Paignton (Palace Avenue) Methodist Church

Palace Avenue, Paignton, Devon, United Kingdom

Fling Wide the Gates

1980 - a time to embrace

A growing number of families were attending the Family Services and the recently installed Rev G Jeff Thomas introduced new ideas. Traditionalists were cautious. He tried to make people aware of external changes, especially in teaching methods and to relate church conduct accordingly. He was ably supported by his wife, Christine, with son Paul and daughter Kathryn fully entering into the fellowship.

There were setbacks ahead. The Sunday School lacked sufficient teachers, and the faithful few found this generation difficult to reach. The untimely deaths of Jack Loynton, Jack Bolt, and Len Hannaford robbed the Vestry, Property and Communion of devoted Stewards. The choir was not attracting younger voices. The dwindling number of mostly aging members decided, with great reluctance and sadness, to stand down. Their contribution to worship cannot be measured, and they sorely missed their own fellowship. Phyllis Srodzinski had attended to all floral arrangements and festivals for seven years. She felt that she needed to withdraw. The long serving Treasurer, Ron Elliott also resigned. All the members of the youth fellowship, Segment, went into further education or left to follow careers elsewhere. The Unity Group came to the end of its life.

Yet out of these adversities there were new beginnings. Mrs Christine Thomas took over the role of Superintendent of the Sunday School, followed by Mrs Susan Gibb. They attracted new teachers who benefitted from training and use of modern aids. An augmented choir sang modern Christmas cantate on three consecutive years. A Flower Club was born, employing a professional tutor to replace enthusiasm with skill. Under the organisation of Joan Hancock, the team became capable, and could now mount flower festivals without calling on outside help. The office of Church Treasurer was filled by Roger Gibb who adopted modern accounting methods. A new youth fellowship, Impact, was taken over by John Lakin and Margaret Eden, who were also appointed as Organist and Deputy. An adult group, Impulse also saw light of day.

At the same time, housegroups were being formed. They followed BBC Radio Devon's Lenten courses with other denominations. Weekly Prayers for Health and Healing brought in people from around the bay. New Service Books and Hymns and Psalms were taken into use. Many copies were provided by individual members as gifts, or memorials which have been beautifully inscribed by Miss Nancy Collings and other calligraphers.

The church was delighted to support Pamela Pettitt when she candidated for the Ministry in 1983. She had made her own 'impact' within the church.

The children visited a recording studio and made a tape of Derek Elson's songs. They also appeared on BBCTV in 1982 singing Derek's Mothers Day song. He then wrote a musical "An Ordinary Day in Nazareth" which was performed for the Sunday School Anniversary. He followed this one with "He will take You There". His professional engagements now limit the time he is able to spend with them to a few weeks each year, but he still affects them like the 'Pied Piper'.

Women's Work and Women's Fellowship went from strength to strength. Now known as Network, it became a power house.

Support for the National Children's Homes never faltered, and continued to be the major charity supported by this church. Thousands of pounds have been raised. The children's Christmas gifts of money were presented to the National Society for the Provention of Cruelty to Children for local use. The work of Home Missions and Overseas Missions (including JMA) continued quietly.

In order to lift flagging spirits, a great West Country Festival was planned for 1984. It incorporated a flower festival, concerts by the Torbay Brass Band, The Plymouth Praisemakers and Mevagissey Male Voice Choirs, among a varied and ambitious programme. A Question Time had as its panel, the Abbot of Buckfast, the Dean of Exeter Cathedral, the Moderator of the United Reformed Church and an ex President of the Methodist Conference. Festival profits were divided between the building fund, general funds and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. It was a happy time, when everyone worked together.

Proposals had been put forward as early as 1981 to open up the church vestibule, and build a single, glass entrance onto the street. There was some concern regarding the actual effect, and also the prospect of raising the necessary cash. Plans went ahead slowly, in parallel with the Festival. Once again, it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who hastened the decision. From the 1st June 1984 all building alterations would be subject to 15% VAT. Work was put in hand with Sherwell Valley Builders. Of the total £19,716, the Circuit Advance Fund contributed £6,000. So another round of original and imaginative moneymaking events was planned. It was estimated that if every member put aside the price of a pint of milk each week, the sum of £3,000 would be raised in one year. The current Milk Marketing Board slogan, 'Gotta Lotta Bottle' was adopted (with the Board's permission) and plastic milk bottles were distributed. They were opened at intervals, and produced a significant sum.

So it came about that the opening of the new entrance happily coincided with the West Country Festival. It was a glorious nine day event.

THE NEW ENTRANCE

THE NEW ENTRANCE

The great glass doors now show the passer by that the church is alive and welcoming. The illuminated cross over the Communion Table is visible from the street, particularly after dark. The literal opening up to the public was also echoed in a metaphorical sense during this decade. More than ever before, outreach was expanded.

