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Saturday, 04 July 2015

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Prayer at the double as churches merge

It is the beginning of a new chapter in history as two Whitehaven churches, founded by members of the same family, have merged.

Father and son William and Tom Postlethwaite helped to establish the traditional brethren Woodbank Evangelical Church, on Woodhouse Road, while another son, Henry, was a founding member of the Pentecostal Elim Church, in the town centre.

Both brothers were instrumental in running the two churches, which had different customs but were known for their popular Sunday Schools and community involvement.

The churches recently merged to form Woodbank Community Church, pastored by John Campbell, minister at Elim, and supported by elder Norman Gray, of Woodbank.

Following the recent merger, John says the aim for the church congregation is “to be a group of Christians in the community helping the community”.

He said: “People have been working together over the years and building relationships. We want to continue that. An awful lot has happened in the past. The barriers that may have been there 30 years ago aren’t there now.”

Very few historical records have been kept over the years about the two churches but history shows us there have been close connections between the two congregations over the years.

Mr Postlethwaite Snr was one of the 13 founder members of Woodbank Hall in 1939. Henry became an elder at Glad Tiding’s Hall (now New Life Church), before founding Elim Church in 1957, while Tom, became a trustee of Woodbank in 1967.

Norman said: “Because our forefathers were less conscious of the need to preserve history, we know very little about what led 13 men from different walks of life to meet together for prayer, with the object of raising a church for the worship of God and to build the Kingdom of Christ within the hearts of young and old on the estates of Woodhouse and Greenbank.

“How long these men and ladies had been praying before land was bought and the church building was opened we do not know.”

A plot of land was bought from the Lowther family on August 21, 1939, to a group of men: William Snook, Andrew Hamilton, Thomas Smith Lloyd Jones, George Ernest Taylor, William Burns, Jonathan Messenger, Jack Kennedy, Norman Dickinson, Stephen Williamson, John Sharpe, Andrew Murray, Thomas Bouch and William Postlethwaite.

Norman said planning permission was originally granted for a mission hall at the junction of Lakeland Avenue and Fell View Avenue.

“The reason for the change of site from the heart of the Woodhouse Estate to a greenfield site on a footpath in the middle of nowhere we do not know.

“The only buildings existing then were the Mansion across the road, and the house next door. Woodhouse Road was still a field path down to Greenbank. Wastwater estate was still a meadow.”

The Whitehaven News reported on the official opening of the church on January 1, 1940: “New Year’s Day witnesses a further step in the activities of the Christian Brethren at Woodhouse, Whitehaven, when Woodbank Hall, their new building was officially opened.

“For over four years, activities have been going on at the YWCA hut at Woodhouse Road, rented from the Local Committee. The opening took the form of a conference meeting. Mr W Burns presided and the speakers were Messrs W Snooks (Keswick), A Hamilton and G Taylor (Whitehaven) and W Barker (Westfield). After an interval, during which tea was served, an informal meeting was enjoyed.

“The building which is pleasantly situated between the Greenbank and Woodhouse housing estate, has been erected by the Border Engineering Contractors Ltd and the Whitehaven Coal Co Ltd have kindly consented to supply the electricity.”

Norman said: “During the early years we know that much work was done among the children and in a tent erected on the grass behind the hall. Children’s missions were held. Many residents still living on the estate tell of having attended Sunday School at Woodbank Hall in their youth.”

Further trustees were added in September 1967 including Tom Postlethwaite, Alex McCormick, Thomas Henry Phillips, Frank Lewthwaite, Leonard Anthony Archard and John McCormick.

Norman said: “For a further 17 years these men served the Saviour on this estate but they too had aged or had left and, with no-one from this or any other assembly hearing a call to carry on the work, the doors closed.”

He said at this point the assembly of Christians meeting at Scilly Banks caught the vision to restart Woodbank Gospel Hall.

In 2003 and 2004 extensive alterations were made and the church was renamed Woodbank Evangelical Church. “This is the church that has continued to this day,” said Norman.

“Some of the original congregation have died, younger members have left the area to further their careers, but those who remain are concerned that the Christian witness in this suburb of Whitehaven shall not die and with the help of the Elim Church the work will continue.”

He recalls many memorable moments including a fun day and barbecue, following the re-launch.

“For the best part of two years we ran a lunch club – people would come round for a two-course meal and even The Lion pub across the road would order takeaways from us,” he said.

Elim Church has an equally community-based history. It was founded in Whitehaven in 1957 by George Canty and Henry Postlethwaite and its first members met in the YWCA building on Lowther Street.

Leaders bought a plot of land on George Street in 1961 and it took six months to build the church.

On October 19, 1961, The Whitehaven News reported on the dedication of the new church, saying: “Among the large crowd which had assembled long before the time scheduled for the opening service were friends from Greenock in the north and Birmingham in the south.

“As the long-awaited moment arrived and the party of ministers made their way to the beautiful cedar-lined porch of this modern church building the crowd, now extending out into George Street began to sing with great enthusiasm: “To God be the glory, Great things He hath done.”

“One could sense the thrilling expectancy of these people, who had for four-and-a-half years, had worshipped in the local YWCA building and now after six months of strenuous effort had a home of their own.

“The Rev W J Hilliard district superintendent, of Greenock, pronounced the prayer of dedication and the congregation were led to the church for the first service by Mrs Hannah Corlett, who had officially turned the key and declared the church open, accompanied by Mrs Taylor, the wife of the resident minister, the Rev F G Taylor.”

Since the church began in 1957, there has been 13 ministers: R Clarke, F Taylor, W J Allen, K J Cave, A O Johnson, S Cain, E R Gaudion, G R Murray, W D Bentley, A M Mason, J Foster and D T Burton.

The current minister, John Campbell, began his post in 1996.

Pam Mullen, Henry Postlethwaite’s niece, says she remembers going on Sunday School outings to Silloth with bus loads of youngsters. The church would collect children from the different estates around Whitehaven every Sunday in a double-decker bus.

The biggest congregation the church had was in the 1970s and 80s, with around 120 people. This was thanks to the youth and teens work, including the Crusaders group, which was run by Willy Tinnion, who owned a hairdressers at Hensingham.

Pam’s recalls one of her funniest memories at the church when she was younger: “We would be given two books when we came in the door – the red redemptional hymnal and a yellow Elim chorus book. One of our favourite songs was The windows of heaven are open.

“One day we were singing and there was a huge burst of thunder and lightning and torrential rain came down, at which point, someone said: ‘Well, we did ask for it!’

Members recall Mr and Mrs Hughes, from Wales, playing a big part in the church.

Mr Hughes owned a TV business and his wife was a music teacher. They would sit at either side of the church pulpit and play the piano and organ.

John says the church has always been involved in various community events, from the Billy Graham meetings at Whitehaven Civic Hall in 1984, to town barbecues, Walk Cumbria and latterly Haven Saints and Whitehaven café/church held at Costa.

He says there have been many memorable moments at the church, including organising a Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe play. This included decorating the church hall with Christmas trees, fake icicles and snow. People had to push their way through fur coats to get to the performance area.

John says that although there was a baptistry at the George Street church, members have chosen to be baptised in swimming baths, or Ennerdale or Crummock water. “It is quite an amazing experience, with the backdrop of the beautiful mountains and fells behind you. It can be very cold though, even in summer!” he said.

A host of activities have been held at the church including Scrabble clubs, dominoes, knitting groups and youth clubs.

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