Ebenezer Centenary 1903-2003
The Centenary History of Ebenezer Chapel, Station Rd, Old Hill
Origins are elusive things, and the decision regarding where to begin a story is always difficult. The Church here at Ebenezer began on October 6th 1902. However we would have to go back more than a hundred years prior to this to trace our true antecedents and origins, and indeed hundreds of years to trace our lineage as Baptists. A brief survey of Church history reveals that Baptists have existed throughout the years, though for many centuries that existence bore the character of an underground movement. We might for instance quote the example of one Peter de Bruys, living in the South of France at the close of the 11th century. He preached the evangelical doctrine of repentance and faith, and maintained that personal faith was a necessary prerequisite for valid baptism. His followers were known as Petrobrusians. Likewise in the 11th and 12 centuries many Waldensians were of Baptist persuasion. Their contemporaries, the Cathari in Germany, clearly taught that baptism should be delayed until individuals come to years of discretion and that even then, only those who profess personal faith in Christ ought to be baptised. It is by no means improbable that in our own country some of the Lollards of the 14th and 15th centuries held Baptist views. Dr Evans, in his History of Early English Baptists cites the following evidence for this,
I have now before me a manuscript register of Gray, Bishop of Ely (1454 – 1479), which proves that in the year 1457, there was a congregation of this sort (Baptist) in this village, Chesterton... who privately assembled for divine worship, and had preachers of their own, who taught them the very doctrines which we now preach. Six of them were accused of heresy... and condemned to do penance, half naked with a faggot at their backs and a taper in their hands, in the public market place of Ely and Cambridge, and in the churchyard of Great Swaffam.
Whilst modern day Baptists would not subscribe to every article believed by the above groups, it is clear that those holding to Baptist principles have existed right through the ages.
Origins of Baptists in the Black Country
The oldest Baptist Church in England in the modern sense is said to have been that of High Cliff, near Warrington in Cheshire, founded in 1522. The oldest Baptist Church in the Black Country of which there is any record was that known as Messiah or Cinder Bank Chapel, which until the early 1980s stood just off the main road between Netherton and Dudley, the graveyard of which can still be seen. The origins of this church are lost in antiquity, but what is significant is the known presence of Dutch and other Continental Anabaptist refugees in the area during the early 17th century. Some of these were associated with the glass industry such as Jan Pieters (alias Downing) the Garrets, the Cookseys and the Du Thisackes. This anglicized becomes the familiar name, Detheridge. We might also mention the Collinges who became the Collins, Continental Calvinistic Baptists who settled in Halesowen at that time.
The Messiah Church, like so many other non-conformist causes in the 17th and 18th centuries suffered a great deal of persecution, yet by God’s mercy survived. Respite was given at the time of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, and later after the The Bill of Rights was passed in 1689, under William of Orange. However some persecution of the Netherton congregation continued into the 18th Century. The original chapel at Baptist End was burned down by the High Church Party during the Sacheverell Riots of 1715, necessitating the removal of the chapel to its later site on the Dudley -Netherton road. This later Chapel was also damaged during the Priestley riots of 1791.
The significance of this Church cannot be overestimated. It is said that practically every Baptist chapel within a ten-mile radius of Netherton, can trace its origins in some way back to it. In 1750, members of the Netherton Church formed the work at Dudley. In 1798 others commenced the work at Brierley Hill , and later in that same year a small number from Brierley Hill, together with yet others from Messiah formed the work at Cradley. At this time, Mr Best was the minister of the Independent Chapel in Cradley and took his congregation back into the Church of England, forming the Church which is now known as St Peter’s Parish Church, Cradley. A number of those not wishing to conform to the Established Church, joined the newly formed Baptist congregation. (The original minute book of the Baptist congregation is a continuation of the book which formerly belonged to the Independent Chapel, containing membership lists for both the Independent Congregation and the Baptists). In 1796 members of the Netherton and Dudley churches together formed the work at Darkhouse, Coseley and in 1810 established the work at Sweet Turf, Netherton.
Another important influence in the establishing of Baptist churches in this area was the calling of Samuel Pierce M.A. to the pastorate of Cannon Street Chapel Birmingham in 1790. Pearce was later to become one of the founding fathers of the Baptist Missionary Association, and showed himself no less concerned for mission at home, than for mission overseas. Under his influence, Sunday Schools were established and a fund set up for the encouragement of preaching in out-lying villages and towns. For an example of this, we might quote from a letter written to Dr Ryland in December 1798, where he says, ‘I have been almost wholly occupied in the concerns of the (I hope) reviving Church at Bromsgrove, and the infant Church at Cradley’.
The Rev George Barrs of Rowley Regis
A most significant event of this period which was destined to have lasting influence on the spiritual life of the district, was the settlement of the Reverend George Barrs as incumbent of Rowley Parish Church in May 1800.
The following account of his coming to Rowley is taken from A Brief Memoir of the life of George Barrs prepared by his son in 1879.
On Sunday, 17th March, 1799, he was ordained Deacon in Ely Cathedral, and the same evening delivered his first sermon in Trinity Church, Cambridge, from Hosea 5 verse 4, ‘They will not frame their doings to turn to God’, and soon after took charge of the curacy of Warham, All Saints, in the County of Norfolk, and faithfully preached the gospel there upwards of twelve months. Here the hand of Providence was visible. His friend, and as he termed him, his spiritual father, the Reverend Mr Hemmington, accidentally hearing of the vacancy at Rowley Regis wrote to him. He resolved on coming over. When this determination was known, the following Sunday evening nearly 100 of the congregation at Warham addressed a memorial to the vicar, urging him to prevent, if possible, such a step; but God had work for him to do at Rowley and therefore he 'must needs go there'.
