A short history of Brixington Community Church By Rev.Peter Eastwood B.A.,Dip.P.S
The beginnings of Brixington Free Church were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and first came to mind in one of the developers of Brixington Farm Estate.
Developers and builders offered the site to a number of the established denominations in the Town, but for various reasons everyone turned down their offer, with the exception of the Baptists.
The Rev. William Clark of Victoria Road Baptist Church brought the matter to his Church Meeting on 2nd April 1964. It was at this meeting that the seed was sown for the Church building which stands here today.
Early in 1965, the Rev. George Newton, successor to Bill Clark, accepted the site for the present Church for a nominal fee of £1. A notice board was erected to indicate what the land had been designated for.
Raising the Funds
The immediate decisions made, you could say, were easy. The major hurdle ahead was to find the estimated sum of £20,000 for the building! On April 14th 1965 members of Victoria Road agreed to set up the “Brixington Fund”. It initially collected £374 12s 1d! By no means a small amount in those days.
Over the next two years unease about the slow progress being made almost caused the project to be abandoned. However, under the Chairmanship of Bert Southwell and Kathleen Webber, to name just two, the project was kept in prayerful view by the Church at Victoria Road.
In 1967 a new minister, the Rev. Ron Rivers, became the pastor of the town’s Baptist Church. On his arrival, the “Brixington Fund” stood at £866. The bad news was that £1,000 had already been spent on fees and road charges to the Brixington Site!
Ron Rivers not only served the members at Victoria Road, but he gave new impetus and leadership towards the Brixington Building Project. He encouraged all members who supported the project to canvas the new estate, which was growing rapidly. Many of these folk were retired, but they went from door to door questioning people about the need for a Church and Community Centre. Interest from people on the estate, from the local Council and the Devon and Cornwall Baptist Association began to grow. So that by November of 1967 £1,525 had been raised over and above what had been expended. Members set them selves a target of £3,000 before they decided to borrow money for the new building. A letter was sent to the trustees of the Devon and Cornwall Association with the following request: “Please pray that soon there may tangible evidence of the Presence of God in the project at Brixington and a live witness to the Love and Power of our Lord Jesus”.
Regular prayer meetings for this work began to see this work succeed. At this time it became clear to a small group that, although part of the membership at Victoria Road, their full commitment would be to the Brixington Church. After a further two years, a congregation was formally set up for Brixington. This was mutually agreed and members of Victoria Road continued their support.
About fifteen met for Sunday morning worship in the Junior School hall. They also started a Sunday School. Will Clark, now retired, preached at some of the services. And laymen like Leslie Fox learnt to preach and lead services of worship. This was pioneering stuff, but the faith and the dedication of these folk stand as an example to the congregation of Brixington today.
By 1970 many more fund raising events were taking place to reach the target of £3,000 towards that estimated £20,000. Mr Alan Hart was appointed Treasurer of the “Brixington Fund” and by the end of the year the total stood at £5,726 ! The following year of 1971 big steps of Faith were taken. Members and friends were asked for gifts, loans and donations. These flowed in, big and small amounts, so that by April £7,000 had been collected. Over the seven year period it will be seen that this amounted to £1 ,000 per year on average. When you consider that most medium sized Baptist Churches at this time had an average income of about £2,400 per year, this was a considerable amount for members of Victoria Road to find.
In 1971, at a special Church Meeting of Victoria Road members, the “Brixington Committee” proposed that the plans of Mr and Mrs John Harris be accepted and that a contract with John Hopkins, a local builder, be agreed and signed. This was duly passed. And on December 16th of the same year there was a special Thanksgiving Service, where Dr D.S. Russell spoke and the Doxology “To God be Glory” was sung.
What Happened Next
In January 1972 work started on the site and May of that year the stone laying ceremony was carried out. The Rev. John Blanchard, secretary of the Devon and Cornwall Association, assisted the various committees of the Brixington Building Project and gave a lot of support and help.
