The Hope in Hope Street
200 Years in Hanley
Bethel Evangelical Free Church, 2012
Every church building can tell a story. Unfortunately, not many are told. This book tells the story of one small evangelical congregation through the years. The book was written by the present pastor, Grevase Charmely (who blogs here), to celebrate Bethel Evangelical Church's 200 years of existence.
This local expression of church is currently affiliated to the FIEC. But that wasn't always the case. It started life as a congregational chapel, became associated with Edward Jeffrey's Bethel movement before returning to its congregational roots and then became affiliated to FIEC.
... and then
Founded in October 1812 as Hope Chapel by some who had seceded from the large Congegational Tabernacle, which was formed as a result of the preaching of Revd George Burder and Captain James Scott when they came to the Potteries town of Hanley. Hope's first pastor came two years after it was founded.
One small criticism is that the story of the church is told through its pastors. Little is provided of how the congregation were engaged in ministry outside of the church. This is probably inevitable as the historical documents relate to the pastors and not the congregation. However, it implicitly leaves the impression that the only ministry is that done by the pastor, the minister.
Revd John Greeves (1791-1846), a Methodist convert from Buxton, was the first to fill the pulpit full-time. On leaving Hope Chapel a few years later he went back to his Methodist roots. The more experienced Revd William Farmer (1780- ) took up the reigns in 1816. Farmer was embroiled in accusations of sexual infelicitations - he strenuously denied them; but this had an effect on his church ministry. He left Hope Chapel in 1824. When he left he took about 50 of the congregation with him and formed a new local church.
Being an evangelical church mission was rightly and inevitably high on its agenda and a number of saints were sent from Bethel as overseas missionaries. The first ones sent from the church were contemporaries of the Serampore trio in india.
1824-1827 was the time of Pastor Samuel Jackson, this was followed by John Edmonds and then in 1842 the Revd Charles Fox Vardy (1806-1889). Vardy's health meant he had to resign in 1847. Other pastors in the nineteenth-century included Robert Macbeth, James Deakin, John Kay and Richard Henry Smith and David Horne (uncle of Charles Silvester Horne, the notable Congregationalist). Smith was a particularly interesting character. Smith had a great interest in art and wrote several books on art, including Expositions of the Cartoons of Raphael (1861). He used this interest to help working class people understand art and to introduce them to the Gospel, in part he was the forerunner of the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon men's fellowship (PSA).
William Landsell was responsible for leading the congregation out of the long nineteenth-century into the somewhat troubled twentieth. It was during this time that falling church numbers began to hit Hanley and far wider. The church suffered from the effects of the First World War. During this time there were several attempts at linking congregations, as there was a problem with small congregations supporting full-time pastors. Respite from decline came in the form of Edward Jeffreys, son and nephew of the Pentecostal pioneers Stephen and George Jeffreys. Edward Jeffreys had set up the Bethel Evangelistic Society He came to the Potteries in 1930. Hope Chapel were enamoured with him and agreed to become part of the Bethel set-up. This involved a name change to bethel temple and Jeffreys provided them with Pastor W. J. Jones and then Pastor Alfred Anderson Brown. Edward Jeffreys originally held a Pentecostal theology, but later came to amend his views. Pastor Ernest John Vernon took over from Brown in 1934. In 1939 the Bethel movement was wound up and this left bethel once more an independent church. Edward Jeffreys went on to be ordained into the Anglican Church.
The Second World War caused as many issues as the first. Vernon's sudden death in 1953 left the way for Mr Archibald Walter Mead to become the pastor. Under pastor Mead Bethel affiliated to the FIEC.
The next major event of the church involves the new building - here they had to take on the supermarket giants Tesco and won. the result was a modern new building which now stands on the site of the old. This was under the pastorship of Paul E. Brown, the author of the recent biography of Ernest Kevan.
This is a fascinating story of two centuries of church history. It is well written and well researched. Many primary documents as well as family history documents consulted. It provides ample evidence of God's sovereign grace in a local congregation.