He arrived late in the evening of Saturday 8th May 1800, and the next day preached twice in the Church, and in the evening in a large school room in a distant part of the parish. (This was probably at Reddal Hill.) His first sermon from Judges 3 verse 20 ‘I have a message from God unto thee’, was heard with general satisfaction, and referred to by many with delight to the latest hour of their lives. In his own words, ‘the desire for my staying at Rowley seems pretty general’.
The Reverend George Barrs was clearly a Calvinist of the old school.
Free and sovereign grace, Unconditional election, man’s total apostasy, the absolute necessity of the new birth, salvation by Christ entirely and alone, justification by faith, a life in the flesh of faith in the Son of God, evidenced by its fruits, and the security and final perseverance of God's chosen; all in the full scope and true sense of the Articles and Formularies of our Scriptural and incomparable, but abused and perverted, National Church, were the doctrines which formed the theme of his discourse, and the delight of his soul.
Married to Mary, the widow of the late John Haden of Haden Hill, the two worked tirelessly in the parish for forty years. The Parish during these long years was transformed from a place of profanity and drunkenness, to a place of godliness and piety.
Bowling Green Chapel
At this point we might mention an historical conundrum, in relation to the founding of the Baptist cause at Spring Meadow, out of which our church was later to be formed. According to Idris Williams in the Centenary Souvenir of the Four Ways Baptist Church, Cradley Heath, the Bowling Green Church was formed from the Cradley Church, Joseph Smith being sent out from that Church to be its pastor. In favour of this opinion, we may note that the Cradley Church at this time was passing through a period of great difficulty in relation to their pastor's changed theological position.
In November 1832 Jabez Tunnicliff (1808-1864) accepted an invitation to minister at Cradley. A native of Wolverhampton, he had been ‘set apart for ministerial office’ at Shifnal in December 1829. His letter of invitation to Cradley was signed by James England, Benjamin Fellows and Samuel Hingley. Tunnicliff’s ministry resulted in a great upheaval in the life of the Church, in that he underwent a change in his theological stance. He found that he could no longer support the Calvinistic doctrine of absolute predestination and irresistible grace. The circumstances in which this change of heart came about are recorded in the Centenary Souvenir of Four Ways Baptist Church as follows:
One day whilst in the pulpit and in the presence of a large congregation he had occasion to read the eighth chapter of The Acts of the Apostles, when he came to verse 22 and read, ‘Repent therefore, of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee; for I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.’ He stopped; his Calvinism had received a stroke from which he never recovered. He looked again at the words. The question rushed upon him. What? Tell a man dead in sins to repent and pray? One who is in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity? He stood speechless before the crowd, lost in confusion.
Idris Williams p10. quoted by Bradley and Blunt in A History of Cradley Churches
What Mr Tunnicliff appears to have been rejecting were not the doctrines of Calvinism as generally understood today ,but rather those of hyper-Calvinism.
The Cradley minute book records:
From 24th February 1833 - November 19th, we have had several Church meetings to consider our painful circumstances, when at the last meeting it was decided to give Mr Tunnicliff regular notice to leave.
Jabez Tunnicliff left and took with him 34 members of the congregation who became the founder members of the General Baptist Church at Four Ways, Cradley Heath. Later in life he removed to Leeds where he became the founder of the well-known temperance movement, The Band of Hope.
It is not unlikely that due to the disruptions at Cradley, Joseph Smith and others left to form the Church at Bowling Green.
One of the Cradley minutes does speak of members being transferred to the work at Bowling Green on 5th May 1834.
At a Church meeting held on the 5th May Brother Joseph Smith and Sister Mary Ward were dismissed from us to the Church at Bowling Green.
A Joseph Smith and his wife Olivet were members of Cradley Chapel at that time, and we know from the tombstone in Spring Meadow that Joseph Smith’s first wife was named Olive or Olivet.
According however to Mr Ralph Chambers’ book, The Strict Baptist Chapels of England, Volume Four states:
Mr Smith, like Mr Matthews of Rowley, had been called by grace under the ministry of the Reverend G. Barrs, and had also ‘searched the Scriptures when Mr Barrs opposed believers baptism’, only to find it clearly taught in the Word of God.
The result was that he, with a few others, met together for worship in a small warehouse at Bowling Green in 1829, and in 1833 were constituted a Strict Baptist Church, appointing Joseph Smith as pastor. One possible way of reconciling these accounts is to say that Joseph Smith was a member of the Cradley Chapel and at the same time came under the influence of Rev George Barrs. The Cradley Chapel and St. Peter’s Parish Church are literally only yards apart, and the parsons Barrs and Best were related to each other as well as being one in their theological opinions. It is also known that Joseph Smith attended the Reddal Hill School which was under the responsibility of Rev George Barrs. In a sermon printed in the Gospel Standard July 1874, we read the following short autobiographical note:
I will tell you how it was with me. The Lord quickened my dead soul, and laid the guilt and burden of sin upon me. I could not take comfort in the society of my companions, those among whom I used to meet. My father was a Churchman. I used to go to the Church School; but I did not love the school at all. That makes me so much more ignorant than I should have been. Once I remember I came home and told my father I had been to school when I had not. By and by the Lord Jehovah was pleased to visit my soul.
The note however does not tell us which church he then attended.
Spring Meadow Chapel
The following account of the formation of the Spring Meadow Chapel is taken from the Centenary Commemoration Booklet 1941.
