Paignton (Palace Avenue) Methodist Church

Palace Avenue, Paignton, Devon, United Kingdom

A Facelift

1970 - a time to gather stones

The Leaders Meeting was looking forward to making a greater impact both within and outside the church family. In 1971, celebrations took place to mark the 75th Anniversary of the building of the present church. The Revd Kenneth Waights, President of the Conference, conducted worship. There was a dramatic presentation of the updated version of the 'Scrapbook of Palace Avenue'

Membership totalled 350. The October returns show 305 attending morning worship and 116 in the evening. In the same year, the question of a Stewardship programme was entertained. Over several months, Trustees and Leaders studied the literature and held discussions. After a visit from the District Director, a vote was taken. The results were:

  • For the scheme 8 votes
  • Against 33 votes

After twenty years dedicated service, ill health forced Percy Pearse to resign as organist. He had made a great contribution to the act of worship, and was sorely missed.

Arnold Bellwood made determined efforts to work with other denominations, especially through an active Council of Churches. He successfully united Palace Avenue with the Parish Church in several ventures. At Christmas there was a united prayer meeting. The premises provided additional reception rooms when the Anglicans were celebrating Confirmation services.

A Flower Festival was organised by Janet Bellwood, with the help of the Paignton Flower Club. So popular was this event that it set a pattern for the future. Other ladies were now practising the art of floral decoration and interpretation.

By 1972 it was apparent that the organ was not living up to expectations. Further repairs were quoted between £1925 and 2535 at least. The traditional pipe organ is such an integral part of a church, that the thought of installing an electric or electronic instrument struck terror in the hearts of music lovers. About this time, new techniques were being employed in organ design, using intelligence gained from space programmes. The most popular instrument demonstrated was the Allen Digital Organ. After the 31st March 1973, VAT was to be introduced. This acted as a spur to make a decision to purchase the organ, which cost £3500. Recitals by esteemed organists followed. Anyone hearing Dom Sebastian Wolf playing a Bach Toccata would almost believe they were listening to his Buckfast Abbey organ, rather than this small miracle of modern science.

An exchange of ministers was arranged for Arnold Bellwood and the Revd Paul Stephenson of Munster, Indiana, USA. Of that experience, Paul now writes:

It was 1973 when Mrs Stephenson and I first came to Palace Avenue. We came with many misconceptions of what English people would be like, and only a hazy understanding of Methodism in the Mother country! We must have entertained some of American popular views of English life and people - stiff, formal, slow to change, lacking in humour - etc. My, how Palace Avenue folk shattered those ideas!!

From the very first moment when off the train we met John and Eve Perkins, and were taken to the manse and treated to a beautiful meal, we knew we were in the right place - and that the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord was in this place! I confess to being scared and nervous when I first climbed those steps into your pulpit - but the reception of my 'strange' accent and poor English was very kind and warm - and I was so humbled and grateful! Your lovely church is so beautiful and its location right in the midst of your busy city is so right - and your recent remodelling of the narthex - so that you are wide open to the sidewalk and street - all speak of your firm purpose to take Christ to all people - Just as John and Charles Wesley did in our earliest time. All the members of Palace Avenue received us with such warmth and Christian love that we were at home immediately with them. Our second exchange in 1976 only confirmed and reinforced our impression, and deepened our love for you and increased our respect. I was never sure exactly what the two pastoral exchanges did for you folks, but it greatly warmed our hearts, and gave me a new feeling of comfort and courage in my ministry. You will always have a very special place in our hearts God be with you!

And Ernie (as she prefers to be called) adds:

We fell in love with beautiful Devon and especially Palace Avenue church folk during our two exchanges. We have visited twice since to keep in touch with you good friends of our common heritage. These experiences have enriched our lives and ministry!

Finally - with words our good friend Arthur Mitchell once wrote us:

"For recollections of past sights and sounds,
Moments of eternal hope, and music to enthrall,
Friends old, and new, and beauty that abounds,
We thank our Father God, whose love enfolds us all."

