|From the Anniversary Booklet, kindly loaned by Margaret Matthews
Highfield Baptist Church
50 Years Anniversary - 1986
The history of a church over 50 years, a history of beginnings a new fellowship, a new church building; a history of endings, organisations that once flourished, now no more new ones come to life, people who faithfully served the Lord here die or move away and new leaders are raised up.
A shifting pattern one common thread, a love for the Lord, a dependence on His power and Spirit, and a seeking to serve His people here.
"One sowed the seed ... another watered the plant... it was God who made the plant grow ... we are partners working together for God . . ." (1 Cor. 3:6-9).
"The Westfield Estate" of 600 council houses was built in the late 1920's and early 1930's, a large western extension of Rushden, outside the boundaries of the nineteenth century development. On the estate two sites were reserved for churches, and on March 5th, 1934 the Church Meeting at Park Road Baptist Church accepted the deacons' recommendation that they should build a hall on the site at the junction of Highfield and Tennyson Roads. The building would be used for Sunday School and Sunday evening services, and endeavours would be made to build up a Church. The cost of the site was to be £98 6s. 6d., in addition the cost of road making was £298 17s. 6d. - a total of £397 4s. Od.
On December 3rd, 1934 a scheme to raise £2-3,000 was launched to finance the building, under the secretaryship of Messrs. Tom Sanders and George Bayes. By the summer of 1935 £1,000 had been raised, and the "Winter Wonderland" Bazaar held from November 28th-30th raised £900. The building operations began at the end of November, the total cost to be £2,427.
On January 4th, 1936 the official stone-laying ceremony was held, "the brilliant weather a happy omen for the future". A large number of people both local residents and members and friends from Park Road Baptist Church witnessed the laying of stones by Revd. T. W. Gill of Park Road, Mr. Fred Corby on behalf of the Church and congregation, Mr. Herbert Lack senior superintendent of Park Road Sunday School, Mrs. Phyllis Sidey the missionary representative, Miss Winifred Bailey leader of the Moor Road Sunday School (begun in 1933 as a branch of the Park Road Sunday School), and Mr. Harry Chamberlain the president of the Northamptonshire Baptist Association. A sealed jar with relics of the period was cemented into the wall and the proceedings were concluded by a tea at Park Road (cost 6d.) transport being provided for all.
In 1936 Mr. Herbert Abrams was placed in charge of the Sunday School, Mr. Reg Hunt was secretary, and a committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Abrams took on the responsibility for arranging the evening services. Mrs. J. Settles, helped by others, canvassed the estate for Sunday School scholars, and 120 were enrolled.
On August 29th, 1936 the opening ceremony was performed, when over 500 people gathered. Revd. T. W. Gill unlocked the doors and the service of dedication was led by the president of the County Association, Revd. I. E. Thomas of Northampton, and Dr. Henry Townsend, the then president of the Baptist Union, preached. "Electrical amplification meant that the service was heard over the whole district!"
The new building was used on week-nights by the Men's Fireside, which began with 47 members and had over 90 by its first anniversary. It began under the leadership of Mr. George Green, who continued in this role for 45 years. In addition the Women's Pleasant Evening later known as Women's Own began as a week-night activity led by Mrs. Ivy Smith and the Women's Pleasant Hour, a day-time meeting led by Mrs. Gertie Robinson also commenced at this time. From December 1938 Boys' and Girls' Life Brigades were begun under the leadership of Mr. Eric Godfrey and Mrs. Joan Willmott. Events in the wider world overshadowed the third anniversary of the church the services having been arranged on Sunday, September 3rd, 1939.
On October 18th, 1939 the Church Meeting approved the purchase of curtains for "blacking-out of the hall made necessary by the State of Emergency brought about by the war against Germany". It was later noted that the curtains had helped with the acoustics in the hall; they muffled the "echo" (every cloud has a silver lining?).
The Sunday School scholars were asked to bring their gas-masks to church, and arrangements were made for them and the church congregation to use the Council shelters in the event of an air-raid during services or lessons. A fund was set up to provide "letters and comforts for the troops".
The oversight of the work at Highfield was undertaken by Mr. George Green on October 13th, 1940, and it was at his suggestion that the possibility of appointing a full-time deaconess was later explored.
On May 9th, 1944 Sister Freda Moody was invited to the pastorate. Her period of service from 1944-1951 saw the building up of the Sunday School and Youth work and the establishing of Christian Endeavour. In 1946 the Sunday School won the Farningham Shield in the National Scripture Examinations.