In the year 1829 a few people who loved the precious truths of the Gospel met for worship in a small warehouse at Bowling Green, near Old Hill, which they rented, and in 1833 a church consisting of six of them was formed on Strict Baptist principles, Mr Joseph Smith being appointed the pastor. The truth was faithfully preached by him, and the Lord abundantly blessed the word to many souls, and as the Church and congregation increased, the place was too small for them, and enlargements became necessary from time to time. Eventually land was purchased at Spring Meadow, on which the present chapel was built, at a cost of £591-16s-6d., and opened in 1841, still under the pastorate of Mr Joseph Smith. The people generally were very poor, and the debt on the Chapel caused much difficulty for them; but by the help of the Lord in the year 1849 the debt had been reduced to £300.. In 1864 the present school and gallery were added, to accommodate the increased number of scholars which cost £210, and was another burden. The Gospel however was much blessed, and the cause of God prospered, so that in 1875 the debt stood at £70. At this time, to the great grief of all, the late F. W. G Barrs Esq, J P., who was the mortgagor and for many years a constant hearer and a lover of the truths preached at Spring Meadow, was removed by death. Just before his decease he arranged for the title deeds to be delivered to the trustees free of charge, which was a cause of rejoicing to the Church. The beloved pastor Joseph Smith, was called to his eternal rest in 1873, and for seven years ministers were engaged as supplies for the pulpit.
In regard to the initial debt on the chapel, some idea of the burden of anxiety this caused the people can be gauged by the fact that it is still remembered today that if a well dressed stranger appeared in the vicinity of the chapel, the folk would become alarmed in case his visit was in connection with the debt. It must be remembered that in those days many men worked for a whole week for less than £1 in wages. So what would seem a small matter to us was to them an enormous amount.
The Founding of Ebenezer Chapel
From this favoured cause our own beloved Church at Ebenezer began. It is generally regarded that some disagreement arose in respect to the accompanying of the hymns by a small orchestra. It is also clear that the congregation at that time had outgrown the premises at Spring Meadow. What eventually transpired was that 23 members including three deacons of the Church, together with about three quarters of the congregation then worshipping at Spring Meadow, separated themselves from the rest of the Church on 6th October 1902. On the 23rd of that same month a meeting of separated members and congregation was held in the Board Schools which still stand opposite to Old Hill Parish Church. At this meeting it was unanimously agreed to found another cause in accordance with the articles of faith of the Strict Baptist denomination and also to hire the Board Schools for Lord’s Day worship and Monday evening services. The first of these services was held on November 3rd 1902, Mr E Feazey of Leamington Spa being the preacher. A note in the Church book adds ‘Mr Feazey was obtained whenever possible afterwards’. Mr Noah Adams offered the use of his home at Haden Hill for Wednesday evening prayer meetings. It was noted ‘when prayer meetings were held, many times the goodness of the Lord was realised, for He oft fulfilled His promise, ‘where two or three are gathered together in my Name there am I in the midst’.’
A committee of ten was set apart to oversee the business of the new work, Mr J Detheridge was chairman and Mr J Tromans appointed Secretary.
On October 31st 1902 a meeting was held at the home of Mr Noah Adams for the purpose of forming a Sunday School. This was done and Mr Smith appointed as Superintendent. The first Sunday School was also held in the Board School.
Because the accommodation at the Board School was unsuitable for the long-term purposes of the work, a meeting was convened on 29th December 1902 to consider the erection of a chapel. The meeting concluded that the Lord was moving the people in this way and consequently a building fund was set up. The same meeting agreed that Gadsby’s Hymnbook should be the hymnbook of the new work. At a meeting held on February 3rd 1903, it was agreed to purchase a piece of land in Station Rd, Old Hill from Mr H Bennett, at the cost of seven shillings per yard, the total cost being £250-5s-0d.This purchase took place on April 28th 1903.
On March 26th 1903, the resigning 23 members met under the chairmanship of Mr E Feazey. At this meeting eight others who had expressed a desire of joining the church, came and told of the Lord’s dealings with them and were subsequently accepted into membership. Three of these had previously been baptised and the rest were baptised on April 16th 1903 by Mr Feasey at Temple Street Chapel,Wolverhampton . After this, the 31 individuals were joined together, thus forming the new Church, Mr Feazey again officiating.
The names of the twenty-three resigning members from Spring Meadow Chapel were as follows;
Sarah Rose, Nancy Hingley, Roseanna Cook, Rebecca Priest, Hannah Horton, Hannah Payne, Maria Darby, Hannah Timmins, Sarah A Detheridge, Prissilla Bartram, Alice Adams, William Smith, Mary Ann Tromans, Noah Adams, Emma Homer, Jeremiah Detheridge, Myra Brettle, Joseph Tromans. Thomas Willetts, Charles Cole, Elizabeth Newton, Samuel Willetts, Maria Nock.
To these were added the following at the founding of the new church in 1903.
Joseph Taylor, William Fulleylove, John Horton, Benjamin Rolinson, Maria Jane Rolinson, Benjamin Harris, Sarah Jane Fulleylove, Benjamin Taylor
On April 27th 1903, the first Church Meeting was held, presided over on this occasion by Mr J Wilcox pastor of the Strict Baptist Chapel, Frederick St., Birmingham. The following were chosen as deacons, Mr Jeremiah Detheridge, Mr Noah Adams and Mr William Smith.
Meanwhile the proceedings concerning the purchase of land in Station Rd continued and reached completion on April 28th 1903. A well known local solicitor Mr Thomas Cooksey attended to this work free of charge. Seven trustees were appointed namely, Messrs. J Detheridge, N Adams, W Smith, Jos. Tromans, B Rolinson, B Harris and B Taylor. The Chapel’s plans and specifications were drawn up and finalised on June 28th 1903.