Mr & Mrs Scott-Finnigan, who both became members and Deacons, James Scott-Finnigan, Treasurer of the Brixington Free Church, worked tirelessly to raise funds. They personally visited many Churches in the Association to further the work at Brixington, so much so that when the “Chapel Case” application was made Churches of Devon and Cornwall gave over £3,000 to the “Brixington Fund”.
The Church fellowship continued to meet at the local school for worship, but in February 1973 the official opening of the new Church premises was celebrated. The sum of £20,000 had been raised from gifts and loans and the savings achieved by members undertaking some of the internal work themselves.
Later that year the new Church began to order its own witness and work. Mr and Mrs Mike Chering started a Sunday School, which grew enormously! Deacons were appointed: Mr Scott-Finnigan (Treasurer), Mrs Helen Scott-Finnigan, Mrs Margaret Harding (Catering), Miss Kathleen Webber (Church Secretary), Mr Frank Moxey, Mr Charlie Brown, Mr Mike Chering, Marjory Hughes, Chris Beer. Mrs Weatherall commenced a Ladies meeting and in 1974 Rev Edgar Morrish, a retired missionary, became the Moderator of the Church, giving helpful guidance and support to the Deacons and members.
By this time the Church membership had grown to 54. Many were in retirement, and within the space of three years this number was reduced to 38 due to bereavement.
Getting a Minister
The membership of Brixington Free Church believed that the work could only grow and be sustained if it had a full time minister. The difficulty facing this newly formed Church was that it had exhausted its sources for funds to purchase a manse!
Miss Winnie Owen, a daughter of a Baptist minister, had longed to see a minister settled in the new Church to which she belonged. In 1976 she died, but left a substantial amount in her will to the Church, which subsequently was used by the Deacons to purchase a manse later that year.
The task to find a minister began in earnest. With the Superintendent’s help names were sent to the Diaconate of prospective ministers. The Rev. Peter Eastwood was invited “with a view” to meet the deacons and some members informally in July 1976. Before that the Church had already applied for a Home Mission Grant, as the congregation was unable to financially support a minister. On April 13th 1977 the Rev. Peter Eastwood accepted the call and with his wife Patricia and their daughter Clare and son Giles moved into the Manse. (Benjamin was born a year later.) The induction service was held on 30th April. Another phase of the Church’s life was to begin.
Now and the future
The growth of the Church membership and adherents, not to mention Sunday School, was considerable in the next three years. And within this period of time, the Church came off the Home Mission Fund, being in a position of financial viability to support the work totally.
From 1980 the format of the services changed. Services became more informal with greater congregational participation. Ministry groups were developed. Housegroup leaders were trained and installed.
A further training programme was initiated to increase the leadership and help members to realise their gifts. From 1983 worship leaders were introduced. And over the next four years preparations for Elders to assist the minister were pursued.
During this time many came to know the Lord and countless baptisms were performed. Members lives were encouraged and helped, and within the Church a ‘Spirit of love’ was generated by God and continues to this day. A characteristic visitors have remarked on!
In the next decade many of the older members faded away, having served their Lord faithfully, but their work was taken on by many more, who continue to serve the Lord, the Church and the community in valuable ways. It must be said that during this time a great deal of flux and change has been experienced by the fellowship, both in membership movement, for all kinds of reasons, and the effects of a Church maturing.
However, the membership has continued to grow to maintain its numbers, as people have moved or passed away. We praise God for the constant renewal process of His Spirit, for the ongoing ministry and witness of the Brixington Free Church, which continues to serve the Lord and the people with vigour and love. There is so much to be thankful for the way that the Lord has continued to be with us.
For all the saints who have gone before us, giving those who remain the privilege to build on their work for our Lord.
And so, we come to the 25th year of the Church at Brixington, and praise God for all that He has done, and pray for all that He has yet to do, through us His people. Our Lord goes before us and we His people desire and intend to follow Him!
P. E. 1997