The New Building – Part I
The new Castle Hill Baptist Church is the result of a remarkable sequence of events going back more than thirty years. They demonstrate the provision of God again and again in circumstances which seemed impossible.
In the 1990’s membership was very low and the church faced huge problems. The funds of the trustees had been eaten away by inflation and the 100 year old building was in a poor condition. Some of the fabric was beyond repair, parts were dangerous, woodworm and dry rot were barely under control.
More importantly, the congregation could not hope to develop because the premises were quite unsuitable for a modern church. Disabled access was impossible, heating was inadequate and expensive; apart from services, all activities had to be crammed into two small rooms, one of which was a kitchen and both let in the rain. Repair (even if possible) seemed a waste of money but the site was too small to rebuild effectively.
Much thought was given to the possibility of moving away, but where was the extra money to buy a site to come from? For technical reasons the Castle Hill property had little sale value – the recommended alternative use was as a garden! In any case, the location was too strategic to be abandoned.
Then in 1970, without warning, the Castle Arms, the public house and car park next door came on the market. The church saw this as a God-given second chance – in l927 it had refused an offer to buy the car park. The church scraped together every penny it had or could borrow, just enough to reach the auctioneer’s starting bid of £5,000. It was not enough, but then the bidding stopped. The reserve had not been met either. The church secretary offered to lend her pension fund to the church and after much prayer it was possible to purchase the property two days later. The problems were still there but the most important obstacle to a future had been removed. The church sang ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow’ – and not for the last time.
The pub became church rooms and the car park was enormously valuable, but the purchase had exhausted all the funds the church had and there was still no big space for youth work. Then in 1976, another complete surprise. The church of St. Nicholas wanted to dispose of its parish hall in Gerrard Street. Unlike rebuilding, this purchase was within the church’s reach and would immediately provide the extra space necessary to increase church activities.
The purchase of the Gerard Street hall, however, meant the church having to exercise still more patience. Repaying the loan for that took even longer. All the time, too, constant efforts had to be made to keep the old church going until it could be replaced. In 1986 these failed and the congregation had to move to the hall. Once it was no longer used, the church building became even more of a liability.
By the late 1980s the time for waiting was nearly over, but a new church would cost far more than a pub and a church hall. What to do for money? A whole range of collaborative options was explored – a church + sheltered housing; a church + housing for frail elderly; a church + housing for single young people etc. etc., but nothing proved possible. In the meanwhile Meeting Point had been started and had proved its value as a gateway between the community and the church. The congregation caught the vision of a church, purpose-built to link into the community via Meeting Point. Over the years, too, people had joined the church who together had all the skills needed. Clearly now was the time to act.