The first Sunday School Sermons were preached while the Church continued to meet in the Board Schools. Mr Eddison of Rochdale preached on the Lord’s Day and a third sermon was preached on the Monday evening by Mr Jas. Calcott of Coventry. Collections taken at these services amounted to the sum of £77 11s, and it was agreed to transfer all but the shillings and pence to the building fund.
The Church book records,
On July 16th 1903 the foundations for the new chapel were commenced to be got out, the building of the chapel was placed in the hands of Mr Joseph Tromans of Spring Meadow, Old Hill, a member of the Church, to cost not more than £1,400.
In relation to this, subsequent tradition attributes the building of the chapel to one with the stirring name of Sampson Simpson. The explanation of this may be that Mr Simpson was the site foreman and Mr Tromans the owner of the company.
At a meeting of members and trustees on August 3rd 1903 it was agreed to call the Chapel ‘Ebenezer’ - Hitherto hath the Lord helped us’.
The foundation stones were laid on 7th September 1903 by Mr W Wilcox of Birmingham, Mr J Detheridge, senior deacon, Mr N Adams, and Mr W Smith, deacons. These commemorative stones are still visible today. A special service was held in the Board Schools on the same evening at which Mr Wilcox preached. The collections at the stone laying and at the evening service amounted to £29 -2s-2d. On November 15th 1903 the first anniversary of the founding of the cause was held, two sermons were preached by Mr Feazey on the Lord’s Day and a third on the Monday evening. Collections at these services amounted to £30.
Mr J Tromans was clearly a man of his word and the chapel was completed for the sum of £1,400 as agreed, as the Church book records, ‘to the great satisfaction of all concerned’. The opening services took place on Thursday April 28th 1904. The preacher at the afternoon service being Mr E Feazey of Leamington Spa, who took for his text Psalm 126 verse 2. In the evening Mr Picknell of Redhill, Surrey spoke from the First Book of Kings ch. 6 verses 7 - 8. These services were continued on the Lord’s Day, May 1st 1904, when Mr Picknell again spoke taking for his text Isaiah 25 verses 7-8 in the morning and, in the evening, Hebrews ch. 4 verses 14-15. The collections for the four services amounted to £102.
The Lord’s seal of blessing upon the new work seemed to come later in that year, when on November 6th as is recorded,
Through the Mercy of our Three One God, five persons were constrained to come forward and put on an open profession by being baptised, having previously come before the church and given satisfactory evidence of a work of grace upon their souls. Mr Brooker, of Tunbridge Wells baptised them and together with two more persons who had previously been members of another Church of the same faith and order were received into church fellowship by Mr Field of Croydon November 12th, 1904.
When the chapel was opened a debt of £1,000 was still outstanding. Within two years however half of that debt had been paid.
In the early part of the year 1906 our gracious God influenced the hearts of some of our friends to come to our assistance with a view to further reducing the debt. Mr and Mrs Harper made an offer of £50, if the Church and congregation would raise £100. When this became known Mr Joseph Tromans suggested that instead of making the effort for £150 we should attempt to raise £300, offering to give £25 if this was accomplished. Three more friends came forward with offers of £25 each. The rest of the Church and congregation united and worked joyfully together for the accomplishment of this object. God crowned our efforts with success and on the 19th May 1906 the Church was enabled to pay off the first portion of the debt (viz)viz£400 which had been advanced without security by four members of the building committee in equal portions of £100 each.
Throughout this period the Church continued to grow, five new members being added in 1904, nine in 1906 and eight in 1907. Their names were as follows,
Joseph Brooks Alfred Tromans Ebenezer Horton Lillian Maud Harris Rhoda Tromans Hagar Tromans
William Willetts (Jnr) Eli Homer Ebenezer Detheridge Phoebe Rose Eliza Taylor Catherine Groves Anne M Green
Isaiah Collins William Willetts Elizabeth Smith Samuel Willetts Ann Willetts Fanny Tromans Martha Simpson
On February 17th 1909, the church faced the potentially contentious issue of whether or not to install a small organ to assist the singing. It appears that no vote was taken at this meeting; most likely the issue was left for the church to pray over and consider. A few weeks later on 10th March, the members voted in favour of the installation of an organ. The organ was purchased privately by some of the better off people, who were in favour of it. Obviously this was done in order not to inflame the feelings of those who felt strongly opposed to it. It was a Mason and Hamlin American Organ. It was installed upstairs opposite the pulpit. It is recalled that it had a beautiful tone, but was not sufficiently powerful for the size of the congregation. The singers around the organ helped to lead the people in the seats downstairs. This organ remained upstairs until the early fifties. It was then taken into the schoolroom for a while and later saw service in the chapel where the Johannus organ is now.
The same year 1909 saw the church exercised in the matter of calling a pastor.
Mr J Calcott
On August 11th 1909, the church prayerfully ventured to invite Mr J Calcott of Coventry to the pastorate. The church book reveals that Mr Calcott had been a frequent visiting minister to the church prior to this point. Mr Calcott accepted the call to Ebenezer, and commenced his labours on the first of January 1910. He was to combine the pastorate with the running of a large motor manufacturing company in the City of Coventry. Today Calcott cars are collectors’ items, an example of which can still be seen in the motor museum at Coventry. Every weekend Mr and Mrs Calcott were chauffeur-driven from Coventry to Old Hill where they lodged opposite the Chapel in the home of Mr and Mrs Philip Simpson. Mr B Harris gave the following account of the ministry of Mr J Calcott,
In the year 1909 a call was given to Mr J Calcott, of Coventry, and after a period of great spiritual exercise and wrestling in prayer, he accepted ,the Lord graciously deciding him by the powerful application of, ‘For the seed shall be prosperous; the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.’ (Zechariah VIII. 12). He commenced his labours on the first Lord’s Day in January 1910,and this highly gifted servant of the Lord Jesus Christ proved a great blessing to the church. A man of rich natural gifts, with a wide commercial experience, he brought all his powers to bear on his new responsibilities and duties. His unfailing courtesy and genial manners soon proved infectious, and were reflected in the internal order and peace of the church. His steadfast purpose from the outset of the pastorate, was to remove the remaining debt on the building; towards this object he worked with unfailing resolution, and the balance of £550, was cleared in Nov, 1914.
