A Church

Without a Church

Introduction

The old Church was more than a building: it was a body of people, who had worshipped, prayed and played together for the past 60 years. It was a family of friends whose lives centered on God and each other. They felt God still had a purpose for them.

Faced with the possibility of having no building, the Church was compelled to ask many questions concerning the nature and purpose of the church. House Fellowships made their very special contribution.

– Cyril Summers

Under Cyril’s guidance they discovered how the first Christians, a thriving, Spirit-led community, met for prayer in one another's homes. Several members were asked to do this and the seeds of House Groups were sown. At the same time the nature of Maindee was changing,

With the exception of Pillgwenlly, more old people and immigrants lived here than anywhere else in town, and Maindee Primary, the local school had an ever increasing number of immigrant children…The whole area lacked adequate play opportunities and green and open spaces... There was no provision for a community centre or youth club, while the many clubs and pubs in the area flourished, making their own ambivalent impact on the community.

For the first time women in long silk trousers and sandals were seen on Maindee streets, walking slowly in convoy. They gave every appearance of reluctant strangers in a strange land resolutely but sadly and unconvincingly, striving to come to terms with an alien culture thrust on them by their menfolk, who in many cases were quickly disillusioned by the lack of opportunities and the widespread racial discrimination.

– Cyril Summers

Should the changing nature of the area be considered in any plans?

Sandra Coombs

2018

Sandra Coombs, Elder, describes the feelings of the congregation when the church had to be demolished: “People’s reactions were first absolute devastation and then that we had to get our act together and think what to do.” She describes how a local church in London Street invited them to go there to worship with them on a Sunday.

House Groups

With no church building, Cyril arranged for the Church to meet in each other’s houses. In House Groups everyone could participate in worship and discussion. The Minister and Elders planned the content with several Elders becoming 'leaders'. Meetings were held on each weeknight, members attending the most convenient. The monthly meetings opened with prayer at 7.30 p.m., a Bible reading, study and discussion. A closing prayer at 9.00 p.m. then tea and biscuits were served.

There were lively, vibrant discussions. The groups studied the early church history and other texts. 'God's Frozen People' and 'What on Earth is the Church for?' were particularly pertinent to the situation.

Sandra Coombs

2018

Sandra describes her experience of the House Groups: Sandra says, “I can always remember Cyril Summers saying, that there were people that he had never heard speak in a general meeting, but in the House Groups they felt relaxed and so were willing to put forwards their views".

Brian Selby

12 May 2017

Brian Selby explains how the Church came to the decision to build a community centre in place of the old building: Much of the work of thinking, talking and praying was done in House Groups where members met in one another’s houses.

In time, a vision of the future emerged. Originally, many had seen the new building as a replica of the old one or which would accommodate the needs of “Church” people. Gradually, a new concept formed as they realized that “God so loved the World” (John 3 v.16) - not just the Church. With this came the understanding that any new building would have to welcome and be open to all, whether Christians or not.

The change from Corporation Road to Community House was not occasioned so much by the change of building as by the changing life of the church that house groups had initiated. Those members who were not whole-heartedly involved had unwittingly absented themselves from the pilgrimage, which denied them an understanding of the vision which inspired the new building.

– Cyril Summers

Instead of modern versus traditional stained glass, they debated the necessity of a games room, a coffee bar, and a multi-functional hall.

Sandra Coombs

2018

Sandra explains this new vision of Church: "In the Bible it says, ‘God so loved the world’. It doesn't say that God loved the 'Church', but God so loved the 'world' ". They decided to build a place where everyone could meet and feel welcomed, whether they were churchgoers or not.

Old Church Demolition

The decision was taken to demolish the existing building and rebuild.

The decision to demolish the building and rebuild on the site now required many questions to be addressed, some of which were quite outside our range of experience. How should we go about the demolition of the building? Where will we worship and hold meetings for prayer and Bible study? Where will Elders, family Church and youth leaders meet? Where will the resources and money come from?

The Elders presented an application (to the General Assembly), including the history of the building which clearly showed that there were terminal defects in 1948 when it ceased to be the Forward Movement’s responsibility. The application was handled like a hot potato, (but eventually accepted).

We asked ourselves many times, 'What do you do when your Church building has to be demolished; you are heavily in debt and your bank manager is fast losing patience?' We did what all Christians do. We prayed about it, thought about it and talked about it. It still wasn’t easy.