John Perkins, who with his wife Eve, hosted the visits, says:

A memory lasts of an emotional farewell on the occasion of their last service.

The congregation sang at the close of the service,

"God be with you 'till we meet again".

Paul stood in the pulpit, tears rolling down his cheeks.

Nationally, a major change was about to take place in Methodism, introduced as 'Restructuring'. Trustees and Leaders Meetings would be replaced by a Church Council. At Palace Avenue, the newly elected body held its first meeting in the parlour on the 3rd of December 1973. The current Treasurer, Ron Elliott applied his legal skills to the great tome of 'The Constitutional Practice and Discipline of the Methodist Church'. For some time to come, he would bring the attention of the meeting to the right and proper way to approach a particular task.

The following summer, Arnold and Janet Bellwood took their leave. They 'retired' to work with the Langley House Trust, a cause near to their hearts. Into the manse came the Revd C Dennis Phippen and Mrs Margaret Phippen together with their sons.

Members continued to support local needs. A wayfarers hostel, Seapoint, Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon, and the newly opened Day Centre were all encouraged by the new minister.


On the occasion of the 10th anniversary

Dr Nan Kennie appealed to her fellow members for support for the Day Centre for the Elderly planned by Torbay Voluntary Services. The well attended meeting, held at Palace Avenue, produced many offers of help. The Centre opened in November 1975 in the old Post Office building and moved to larger premises in Torquay Road in 1980. The day to day expenses still rely on self-funding. The ecumenical nature of the venture extended to the Thanksgiving services held on the 1st, 5th and 10th anniversaries at Palace Avenue, the Parish Church and Christ Church respectively.

Of a total of 98 helpers listed over that period, more than 30 were members of Palace Avenue. Dr Kennie says: "The association of our Church and the Day Centre is a long and happy one. When, in 1988 the Queen saw fit to award me an MBE, it was not so much a personal honour as the recognition of the importance of the Centre to the town and appreciation of all who had served there." The congregation was delighted at her award. After a devoted professional life, she has spent an equally busy and demanding 'retirement'.

There were now 94 children on the Sunday School register, with an average attendance of 70. Work was hampered by a shortage of teachers. 21 sat for the Scripture Examination, and there was good support for JMA. A favourite venue for the outing became Mr Berlyn's farm at Marldon. Derek Elson took over as pianist. He soon had the children playing recorders and percussion instruments, graduating to clarinets, flutes and a trumpet. They performed during services, at coffee mornings, at the hospital and nursing homes. As far as children are concerned, Derek is Mr Magic and they respond to his every word.

The first lady to be elected as a Church Steward was Mrs Phyllis Srodzinski. She set a high standard. She had already taken responsibility for all floral arrangements and festival decorations. Her artistry and dedication made a fine contribution which could not be matched.

The Church Council had to decide if they would support the reduction of the Circuit Staff by one minister in 1975. At the same time, they were being asked to accept an Assessment increase of 22½%. Inflation was a problem for the church as well as for members, and there were structural problems. It was perhaps by way of some light relief that the Friendship Group organised a Barn Dance to follow the Harvest Supper.

Efforts were made to improve worship, and to accept changes if they meant progress. The family Service and Church parade was established once a month. Candlelight carol services were still popular, attracting non-regular church goers. Attendance at normal evening services continued to decline, and a move was made to the hall for the winter months. Experiments in the format or style of worship did not prove popular. The ladies Friendship Group gave way to a mixed Unity Group. It became a power house, comprising many younger couples with energy and ideas. It did valiant service before too many people moved away from the town.

The annual Dartmoor walk was inaugurated in 1977. Usually on May Day, it was planned to cover remote, open moorland with points of interest. Younger children ignore the fact that the walk is limited in length for their benefit, and insist on dashing forward and back, covering twice as much ground. The day provides a valuable break in the church calendar when people are able to share their thoughts with fellow walkers.