As a preacher of the Gospel he was widely known especially among the Northern Churches; it was said that ‘when led of the Spirit, it was a spiritual delight and inspiration to listen to him.’ To use one of his own expressions, ‘his soul was on the wing’. During his pastorate he baptised and received into membership thirty four persons, but the full fruits of his ministry were not revealed until after he was called to his eternal rest. He died on June 18th 1924, and the interment at Coventry Cemetery was a very solemn and impressive occasion. Mr G. Whitbread, of Manchester, committed his mortal remains to the grave in the presence of a great number of sorrowing relatives, members of the church and congregation, and other friends.
There can be no doubt that the coming of Mr Calcott was the Lord’s providential means of settling the work on a firm foundation as the following extract from the Church Book makes abundantly clear,
It was not by any means a bed of roses to which Mr Calcott was invited. In 1909 the initial wave of enthusiasm which had carried the friends over the initial difficulties of founding the work of God in this place had spent itself and had left them on the shores of disappointment. There was a large building debt of £550,which meant eight shillings and fivepence farthing every week had to be put aside to meet the legal liabilities before a single halfpenny could be counted on towards the expense of carrying on the work of God in this place. It was an incubus which in conjunction with other things was silently pressing the life out of the friends in charge. Also during the years preceding 1909, different ideas in respect of church government and other matters had risen up with the inevitable result that unity of purpose was lost at a time when it was essential that unity be kept. As a result of these things the finances of the Church had fallen into a very disorganised condition, that is of falling income and rising expenditure.
Such were the conditions prevailing, when God in His mercy sent a ministering angel in the person of his dear servant, and from his coming things had a turn for the better.
Ten years after the settlement of Mr Calcott, the Church held a special time of thanksgiving. In commending the pastor for his labours Mr. Ben Harris, deacon commented,
I thank God for James Calcott and all that he has been to us as a people, he is our common inheritance, God’s good gift to us.
During the years 1915-1916 provision was made for the chapel and schoolroom to be re-decorated. The following note by the Sunday School Superintendent Mr W Smith makes reference to those young men of Ebenezer who fought in the First World War.
I thought I should like to speak to those who have fought for us in this terrible war. We had a class here of nearly thirty young men, and they kept going away one by one, till the class had only one or two left. In this church many prayers were offered for them to God, to keep them and to bring them back again, if it were His heavenly will.
A reminiscence of this period we might add here concerns the remarkable stamina and spiritual appetite of the people of that time;
Some women after a day’s work in the nail shop would walk to Dudley to ‘the room’, if a minister whom they wished to hear was preaching there. Presumably this room was Tommy Pee’s chapel and it was situated not far from Eve Hill church and the present Pentecostal church. Similarly, some men would walk to Robert Street, Gornal, for the evening service of a Sunday School Anniversary day. Mrs Rose John and George Rose’s mother was known to walk from her home in Haden Hill to her son Moses’ house in Wolverhampton, do the washing for her daughter-in -law, who was an invalid, and walk home the same night. No doubt there were ‘short cuts’ in those days.
Mr A E McMillar
Mr A E McMillar of Tunbridge Wells succeeded Mr Calcott and commenced his labours on January 1st 1925. Mr McMillar was an able preacher and gathered large congregations every Lord’s Day. A selection of his sermons was printed by C J Farncombe and Sons Ltd. London. One tragic event from the time of Mr McMillar’s ministry, still remembered by some today, was the death of two young members of the Men’s Bible Class, William Bennett aged 23 and William Parsons aged 22, within a day of each other. Their coffins lay in either aisle of the chapel overnight prior to the funeral service. The Church Book records the many additions made to the church during this period,
From the commencement of Mr McMillar’s ministry, additions to the church followed in a remarkable way. Eight persons were baptised on May 13th 1925, four on November 11th, three on May 12th 1926, one on June 6th, one on February 6th 1927, one on July 17th, three on February 22nd 1928, three on March 4th,one on August 8th, three on November 3rd 1929.
Sadly, trouble arose between Mr. McMillar and his church. It is unlikely that any-one living remembers these sad events, at first hand. One thing is certain. There was much distress, no matter on which side of the quarrel individuals found themselves. The matter was resolved with the ending of Mr McMillar’s pastorate in June 1930. Until his death some years later, he preached from time to time in some of the other local chapels, although he no longer lived in Old Hill It seems that he did not take up another pastorate.
Mr E G Rowell
In 1938 the Church was once again moved to call a pastor. Subsequently, Mr E G Rowell took up the work on the first Lord’s Day of 1939. The Church Book records the Settlement Service in the following words,
Welcome services were held on April 12th 1939, at which friends gathered from far and near so that the chapel was crowded and many felt the season to be one of profit and blessing. Mr A Light preached at the afternoon service, and at the evening meeting presided. Mr Noah Adams (senior deacon) read a Psalm. Mr Joseph Taylor( deacon) engaged in prayer and addresses were given by Mr B Harris (deacon), Mr E G Rowell, Mr A Mackenzie, Mr W. F. Goodchild, Mr F L Rowell and Mr L.W. Falkner. The meeting closed with prayer by Mr T Cole and followed by the singing of the Doxology.