The post-war days of austerity are reflected in the 1946 appeal for anyone who could spare "11 or 12 points" from their ration books for the Whitsun Baptist Union meeting tea; and in 1948 the use of the A.R.P. hut for storing Sister Freda's bicycle was sanctioned. The immediate post-war years saw a long-running battle with authorities for the return or replacement of the iron railings from the church frontage removed for melting down to make armaments in 1940 and rumoured to be still on the scrap heap at Wellingborough in 1946. Six pounds was eventually granted by way of compensation, but the new railings cost nearly £100.
On September 30th, 1951 Sister Freda left Highfield for a pastorate at Oxhey in Hertfordshire. For two years from March 1st, 1952, the church was served by a student pastor from Spurgeon's College London, Mr. Trevor Stout. In 1953 a United Coronation Service was held in the town on the Sunday before Coronation Day (June 3rd), and on the day itself each church held a service. The Coronation was shown on "Television projector equipment" in the hall, to the Sunday School scholars and their friends.
On June 18th, 1953 the Church Meeting noted that it felt "the time was now opportune to plan a full-time ministry" and to provide a house for a minister's accommodation. It was largely through the efforts of Mr. Stout that the church was now in a position to contemplate this move.
On January 8th, 1955 Mr. Alan Braybrooks was ordained at a service held at Park Road Baptist Church, at which he was also recognised as Pastor of Highfield Baptist Hall.
In 1957 he married Miss Elspeth Urens, and plans were drawn up for the building of a manse on the part of the plot furthest away from the Hall, to leave room for future church development. The cost of the house was £2,500. On January 16th, 1958 the seven corner stones of the new manse were laid by Mr. Don Peck, Michael Newell (then aged 16), Mr. Reg Hudson of Chelveston Baptist Church, Mr. Peter Waring, Mrs. Lily Harris, Mr. Dennis Faulkner, and 13-year-old Wendy Charles. On September 5th, 1958, the local newspaper reported that Alan and Elspeth Braybrooks had moved into the new Manse "Gaily-coloured floor tiles give a bright appearance to the kitchen and the light grey, softly streaked wallpaper in the hall indicates a taste for the contemporary but not gaudy styling".
On September 28th, 1958 a morning Family Service was introduced the first being a Harvest Service. Through these services it was hoped to encourage the parents of Sunday School children to become more involved in the church.
In May 1960, the Wives' Group (then called Young Wives' Fellowship!) was started by Elspeth Braybrooks, herself a new wife.
In 1962 Alan accepted a call to Victoria Drive Baptist Church, Bognor Regis. The ministry of Alan Braybrooks at Highfield from 1955 to 1962 was marked by growth, both in numbers and in commitment to Christ. As a result, following his ministry, it was proposed in September 1962 that "with the coming of the next minister to Highfield, he and those on the Highfield list should be prayerfully committed to God and dismissed to form an independent church". The Park Road church pledged continued financial help for seven years from that time.
On April 27th, 1963 Revd. David Price of Ledbury Baptist Church was inducted as minister, and on May 26th the 50 members of the new Church were formally dismissed from the membership of Park Road Baptist Church. A new phase in the history of Highfield began as an independent fellowship of God's people.
The vision of Park Road Baptist Church and its continued support and encouragement had enabled this step to be taken.
In 1964 a new building scheme was proposed, the accommodation of the hall was inadequate and it was felt that for the Church to fulfil its role a new building for worship should be built alongside the original hall. In 1965 monthly parade and family services were begun; and 1966 saw a building on these foundations with an increase in the numbers of children and young people attending various meetings and services; and the youth club, founded in 1964, developed quickly during this period.
Two notable events during 1966 were, firstly the ordination and induction of Revd. Michael Newell at Park Street Baptist Church, St. Albans. Michael had grown up at Highfield, where his father Mr. Bob Newell had been Church Secretary from 1948-1963. Secondly, the B.B.C. broadcast "Songs of Praise" from Park Road Baptist Church and all the churches in the town were represented at the service.
The plans for building a new church were completed during 1966, and planning permission was obtained. The first brick of the new church was laid in a short ceremony on May 21st, 1968, and the official stone-laying ceremony on July 2nd. The verse for the year in the secretary's report was, "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it". Building progressed well and on September 13th, 1969, the new church was officially opened and consecrated. Mrs. Lily Harris, the most senior member, led the congregation into the church for the Service of Dedication. Dr. George Beasley-Murray preached the sermon and challenged the Church to preach Jesus and to show Him as Saviour to the surrounding district. In November the first baptismal service was held, when Miss Mary Dodson and Miss Kathryn Tomkins witnessed to their faith in the Lord previous baptismal services had been held at Park Road Baptist Church.
In March 1971 the Revd. David Price left Highfield to take up the pastorate of Earl's Colne Baptist Church, Essex. His ministry had seen an independent Church established at Highfield, and the building of a new church building - "Give God the glory, great things He hath done".
