Bethany Chapel, Lyme Regis, Dorset, England
Robert Greenman, Lyme Regis, England
The opening meeting for the building was on Whit Sunday 1st June 1914, but that was far from the beginning.
In about 1860 Christians started meeting in rented premises in Lyme. Many came from various Christian backgrounds feeling the Bible indicated there should be more to church services than that which they were experiencing. They wanted to declare their faith in Christ by baptism, and to keep the Lord’s Supper on the first day of every week, which they could not do elsewhere. They met independently of other churches to obey the scriptures fully. Instrumental in this was a man from Musbury named Walter Wills, born in 1839. Despite his staunch religious upbringing, he was convinced by the operation of God’s Holy Spirit that he was a sinner, and with no human help, he trusted Christ as Saviour at age 16. He saw a poor widow, Susan James, reading her Bible outside her cottage, so he joined her in that habit. Then they began to practice what they read. That led to openair preaching and more people being saved.
The message spread and at the turn of the 1850/60s Walter was involved in starting meetings in homes in Lyme, Axminster, Axmouth, Beer, Colyton and Thorncombe, most of which continue to this day. The Musbury connection was reported in Precious Seed Magazine, volume 9 issues 4 and 5, in 1958. Various premises were rented for meetings. As in Lyme today, lots of young people were leaving to work elsewhere, which left very few to sustain the services. That did not stop a Sunday School being started, even with only a few children. In one premises, seats and lamps were installed and a baptistry built. Another was used for ‘tea meetings’ addressed by visiting speakers.
Dates for all the above are unknown but, about 1911, when the home being used was too small, the Coombe Street site of a terrace of cottages was purchased for £200. The present hall, built for £233, was designed to seat 150 people, plus a schoolroom. By the time this is published, the pillars and steps in front of the building should have been replaced by a more welcoming and user friendly approach, see picture below.
Almost nothing is known of the next sixty years. Among the 1943 Trustees was Eddie Lovering, a schoolmaster, who moved to Ilfracombe, and was a well respected Bible teacher, both preaching and writing, including in Precious Seed. Towards the end of 1971, only a few sisters and one brother were meeting at the Gospel Hall. His sickness and frailty made it impossible to continue and the premises were closed.
Despite this, with the building renamed Bethany Chapel, it reopened on Sunday 15th October 1972, with just three people participating in the Lord’s Supper. There was a baptism on 29th October, and the numbers in fellowship increased significantly over the following months. Over the next four years there is a record of lots of children and young people coming, and also the ‘Women’s Hour’. Both these ceased about twenty years ago because of lack of numbers. Several times there were gospel campaigns lasting one or two weeks, mostly in the hall, but one in 1976 was in a marquee at a nearby farm. In 1973 the men of the United Beach Mission started using the hall for their accommodation during their annual August visit to the town. This is still a highlight of the assembly’s year. For thirty-five years people have come and gone, mostly because of moving into and out of the area, and there are now twelve in fellowship.
Monthly ‘tea meetings’ are again a popular feature of the programme. The speakers are often involved in some form of Christian outreach, and their messages combine reports of that plus the gospel. Until this started in 2004, unsaved people rarely came except for the Carol Service, but now five or more attend most months. Christians from other persuasions also come to hear of the Lord’s work. This has also resulted in several unsaved people now attending most Sunday afternoon gospel services.
It has recently become increasingly possible to speak to more local people on their doorsteps on a regular basis. Prayer is valued that a rapport will be established with many, and they will respond to the gospel, be saved, and added to the assembly. The earnest desire is for growth of this nature, not just by relocation, but also for the spiritual growth of the saints. If you are visiting Dorset do come and see us.