Later in the year of Mr Rowell’s induction, the Second World War broke out. The Church Book records no details of the effects of the war upon the life of the chapel, except that a special fund was set up ‘for the purpose of providing comforts for any of our young men who may be 'called to the colours'.This work seems to have been headed up by Mrs E G Rowell.
The formation of a ladies’ working party soon after war broke out, for the provision of knitted comforts for the ‘boys’, was a great pleasure to her, especially as a branch of the Aged Pilgrims Friend Society was incorporated at the same time, a cause always near her heart. The keenness of the ‘workers’ was a source of real satisfaction to her happiness in the work.
Special prayer meetings were held, as a note in the minutes of the church meeting 29th August 1945 indicates,
That the special prayer meeting for the nation be continued owing to the war in the Far East, on Friday evenings in the Summer and Saturday evenings in the winter.
During the war years, the main Lord’s Day evening services were moved to the Sunday afternoon because of blackout regulations. Evening services were continued in the schoolroom for those who were able to get out. Not only were most men of military age away, but those who remained were subject to war-time regulations. People could be directed to a particular factory and war work could involve seven days a week production. No doubt workers had their rest days, but they had duties like fire-watching and possibly membership of the Home Guard to attend to. Such duties and the blackout must have affected chapel attendance. The Sunday School New Year Treats were not able to be held during this difficult period.
One cause of great thankfulness at this time was that all those who were called into the Armed Forces returned safely. Sadly however, not all those who returned resumed worship at the chapel. On February 21st 1942, Mrs. E.G Rowell ‘passed into the presence of her Redeemer’. She was a most gracious lady, deeply missed by her husband, children and church.
Mr Rowell’s ministry also saw the passing of some of the founding fathers of the Church; Mr Noah Adams, senior deacon and treasurer, in 1939; Mr Ben Harris, secretary of the Church, in 1949; and Mr E Detheridge, who had joined the church in 1906 and served as secretary, in 1950. The details regarding the home call of Mr Noah Adams are worth recording. Mr Adams loved the Sabbath. He always arrived at the same time as the caretaker, Mr Green, before the morning Sunday School, in order that, as he said, ‘The Sabbath could be as long as possible’. On the last day of his earthly pilgrimage he arrived at the chapel early as usual. That night he went home and died in his sleep, his last Sabbath on earth was in fact the beginning of his eternal Sabbath in Glory.
Another anecdote that could be added here would be that of a member who has been dead more than fifty years. He used to arrive in good time, saying, ‘You can’t be too early at a good market’.
After the War the time came when it was necessary to carry out repair work on the Chapel building. On June 9th 1948 it was agreed to accept the tender of Messrs J Parkes and Sons for the complete renovation of the property at a cost of £350. In 1953 after a legacy of £357-7s-11d. had been received from the estate of Mrs Lloyd, the following renovations were carried out,
- 1. The chapel driveway to be asphalted
- 2. Suitable heaters placed in the chapel to stop downdraughts
- 3. A notice board to be erected
- 4. New covers for the pulpit to be purchased
- 5. New chairs to be purchased for the Dais
- 6. If sufficient money left, donations to be sent to various charities
- In 1953 Mr C N Green came before the church to give an account of the Lord’s dealings with him in regard to a call to the ministry.
Upon a proposition of W Taylor and seconded by Mr C Horton, and passed unanimously by the church, the Pastor gave him on behalf of the Church, the right hand of fellowship, wishing him God Speed, in the Masters Service.
Older friends will remember his quiet yet deeply spiritual and Christ exalting ministry.
Throughout Mr Rowell’s long and faithful pastorate there were additions to the Church, and much blessing. It is clear however from his personal writings that he felt in his heart a great burden in regard to the spiritual decline of the nation and the lack of fruitfulness the churches and chapels were now beginning to experience.
From notes written by his son and published as an obituary in the Gospel Standard of September 1961, we glean something of his experiences at Old Hill.
Four years after moving to Old Hill, his greatest personal sorrow came when the Lord called home his dear wife. It was a sorrow shared by all who came under her care and interest as members of the congregation he had served. The war years that followed with other difficulties and trials, were also years of help and deliverance from the Lord.
In 1944 he married again, taking for his second wife, one of his members, a godly woman who was a great comfort to him in his years of increasing weakness.
He was often very tried because after four baptisms in the early years of his pastorate his ministry was not used of the Lord for the ingathering of His children. Once when he was very depressed about it, the Lord gave him the promise. ‘ I will bring them in’, and another time, ‘They shall come’. In 1955 these promises were fulfilled, and several friends asked for membership. How grateful he was for these ‘children’ given to him after so long a waiting time! He was in his eighty-first year when he baptised five candidates, his text on this occasion being, ‘This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it’. Later (on 30th November) he baptised the 6th candidate, whose precarious health had delayed this. A few months after this happy time of in gathering in the Church, he had a very bad stroke paralysing his left side, but his speech was not affected. The next day (19th May 1956) he had a dreadful heart seizure. To all appearances he was dead; the doctor said, ‘He is beyond my help’, but gave him an injection as he said, ‘ for my own satisfaction’. A few minutes afterwards breathing started again and the doctor said he had never seen anyone ‘come back’ like that, but he could not last long. Contrary to all medical opinion he continued to improve and soon told his wife and those in attendance that the Lord had assured him that,’I am the Lord thy God that healeth thee’, and so he would get better. During this wonderful time he seemed to be living more in heaven than on earth, his conversation being only of his dear Lord, and as he spoke of Him and praised Him his face was a picture of radiant happiness.