In April 1971 Revd. W. John Weaver was invited to take up the pastorate. He was then Bursar of Regent's Park College, Oxford, and it was in November that he was inducted at Highfield.
In 1971 the afternoon Sunday School was closed and efforts were concentrated on the morning school, with the aim of forging closer links with the children's families through morning family services.
The next few years continued this attempted outreach with the founding of a "Mums and Toddlers" group in 1973 by Mrs. Ellen Godfrey and Mrs. Jackie Willmott; and "TADS" in 1975, a weeknight activity evening for children.
1976, the 40th Anniversary year of the Church, began in a "blaze of candles" on a birthday cake, which was cut by the minister together with Mrs. Joan Willmott and Mrs. Stella Godfrey, who had both been associated with the work of the Highfield cause since the founding of the Moor Road Sunday School in 1933.
1979 was the 10th Anniversary of the new church building. Revd. Roger Poolman, the Association Pastor/Secretary, led the services of celebration, and the day included dinner together followed by an afternoon in Hall Park with tea at the church. The whole day was one of enrichment and rededication.
In November 1979 the Building Fund debt was completely paid off, a generous donation from Park Road Baptist Church helped to bring this anniversary year to a joyful conclusion.
In March 1980 Mr. Eric Godfrey was appointed a Life Deacon in recognition of his faithful service at Highfield for a period of over 40 years.
In November 1980 Revd. W. John Weaver retired from the pastorate after completing 25 years in the ministry, the last nine at Highfield. His ministry had seen the debt on the new church building paid, and the development of new ways of reaching out to the surrounding community through Mums and Toddlers and morning Sunday School linked with morning family worship. The church also forged closer links with the Baptist Missionary Society, "adopting" Miss Jacqui Wells who is working as a missionary in Bangladesh.
With a remarkable coincidence of names, in November 1980 Dr. John Weaver (no relation) was called to the pastorate of the church, and following the completion of his studies at Regent's Park College, he was inducted on September 5th, 1981, the 45th Anniversary weekend of the Highfield cause.
The last four years have seen a continuation of the work here at Highfield, we continue to be the "church of the estate" and seek to serve God by serving His people here in this part of the town.
On Sunday, May 27th, 1984 the 21st Birthday of the Church as an independent fellowship was celebrated. At the "birthday tea" the birthday cake was cut by the longest serving member able to be present, Mrs. Kath Howard, and the two newest members Mrs. Kath Barringham and Miss Elizabeth Weaver, who on the previous Palm Sunday had witnessed together to their faith, in Baptism, at the ages of 82 and 11 years respectively visible evidence that God's love and grace embrace all people whatever their age.
What of the future 1986 is our Jubilee year. The Old Testament Jubilee Year was a year to proclaim freedom to all the inhabitants of the land, to return all property to its original owners, to release slaves, and cancel all debts. May our Jubilee cause us to reflect on our original inspiration to be God's people here at Highfield, and the realisation of our responsibility to proclaim God's freedom in Christ to our neighbours.
"Your word be in our actions clearly spoken Extend our church beyond the builder's plan And use our witness as a vivid token That You choose to share the life of man."
S.M.W. Nov. 85
CHURCH OFFICERS 1936-1985
We believe that the people are the church. The building is where the church meets.
This means that the building is not the House of God, it is the Home of the Church.
Come and share the celebration and thanksgiving of the people of God at Highfield during our Jubilee year.
Saturday evening: dinner for members of the church fellowship.
Sunday services conducted by Revd. Norman Wright, President of the Baptist Union.
Saturday evening: presentation of the Christian musical "The Victor", by God's People Together, a choir from Coventry.
A Sunday especially for the ladies of the church and their families.
Services conducted by Mrs. Margaret White of Oxford.
Men's Fireside services conducted by Revd. David Price of Faversham, Kent and minister of Highfield 1963-1971.
Junior Church Anniversary weekend.
Saturday evening of music and fun led by "Legacie".
Sunday services led by Revd. David Howell, director of Thamesdown Youth for Christ, with the children and young people taking part.
A Sunday picnic tea followed by an evening service of songs of praise led by Revd. W. John Weaver, minister of Highfield 1971-1980.
Church 50th Anniversary weekend
Saturday exhibition of the first fifty years, and a tea for all the friends past and present of Highfield.
Harvest Thanksgiving weekend
Saturday open day.
Sunday services conducted by Revd. Roy Freestone, General Superintendent of the Central Area.
Gift and thanksgiving day on the Saturday chaired by Revd. Alan and Mrs. Elspeth Braybrooks, in pastoral ministry at Highfield 1955-1962.
Sunday services of thanksgiving for our Jubilee conducted by Revd. John Weaver, the present minister of the church.