The Bow Assembly, Devon, England
The origin of Junction Road Meeting Room, now Bow Gospel Hall, may be traced to the early days of the establishment of local assemblies, an unnamed homeworker being listed as working here in the early 1830’s. In March 1839, Robert Gribble of Barnstaple, a friend of Robert Chapman, came to Bow from Chittlehamholt. Called by God and greatly used as a travelling evangelist, he was the man God used to pour much blessing upon North and Mid- Devon, a number of independent fellowships emerging from his labours.
The present hall is the result of the adjoining home, ‘Turnpike Cottage’, being bequeathed to two prominent brethren in November 1854. This cottage with its large garden attracted the attention of Mr. George Müller, who with spiritual insight, saw it as a perfect site for one of his ‘Scripture Knowledge Institution Schools’, and, as was his practice, for a fully independent assembly with its own building. By 1865 the assembly hall was erected and, with a Christian schoolmaster occupying the cottage, functioned as a school by day and a meeting room for worship, prayer and preaching, in the evenings and at weekends.
A Deed, dated 12th December 1865, shows a further piece of ground beside the hall being purchased (to be used for burial purposes), the second party to the transaction being Mr. Henry Soltau. The third party on the Deed appears as a group of trustees, one of whom was Mr. Peter Child. He occupied the cottage with his sister from 1881 until his death on 10th January 1921, and was a much respected ‘man of God’ under whose spiritual guidance the assembly prospered. However, the school closed in 1894, just thirteen years after the government opened a primary school in the village, yet the assembly continued strongly with a vibrant testimony.
In 1871 Mr. Child, and his close friend Robert Chapman, met for prayer and were joined by friends from other fellowships who were invited to share in an offering for the work in Spain as it had just opened to the gospel. There was such a response that it was decided to meet again the following year on the same day, the first Saturday in October. This was the start of the annual Missionary Report Meetings known as DUO (Devon United Offering). These meetings continued in Bow without a break until the 1960’s when the gatherings were just too large for the hall, but the annual offerings and meetings continue elsewhere.
Following Mr. Child’s homecall the assembly received much encouragement with the cottage being occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Panting, who were widely respected servants of God. Mrs. Panting, who was widowed for fifteen years before her homecall, was joined by her daughter and her son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Hardwidge, who were missionaries home from Malaya. For some years the cottage and hall became a training school for prospective missionaries and must have given much joy to the saints who shared prayerful fellowship with so many of God’s servants.
The assembly has continually maintained its witness over the years. Changes inside the building are very visible with padded chairs replacing the long wooden benches as the main seating. Further, there is now an indoor baptistry, as obtaining permission to dam the local river for baptisms became increasingly difficult. While in recent years numbers in fellowship have decreased, the assembly maintains a witness out of proportion to its size, and a number of its brethren continue to preach and teach the word of God widely. The assembly meetings are still very well attended. One of these is a large gathering for fellowship, prayer and Bible teaching which has been held each Good Friday from the very earliest years.
Consecutive Bible study meetings, started in the 1950’s on the first Saturday of the winter months, are a major feature of the Mid-Devon assembly scene. Once again every available chair is in use. Bow village is most certainly not neglected as there are regular distributions of gospel literature to each home and wide local contact. Looking back, we praise the Lord; looking up, we adore Him; and looking forward, we trust Him; to God be the glory!