Proceeding to make the financial statement, Mr Harris said the total cost of the site, the church, school, and the manse and necessary alterations to the ministers house was £4,062, and their receipts previous to the gatherings that day were as follows:- raised by the balance from the late United Methodist free church building fund and the proceeds of the sale of the late United Methodist free church, £1,305; subscriptions at the Sunday school and church stone Lane, £463; Previous efforts and subscriptions handed in at the opening services , £115; handed in by the collectors on their books, £2 4S.; approximate sum expected to be realised by the sale of ‘quotation albums’ £20; Raised by the tea,£7 19 S. 4d.; Connexional grant, £500 – making a total of £2,413 3s 4d., and leaving a debt on the building of £1,648 16.s 8d. The proceeds of the luncheon and the collection that night would have to be added to the receipts (applause).

the chairman said he was quite sure that they were sorry, as he was, at the disappointment they all felt that his worship the mayor was not able to be present to preside have a meeting that night. they were all the more sorry because his absence was caused by family affliction comma and he was sure he voiced all their feelings when he said they deeply sympathised with the matter in this matter (hear, hear). He (Mr Sully) was asked to take the mayors place, and he most readily consented to do so (applause). at the luncheon that day they had many sincere and hearty words or congratulation from those representing most of the free churches of the town, and, as representing the civic life of the town as well as being the senior Deacon of the Congregational Church of that town, he desired to add his sincere congratulations to them on the consummation of their hopes in the erection of that very beautiful and very ornate sanctuary (applause). he congratulated them, the architect, the builders, and all concerned in the building in every particular in which they now met. He had not been in it before he ascended those stairs that evening, and perhaps the beauty was enhanced by seeing such a large congregation there that night. He always felt, however beautiful a church might be, it was increased by a large congregation of people meeting there in. There was one thing they would want, and that was a first rate pipe organ in the alcove they had provided for it (applause) and he trusted today would soon come when they would be able to wipe off the debt and have funds to erect a worthy instrument to assist in and lead the psalmody off at sanctuary. He likes the title of their denomination the United free church. He likes the first word united it suggested many things to him, including the old saying, united we stand divided we fall, and he was sure that applied to the realm of religion as well as other directions most of he trusted Ann Hartley prayed that in this new sanctuary there would be unity, union of spirit, union of service, union of prayer, that that place might be in the future a great blessing to their town, that it might be in the highest sense a House of God, are home where gods people might be able to meet from time to time and feel at home with God and with one another, and that there might be many blessed seasons of hallowed friendship  together with their Lord and saviour Jesus Christ. He trusted further that that place might be the spiritual birthplace of many souls. They had many free churches in Bridgewater, but the more he went about and the more his experience of the town was expanded call Matt the more he felt there was ample room for all the churches of every denomination. He did hope and trust and pray that their efforts in that church might be abundantly blessed by God, and that that church might be the means of winning multitudes of those round about them who were still far from God and who seemed to have no hope in him. He abundantly believed there was nothing that would take the place of the Christian religion to raise men from degregation, from wanton poverty, and every Hill of the social system, and therefore he rejoiced in there churches of every name that we’re staring honestly and sincerely to do faithful evangelical work for the Lord and saviour Jesus Christ, he wished them God speed in their new work. A great responsibility rested upon them, a financial responsibility. He wished they had not that financial responsibility, because he always considered it was a certain extent a handicap to any church in its work to have the incubus of a very heavy debt upon them. He wanted everyone connected with that place not to rest, but to put forth every endeavour they could to liquidate that debt as quickly as possible  (applause).

Mr Edgar Wood having rendered to the great appreciation of his auditors a violin solo, The Rev. George Hooper gave a striking address which throughout scintillated with humour and pathos, and yet with all a manly optimism he commenced by congratulating all concerned on that beautiful building which was well proportioned, and which did credit to the town and the people called Methodists (applause). one of the things he was very proud of was the magnificent building built in nearly every town in the Kingdom by the free churches without any government grants (hear, hear).

Transcribed by MKP 26 Feb 2021

The picture that accompanied the article.
Postcard of the opening, published by H. L. Slocombe of Bridgwater. The postmark is Bridgwater 10am 1 July 1911, sent to Miss Sherwood, Long Meadow, Goring on Thames, Oxon. Message reads ’52 New Provident Place, Wembdon, Bridgwater. Dear E. Just a card at last to let you know I am still alive, sorry to know you do not seem to be getting on better. I heard from L. the other day. I am coming home for the holiday so may see you. Love to you from L.J.’ Below are some pictures of the detail.