– Cyril Summers

Fatal cracks in the building had appeared soon after it was built.

To keep costs to the minimum one church member suggested that the Church could take on the whole demolition themselves, aided mainly by a library book he had found on the subject. However,

No insurance company was prepared to provide personal accident cover except for certain interior work… so volunteers under (Vic’s) supervision would dismantle the interior of the building.

– Cyril Summers

It was to take 10,000 hours of volunteer work to complete the demolition.

The International Work Camp generated wide public interest.

The International Work Camp

One of the ways the Elders cut down on demolition costs and publicised their struggle to rebuild was to advertise for volunteers from the World Council of Churches to attend an ecumenical work camp.

The work camp had a considerable impact on the Church, and through the press and television, on the town. The Church people were impressed that these young people from all over the world and at their own expense, should come to help us...'If these young people are prepared to make this sacrifice...nothing can stop us'. This more than the considerable amount of work they completed, was the real contribution they made towards the building.

– Cyril Summers

Andrew Summers

14 March 2018

Andrew's recollections of the work camp: Andrew did not join in socially or actively as he was too young but was in awe of the young people who came to help with the re-build. "I had great respect for what they were doing. They were all lovely people and gave me the idea that I would like to do something like that perhaps sometime when I was older.”

Brian Selby (middle) led the campers with Cyril Summers (Right).

I attended the camp at Newport sponsored by the World Council of Churches. Twenty-three young people from Austria, Denmark, French Algeria, Greece, Holland, India, Israel, Sweden, Switzerland, United States and Great Britain went to Newport to demolish what remained of Corporation Road Presbyterian Church, dig drains, and start to build a handicraft room which is the first part of a community centre that will include a place of worship.

– Nora Swanson, Scotland. Published in Ecumenical Youth News, 1963.

Angus Duncan

9 March 2018

Angus describes a typical day: "They’d gather at 8 in the morning, have prayers then work ‘til midday, have lunch somewhere and have the afternoon off". At the time Angus was reading in preparation for his entrance exam in Cambridge to read philosophy and theology.

The campers stop for a break at the Manse.

A report in the South Wales Argus.

When arrangements were made for an Ecumenical Work Camp to finish the clearing of the site and lay drains and foundations for a part of the new building, our thoughts turned to Angus...Could we expect his firm to release him for a month? Could we expect him to come without salary? His reply was astonishing. He had recently received a call to the Christian ministry, he was resigning from his job and entering college in September.

– Cyril Summers

Angus Duncan

9 March 2018

Angus remembers Cyril arranging a sharing of communion: “in the round, all these young people, and they all took part as far as I can remember, the Roman Catholics, and even this Israeli girl who was Hebrew, all took part in the sharing the bread and the wine.“

Development of the New Building

If you are going to build a Church, you are going to create a thing that speaks. It will speak of meaning and of values and it will go on speaking: And if it speaks the wrong values, it will go on destroying. There is a responsibility here.

We were not building a community centre, not even a community centre with a chapel but a church building that revealed God’s concern with people in their wholeness.

– Cyril Summers

Brian Selby

2017

Brian Selby explains Cyril Summers’ emphasis on community: During the early 1960s, there was an influential church community called 'Iona,' based in Scotland, led by George McCloud. Following a visit they decided to call the new building Community House, because the Iona Community had a building with the same name in Glasgow.

One of the plans considered was for a circular building.

Fundraising

We were prepared to seek help from Trusts, from industry and from the community but the Denomination had to accept their basic financial responsibility.

Some members sold produce from their gardens and allotment and I had a small clientele who came to the Manse for haircuts.

Kind letters from strangers, often pensioners, enclosing a couple of crumpled pound notes would arrive as would more substantial cheques from unexpected quarters…we know people made sacrifices for which we were deeply grateful.

With the money available, the freehold purchased, planning permission granted and the Presbytery’s blessing, the building of stage one by Messrs T.J. Hill began in July 1964.

The contractor handed over stage one of the building in December; the last service at Emmanuel was held and the congregation returned to Eton Road amid great excitement and expectation.

– Cyril Summers

Peter Martin

25 February 2017

Peter Martin explains the difficulties Cyril had explaining his concept to the Presbyterian Church of Wales: As far as the Presbyterian Church officials were concerned a church was a building where services happened on a Sunday and perhaps a few church groups met during the week.

More building changes in the 1990s.