Bethany Gospel Hall, Cheltenham
Duncan Conway, Cheltenham, England
The writer has had to rely on the information provided by the only two surviving founder members, Mrs. Vi Mitchell who is now 82 years old and now unable to get out to all the meetings due to frailty of the body, and our brother Archie Gibson of Glenburn, Prestwick.
The town of Cheltenham was known for its colleges, schools, and health spa, and its Promenade for shopping, a middle-class town which had an influx of people from all over the country coming to work in the Government Communications Headquarters at Oakley and Benhall. It was mightily blessed in the years just after the war with an assembly at Regent Street of upwards of 150 in fellowship where the correspondent, Mr. W. Turner who was also the Registrar for the town would play a major part in the purchase of a plot of land on which the present assembly building would eventually be built. Also in Regent Street there were those who had a vision and exercise to commence a work in the Hesters Way area with children’s meetings in the St. Mark’s Community Centre and also in the parks and grassy areas around the estate, Mr. Ernie Mitchell (Cardiff) and his wife, with Mrs. Mabel Lawrence and her husband Tom started the work in the mid 1950’s with children’s meetings of over 100 in attendance most of the time.
1957 saw the commencement of the assembly meeting to remember the Lord Jesus for the first time in a room provided for the purpose in St. Mark’s Community Centre. The speakers at the opening conference were Mr. Albert Leckie and Mr. Cliff Goldfinch
Brethren known to be part of the assembly beginnings were Mr. and Mrs. G. Beynon, Mr. and Mrs. Kemp, Mr. and Mrs. R. Avery, Mr. and Mrs. G. Stock, Mr. and Mrs. H. Gilbert, Mr. and Mrs. E. Mitchell, Mr. and Mrs. T. Lawrence, Mr. and Mrs. A. Gibson, Mr. and Mrs. B. Avery, Mr. and Mrs. G. Gail, Mr. and Mrs. E. Collingborne, Mr. and Mrs. M. James.
1960 THE HALL IS BUILT
Those early days were not without their problems. Very often meetings would be held in a cold and draughty room. There were other activities going on around the Centre at the same time as the meetings and that created other problems.
The gospel outreach continued with very good numbers attending children’s meetings and also gospel geetings for the estate where help was given by brethren around Gloucester-shire as well as farther afield. It was at this time the Lord blessed the work with the salvation of a man who has turned out to be the most respected brother for his faithfulness to the Lord and to the assembly our brother Les Painter, who is still with us and, health permitting, is at all the meetings, is still an example and a testimony to God’s grace. At this time there was only the Anglican and the Roman Catholic Church on this very large estate.
The Lord had laid it on the hearts of those early brethren to build a hall in the heart of the estate and this is where our brother Mr. Will Turner’s connections and influence in the town were invaluable in the purchase of the plot in Newton Road which was on the town plans to have four semidetached houses built there but after re-consideration it was agreed to be given for a Gospel Hall.
Work commenced in late 1958 and the Hall was completed for 1960 and was opened with a conference at which our two brethren Mr. William Trew and Mr. Dennis Clapham were the speakers, The hall was packed and there was a marquee in the car park where tea was served at the interval.
THE WORK CONTINUES
The ‘sixties’ was a time of tremendous change in the world and in the Hesters Way Estate assembly, not in its character or constitution but in its membership. There was quite a considerable addition to the assembly and there was a similar amount of departure mostly all to do with employment changes and transfers within jobs.
The first wedding in the Hall was that of Ken and Della Rudge who were married in July 1963. It was at this time in the mid ‘sixties’ that Mr. and Mrs. Simmonds were added and the present writer and his wife were contacted by the assembly tract band. We had just moved into the estate and I had been away from the Lord for ten years. My wife Mary was saved after about three or four visits to the Gospel Hall and was baptized shortly after. I was restored some three months later and received into fellowship where we have enjoyed the privileges and responsibilities of assembly fellowship for many years now.
THE ‘70s AND ‘80s
These were years of continued comings and goings having seen some young ones saved and going on, others saved and baptized and finding their fellowship elsewhere. Sound teaching of the word of God was the emphasis over these years with use made of gifted teachers from far and near at Ministry Conferences, Saturday Rallies and mid-week Ministry Meetings. We had two main series of Special Gospel Meetings with Robert Revie in 1986 (two women from the estate professed salvation and still keep in touch) and Peter Brandon a few years later had a two-week campaign which brought the assembly together in unity of the gospel although no blessing was seen in salvation as far as we know.
1990 THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY
The assembly celebrated the thirty years of assembly testimony at Bethany Hall with the October Conference. Attended by some previous members, the meeting was chaired by our brother Archie Gibson of Prestwick and the speakers were Dennis Clapham and Ken Rudge.
The assembly undertook the building of a large extension to the hall in 1991. This was commenced on the Spring Bank Holiday and completed for the conference of that year in October with all the labour provided by the assembly. In the last ten to twelve years we have seen the Lord’s hand in blessing. In His will He has taken all the original members and those that have been added seek to maintain the testimony with approximately thirty-two in fellowship including the four students we have had the joy of sharing with over the last three years. The conferences and Saturday rallies are well attended for which we give God thanks and the Annual Missionary Conference in January continues with increased numbers and interest being shown by locals as well as from neighbouring assemblies.
The work of evangelizing the area takes the form of tracting, Sunday Seekers, Gospel Meetings, Special Family Services, and Mother and Toddler Groups. There is at the present time a considerable interest shown by quite a few adults and on occasions the young ones of the estate descend on us and we have some good times and some not so good depending on their mood and numbers.
The assembly today is made up mainly of older saints and we are encouraged by the adding of some younger ones with a love for the Lord and His things. With the establishment of a College and the University of Gloucestershire in the town we look forward to receiving some more young believers into the assembly if only for their period of study.
We know not what the future holds but as with all others in similar situations we trust in Him who holds the future and, if the Lord will, we hope to celebrate our 50th Anniversary in 2007.