On Sunday January 27th 1957, he preached in the chapel for the first time after his illness. His text was , ‘Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you’.
He had always shown a great love and concern for souls and rejoiced in the Gospel he had to preach, but now he often spoke as one very near heaven. One of his members remarked one day, ‘ I could not help thinking as I heard him preach: David said, ‘there is but a step betwixt me and death’, but, pastor, ‘there is but a step betwixt you and glory.’ With a radiant face he preached in the evening from, ‘Come hither and I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife’. He described the Bride and her tribulations - a Mary Magdalen, and Paul crying,: ‘When I would do good, evil is present with me’ and, ‘Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ He finished by quoting the Bride’s doxology, ‘Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, be glory,’ etc. His sermons, though short, were fresh and varied. We had feared that he might be very limited and repetitive but this was not so, as he said himself: ‘the Lord brings me sweet meditations and tells me what to take to His people. I rely on him, for He promised me, ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee’. One note-worthy Sunday he preached from, ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God’, etc. Speaking of the saints who were now experiencing the comfort and joys of heaven he quoted,
‘Again they strike their harps of gold And Hallelujah cry,’adding: ‘I don't wonder at it, they can't help it. I can't help it here !’ Speaking at the Lord’s Supper one evening from the words, ‘Who hath made us to be partakers’, he said, ‘I am the happiest man on earth’. In 1959 he had the great joy of hearing his eldest grandson preaching in his pulpit. He was almost broken down as he said, ‘Even the fourth generation - how good the Lord is!’
Mr Rowell entered his eternal rest on the evening of the Lord’s Day July 3rd 1960, ‘having finished his course with joy’. He was buried in Rowley Regis Cemetery on July 8th 1960. Mr F T W Bartlett of Acton officiated at the interment.
Mr H Crowter
After Mr Rowell’s illness, supply ministers had occupied the pulpit, probably for more than half the Sundays. When Mr Rowell began to preach again, it was on alternate Sundays, for the most part. The Church now found itself once again seeking the Lord’s leading in respect to a pastor. The Church book records,
One of the ministers supplying was Mr H Crowter of Coventry, he came mostly at midweek services.
Early in June 1962, the members indicated that they had become particularly attracted to his ministry. A decision was made to invite him to come and minister to us on as many Sabbath days as he could in the following year. This was done and in the June following, the letter of invitation was sent inviting Mr Crowter to become the pastor.
The following letter of acceptance was received to the great joy and thankfulness of the congregation.
To ‘The Church of God worshipping at Ebenezer Strict Baptist Chapel, Old Hill, ‘Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.’
The letter received from you dated 10th June, 1963 under the hand of your Deacons, has brought to a head a period of long exercise in relation to the ministry of the Word in your midst. From my first visit I was possessed of a desire that the Lord would grant you a settled ministry, but remained free from any personal exercise in connection therewith until a letter was received from your secretary dated 8th May 1962, requesting that I would serve you in the Gospel for as many Sabbaths as could be conveniently arranged during this present year subject to the will of God.
Being away from home when the letter arrived my wife communicated the contents over the telephone, and as she did so, two Scriptures settled with solemnity upon my spirit indicating to me that it was consistent with the mind and will of God that I should accede to your request. The two texts were Genesis 48 verses 18-19, ‘And Joseph said unto his father, ‘not so, my Father’, and his father refused and said ‘I know it, my son.’
Also Genesis 39 verse 6. ‘ And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person and well favoured.'
From that time I have remained under exercise as to a settlement over you, and upon my visit of Sunday 20th of April 1963, I was favoured with liberty upon my spirit in preaching and during the morning service my heart was filled with love towards you as a people in the bowels of Jesus Christ that a willingness was wrought within me to ‘spend and be spent for you’. (II Corinthians 12 verse 15.)
The receipt of your unanimous invitation to the pastorate confirms my personal exercises, and, as enabled by Divine Grace, I am willing to venture in this matter in hope that the dear Lord will condescend to set his seal thereto by signs following.
God alone knows the depth of insufficiency and unworthiness I feel as I accept this call, and I covet earnestly a place in your prayers that the Lord will make the way prosperous.
‘Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.’ (Heb. 13 v 20-21).
Yours to serve in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, H Crowter.
Mr Crowter commenced the pastorate on January 1st 1964. The Settlement Services were held on Saturday 11th April that year and it is recorded that upwards of 300 people assembled from a wide area as far distant as Lancashire and Cheshire in the North, and Berkshire and Oxfordshire in the South. Mr E. F. Neville of Bedford preached at the afternoon service and Mr F. L. Rowell at the evening service.
The incoming pastor had prayed ‘that the dear Lord would set His seal upon the ministry by signs following’ . The Church book records the answers to that prayer, showing that between 10th October 1964 and 2nd May 1971 eighteen persons were added to the church. The years of Mr Crowter’s pastorate marked a most happy and settled period of the Church’s history. The peace and harmony, which we now so greatly prize is surely one of the fruits of our dear brother’s 32 years as pastor. Mr Crowter was concerned for the young in his flock and established a Bible study group for the growing number of teenagers in the Church. Many of those he nurtured, now stand as pillars of the church today, and in other congregations elsewhere. During this period also Mr Clifford Woodhouse, Mr Joseph Lusted and Mr John Stonelake were exercised concerning calls to the ministry and subsequently sent out by the Church.
Not only was Mr Crowter concerned about the young in the flock, but became deeply exercised over the matter of practical care for the elderly. The outcome of this was under the Lord’s leading the establishing of the Cherith Home at Kingswinford in 1974.