The organist, Mr Bernard Butler left the area. He had proved an energetic worker, and was involved at events like the Strawberry Fayre held in the beautiful gardens of Mr and Mrs Starkey. He was succeeded by Mr Ron Pooley, a painstaking planner who always found music appropriate to the moment. When illness forced him to resign, his participation in worship was sorely missed.

The Methodist Church Act of 1976 introduced a central Trust and disbanded the local Trust. The Church Council took over the management from the Trustees.

Conference, Synod and Circuit were all studying the 10 Propositions with regard to Church Unity and the appointment of Bishops. Opinions were expressed, and traditionalists had to search their hearts.

The Circuit expanded in 1977 to include the former Brixham and Dartmouth Circuit under the new title of the Torbay Circuit. It was a hectic period. Market Street and Union Street sites had been sold, and the churches, together with the Belgrave Road Congregational Church, demolished. The new joint Methodist and URC Central Church was now pointing its modern edifice skywards on the Belgrave site. Such was the value of the sites sold, that there was. a considerable sum left over. Other churches were able to promote imaginative schemes as a result.

The hall and ancillary premises at Palace Avenue were causing concern, not the least because they were a fire hazard. With Circuit Advance Fund assistance, the opportunity to redevelop the entire shell was feasible. Architects plans were submitted to the Church Council and the Town Hall. Two rooms would be created from one, and an extra room added. A spacious kitchen and good toilet facilities would replace the outdated arrangements. New staircases and entrances would improve access and safety.



A splendid dinner at Oldway Mansion inaugurated fund-raising. The transformation work would take five months to complete. During this period, only the church sanctuary would remain open for use. Even the vestry was out of action. The church vestibule (a narrow passage) served as a vestry.

All water, including that for the flowers, had to be brought in, and refuse taken away. Weekly mini-markets on the forecourt boosted funds while at the same time proving to be a source of witness and counselling. The YMCA offered storage space. The Parish Church willingly opened the doors of the Parish Hall to the Sunday School and other functions.

The Property Stewards and committee carried a heavy work load during this period. Not the least was Gerald Srodzinski. During the years he has served the society, Gerald has used, and does use his expertise and Christian commitment to further its work.

The alterations were carried out by Sherwell Valley Builders with satisfaction. The final costs amounted to £58,886.17 The Circuit Advance Fund granted £40,000 and a further £1,500 was received from Connexional Funds. The opening ceremony was performed by the Revd J Russell Pope, the former Chairman of the District.

The premises now comprised a fine set of rooms, light, comfortable and warm. The bronze and glass vestibule in Tower Road showed the public that the church was open and ready to receive them. Soon, there was a demand for rooms for a variety of purposes. For many townspeople, this proved to be a first contact with the church and its members.

The redevelopment put a considerable workload on the Revd Phippen who, as Superintendent, had been involved with the completion of Central Church at the same time. Dennis is a fine preacher in the true Methodist tradition, as befits the son-in-law of the late Dr Sangster. He encouraged groups to reach their potential. Given a few spare minutes, he loved to sit on the organ stool and open up the stops.

Miss Gladys Smith could only be described as a pillar of the church. She died quietly in January 1978. All her adult life she suffered increasing pain and limitation of movement, about which she said little. She served her Lord in every way that she was able. The first woman to be appointed a Local Preacher in the Circuit, a Sunday School teacher, Class Leader, Youth worker, author, poet, producer, secretary - the list is, endless. She corresponded with the young people when they left the town, keeping their contact with the church alive. In a typical letter, addressed to Barbara Green and dated 17th October 1962 she refers to 3 one act plays currently under her direction, the recent anniversary, and other activities of the moment. She was writing from her sickbed.

Time for another change. Once again, the incoming minister was a complete contrast to his predecessor.

Copyright © Sylvia Tancock 1990 (Reproduced here with the permission of the Author)
If you wish to use any of the material please contact us first to obtain permission.

Find out more

Pages of interest

Password Protected Pages

other pages

PA QR Code Explained

Why is this symbol used
on our publicity material?