On the local front, links were forged with the United Reformed Church. Good Friday services were held jointly and the choirs combined at Christmas. Young people from other towns used the premises for holidays. Children and staff from a National Children's Home and other uniformed organisations particularly enjoy their visits. Since the inception of a refuge for women and children was sponsored by the Paignton Council of Churches, Palace Avenue has given moral and practical support.

For decades the church had participated in the pulpit exchange during the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. For the first time, a Roman Catholic Priest was welcomed into the pulpit. This was followed by reciprocating visits by youth and adult groups. Palace Avenue played host to another Paignton Council of Churches venture, the Messiah 'Sing-in', which was a popular event.

The service of Holy Communion was incorporated within the morning service once a month, thus significantly increasing the number of communicants. At the same time the Benevolent Fund benefitted, enabling the Church Council to widen the range and value of gifts to local, national and international causes.

In 1982 there was another USA pulpit exchange, when Jeff Thomas went to Dandridge, Tennessee. The Revd Bill Kilday and his family were warmly welcomed at Palace Avenue and went to the hearts of the people.

The most poignant open-door venture has been the link with the German Lutheran Church. In the Torbay twin town of Hameln, Pastor Hans-Dietrich Ventzky and his wife Elisabeth have opened their doors and their hearts. During an exchange visit, the Pastor told Jeff Thomas of a further twinning. The Münsterkirche enjoyed links with the Lutheran Marienkirche in Werdau in the Eastern part of Germany. The iron curtain division of families and friends had caused much heartache and anxiety. The Hameln congregation corresponded, visited and sent regular parcels to Werdau.

At Dieter Ventzky's invitation, Jeff Thomas joined him in 1982 on a visit to the DDR. He returned chastened, and determined to do all in his power to alleviate their isolation, and to support their courageous stand. On two occasions young people from Palace Avenue have participated in the Easter Youth gathering in Werdau. For five days, boys and girls from West Germany and Holland have also joined in their intensive study programme. They have enjoyed some fun and been given hospitality in private homes. They learned at first hand what it meant to be a Christian in a communist state.

There have also been a further three visits by adult groups, at no small personal cost or danger. They tried, in some small way, to lighten the darkness of their beleaguered friends. Regular correspondence continues and the churches exchange their monthly publications. The congregation has supported these exchanges in practical terms and with prayer. Each visit has also been blessed by friends in Hameln offering hospitality en route, without which the journey would be almost too strenuous. As the decade came to an end, the climate of change encouraged an invitation to be sent to the Pastor of the Marienkirche. It was hoped that friends from Werdau would be able to join the celebrations in Paignton in 1990.

New support for the adoption of Stewardship and the need for more commitment led the Church Council to reconsider the scheme. When finally the General Church Meeting and the Home Mission Department both gave assent, May 1988 was allocated for the implementation.

The delay between approval and inception was due to a change of minister, which necessitated a waiting time of at least one year into the new appointment. Jeff and Christine Thomas left for the north east in 1986. A true 'Geordie', he would be on familiar ground. Likewise, Palace Avenue now received a couple with local backgrounds. The Revd George A Courtenay (bearing the name of Devonshire nobility) was raised in Totnes, and his wife Janet was a former member of the Palace Avenue youth club. They soon settled in to familiar surroundings.

The appointed Stewardship Steering Committee met, together with Mr Ron Paige the Home Missions director, in November 1987. It set about establishing a professional package, in order to make the greatest impact. The 'PA' logo, so familiar to regular worshippers, was superimposed with the campaign slogan 'PEOPLE IN ACTION'. A brochure was designed to spell out the aims. At the committee's request, Derek Elson composed a Stewardship song, using the headings of the brochure as the basis of the lyrics. 'Only for You' made a valuable contribution to people's understanding of the meaning of Stewardship. Workers were recruited to cover all the campaign functions, particularly hostesses and visitors. A computer was used to collate all data received.

The results were rewarding. Over 200 Time and Talent folders were returned. There were new offers of help. A few results fell below expectation while others, like the birth of the Men's Fellowship gave cause for rejoicing. Increased participation in the Envelope Scheme as well as new or increased Covenants produced a healthy financial situation. Most significantly, there was a greater experience of fellowship. More personal contacts were made during the four week intensive period than at any other time.

The timing was perfect. The Campaign climax coincided with the 250th anniversary of John Wesley's conversion, with synergetic results. The new awareness more hearts were 'strangely warmed'. Throughout the year all sections of the church had participated in studying Wesley biographies, history and doctrines, and adopting Wesley themes in their activities.

The Quinquennial Inspection of the buildings in 1987 highlighted the fact areas needed attention. Due to the increased income, together with some legacies, essential repair work was carried out between 1988/1989 without any special effort or appeal. It was also possible to install tailor made public address and lighting systems. The final property project was the redecoration of the church interior. The total expenditure was £14,000.

During this year of regrouping, another 'think tank' set about planning the 1990 celebrations. It had been action an packed decade.

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.

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