Mr Crowter writes,
On 30th October 1964 two ladies were led through baptism by immersion at Ebenezer Chapel, one of whom was Miss Edith Nock at the considerable age of 75 years. Although she had been in service in royal palaces, she was of a very nervous disposition. I felt led to give this word to her, ‘Though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase’ (Job Ch 8 v7) God alone knew the interpretation at that time.
Early in 1970 Miss Nock was admitted to hospital and was ultimately sent on for a period of convalescence. The doctors insisted that she must not return home to live alone, and in due time local-authority residential accommodation was found for her. It was there I visited this gracious lady many times.
The standard of care and general facilities were reasonable, but Miss Nock found the worldly atmosphere very difficult to endure. Residents were expected to sit in the lounge, where television was the dominant feature. She became so distressed by this that she asked to be seated where she could not see the picture, although the volume of noise was considerable, to suit the deafness of many with her in the room. Her complaint to me proved heart rending. The visitors’ room was provided where we could have private conversations, and it was my practice to read from the Bible and engage in prayer with her before I left. On one occasion, the dear lady requested I read and prayed straight away, for as she was emotional she invariably shed a few tears when I prayed. As a consequence, her eyes were red when she returned to the lounge. She said, ‘When I go into the lounge and my eyes are red, they say to me, ‘I wouldn't have him coming here, upsetting me like that, I should tell him to keep away.’ So they would deprive me of one of my real pleasures. ‘ From thenceforth I complied with the request. We spent some sweet times of fellowship together.
I became very disturbed and distressed thinking of my old friend forced to live in such an uncongenial atmosphere. I prayed to the God of Heaven many times, both night and day. The pressure upon my spirit became so great that I felt compelled to take some action.
I ventured to convene a meeting in the schoolroom of Ebenezer chapel on the evening of 12th May 1972.
A letter of invitation was circulated to local Strict Baptist Churches, and to my surprise 33 people came along, representing eight churches. The meeting expressed the desirability for a home to be established in the West Midlands. A steering committee was appointed, comprising Mr T U Barber, Mr D C Cole and myself. On 3rd June 1972 a further letter was sent to the Secretaries of the eight churches, calling for duly authorised representatives to meet at Ebenezer on 14th July 1972, and indicating that all other interested people would be welcome. Upwards of 100 people and representatives from seven churches attended that meeting indicating the strength of local support. Mr Walter A Detheridge, a retired bank manager, stated his willingness to become treasurer, and it was agreed that an account be opened entitled ‘Cherith Fund’, so that donations might be received.
The Lord called Miss Nock to a ‘better country’ on 23rd July 1972. Her tears had proved the means in the Lord’s hands of setting in motion plans for a Christian home in the West Midlands.
This work was mightily blessed of God and provided most excellent and suitable care for the elderly saints. In addition to the excellent work of the paid Staff, there was a good deal of voluntary service. Each Autumn, there was a Sale of Work, which represented several months of activity. In the Summer was a Strawberry tea. Sometimes there were sponsored walks, too. The members of the Home Committees not only attended meetings, but for many years did at least some of the maintenance work in the House and grounds. Until comparatively recently, the lawns were cut and some of the flower beds were attended to by voluntary labour. When Home residents were able to attend chapel services they were conveyed in the cars of volunteers. People from Ebenezer joined members of other local congregations in this work. Sadly the Home had to close in 2001. The Cherith Trust however, continues and at the time of writing the Lord’s guidance is being sought in relation to the best way of continuing Mr Crowter’s vision of caring for the saints in their latter days.
During Mr Crowter’s ministry the chapel was re-decorated and many improvements to the building carried out, most notably the provision of a very tasteful and functional entrance foyer.
The year 1974 saw the home call of Mrs Marie Grace Burgess the daughter of the late Pastor Rowell. At this time she had completed just over 32 years’ service as the leader of the Ladies Bible class. A memorial booklet was produced at the time by Mrs E Butler entitled A Mother in Israel, reflecting the deep affection and high esteem in which Mrs Burgess was held by the Church and congregation.
Still remembered by many at Ebenezer were Mr and Mrs Harold Harris. Mr Harris was for many years deacon, treasurer and leader of the Men's Bible Class. Mrs Harris was another Mother in Israel figure, loved by the children and encourager of all.
Mr Crowter’s long and fruitful ministry ended in 1996 and the Church have been thankful that he and Mrs Crowter felt such a bond of union and friendship between themselves and the Church, that they have continued with us until this present time.
Mr. Crowther was called Home in February 2011.
After a comparatively short period of interregnum, the Church were led of the Lord to call Mr Roland Burrows to the pastorate, who commenced his labours on 1st January 1999.
The Present Work
Mention has already been made of the continuing work of Sunday School and Bible Class, the Friday night children and Young People’s meetings and the Mother and Toddlers group. In addition a monthly Ladies Bible study is maintained, by Mrs Jean Stonelake and regular door-to-door visitation is carried out by Mr T Platt and Mr J Smith. It is the earnest desire of the Lord's people meeting at Ebenezer, that we may continue by God's good grace to...
- maintain the faith once given to the saints
- preach the Word of God in season and out of season
- make the Gospel of redeeming love known
- do all that we can to maintain a spirit of peace and harmony in the church
- live our lives in such a way that we will commend the gospel we profess
- Pray that the Lord will bless our endeavours and by His grace bring men, women, boys and girls to salvation...... and by His infinite mercy and sovereign power revive and build His church.
‘Having therefore obtained the help of God, I (we) continue unto this day.’ Acts 26 v 22
‘Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.’ Ex 14 v 15
‘Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.’ Heb 12 v 2
‘I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ Matt 16 v1