How It Began - Sunday School on the Staircase
J. H. L.
The writer was recently privileged to sit down at the Lord’s Table with a company of believers in a very comfortable and well-appointed hall a few yards on the Nottinghamshire side of the Derbyshire border, with a fringe of the famous but dwindling Sherwood Forest just across a couple of fields.
It seemed a far cry to the slump that hit the Somerset coal field in 1927 but, strange as it may sound, this work in a northern mining village had its origin in another colliery village of Somerset. Here 22 years ago four unemployed brethren met together in a miner's cottage unitedly to seek God's face with a view to finding work. The outcome was that an application to the manager of a colliery in Derbyshire resulted in all four obtaining work within two weeks.
When they and their families arrived the nearest assembly consisted of a small company meeting in a cottage eight miles away. After one or two unsuccessful attempts to find congenial Christian fellowship in the locality, meetings were started in the home of one of the four brethren and they commenced to "break bread" in 1928. Work amongst the children flourished from the start and there were times when there were no less than 100 children in a small five roomed house, classes being held ill the bedrooms and on the stairs. Several adults were saved, among them being some very interesting cases of conversion.
As an illustration of the unusual way in which the work grew we might mention the case of a neighbour who was evidently anxious to make personal contact with one of the sisters. This woman would make pretexts for calling at the house at odd times and after several calls of this nature had made it evident that she had some other purpose, she was invited in just at the time when the good woman of the house was enjoying a cup of tea" and reading the Scriptures whilst waiting for her husband to return from work.. The woman was evidently interested, whereupon our sister invited her to join in the reading which happened to be the story of the Crucifixion Surprising though it may seem this woman although otherwise intelligent was unable to read. She had no religious background, but listened with great interest to the story although she had not the slightest idea of the identity of the central figure. She was very much impressed with the explanations given and the next day called to borrow the book explaining that she had told her husband all about it and as he could read they wanted to go over everything together. Both were eventually saved.
Another neighbour was violently opposed to the unheard of idea "a chapel in a house" and used the most violent language in trying to dishearten the people from attending. Eventually she was persuaded to attend a special meeting for women where remarkably enough the message was based on the conversion of the blaspheming and persecuting Saul. When she left the meeting, under evident stress of emotion it was feared that she felt insulted and would make more trouble but she afterwards confessed that the message so suited her case that she felt powerfully convicted and impressed of the need of meeting the Saviour who arrested Saul. The Gospel was made plain to her and a morning or two later she came across to the house in high spirits to announce that she had "'got it." Experience proved that she really had "got it."
The brother whose house had been open for meetings had been converted many years before under the preaching of Mr. J. Hodson and it was fitting that Mr. Hodson should be invited to conduct a tent mission in the village in 1930. Several were saved during this most interesting campaign and the membership of the assembly increased to forty. The work has been maintained since, although owing to a large number of removals the number in fellowship has dropped to about thirty.
Quite apart from the real work that has been done in the village, the assembly, during the war, proved a great blessing to men in the Forces, 'Bevin Boys' and German and Italian prisoners, several of whom were definitely blessed.
The zeal which characterised the believers is exemplified by the case of an elderly sister who rather than miss remembering the Lord, when no transport was available, used regularly to walk a distance of eight miles to the meeting along lonely roads, until she found a path through the forest which reduced the distance to five miles.
It is worthy of note that in 1929, owing to a variety of causes, only the man and his wife and daughter were left and the work which has prospered since, would have died out but for their faith and patience.
This simple account serves to show how much can be accomplished in simple and unpretentious way.