Our introduction to Silverton must be in the year 1941, although to say the work began then is to overlook the prayers and labour of faithful believers longer ago. If we take a look at this picturesque mid-Devon village (of about 1,200 inhabitants) as it was in that dark war-torn year, we shall see a village with two places of worship–a Church and a Methodist Chapel; many folk had no interest in either. Some of the older people could have looked back over the years to the time when Mr. W. D. Dunning visited the village with the gospel message. They would have remembered too a tent campaign by Messrs. W. Macfarlane and H. Dawe. These faithful witnesses are now entered into their rest. Still more would have looked back with joy to a tent mission conducted by Mr. Robinson of the Caravan Mission to Village Children, a work that has been well blessed.
Living in the village were Mr. and Mrs. H. C. Alford, but as there was no assembly at Silverton they had for many years been giving much-needed help in the assembly at Burne, some miles away–a work which Mr. G. Webber had commenced about 50 years ago.
Such was the scene at the beginning of 1941. But God was answering prayer, for at that time the late Mr. K. A. Johnson and his wife were looking for a suitable house for themselves, their helper, and the 23 French children in their care. They had escaped from France on the 18th June, 1940, and crossed the Channel from St. Malo to Weymouth on a well-loaded troopship. From Wey-mouth they were sent to Chelsea, London, where they remained for a few months until the air-raids compelled the authorities responsible for evacuation, to remove them to an isolated farm on the north Cornish coast. It was a welcome relief from bombs, but the farmstead was scarcely designed to accommodate such a large family, even with the use of the cowshed loft and the barn as dormitories! So it was that a letter was circulated to some Devonshire assemblies asking if anyone knew of a suitable house (a difficult thing to obtain in those days of evacuation and billeting). Mr. Afford was able to reply that a large house, just a quarter of a mile from Silverton, was becoming empty. This was found to be ideal, and within a short time Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and family were settled there and a keen missionary couple were “At Home” to Silverton.
Almost immediately they started a Lord’s-day after-noon meeting in the large drawing-room of their home, and soon followed with a Wednesday-evening meeting known as the “ The Happy Circle “ for folk of all ages, and a Saturday-morning children’s class, all of which were well attended. Soon a need was felt for a testimony right in Silverton. In April, 1944, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Alford were able to obtain a large wooden-hut belonging to the Western Counties and South Wales Evangelization Trust. This was transported from Langport, Somerset, and with the willing help of local brethren was erected on a site in the village. A gospel-meeting and work amongst women and children were commenced right away.
In 1945 Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and their family returned to France, but the work continued and some blessing was seen.
By 1950 it was felt the time had come to form an assembly in Silverton, and on the first Lord’s Day of April of that year 18 believers met to remember the Lord in the Breaking of Bread. What a joy it was to be present on such an occasion, for here was the birth of a church, here was the answer to prayers, here was the real beginning of a testimony to the saving and keeping power of the risen Christ, here was a continuation of the work of the Holy Spirit as seen in the Acts of the. Apostles. The Lord raised up others to continue the work at Burne, and believers continued to meet there also.
By this time, however, the wooden-hut was becoming dilapidated and plans were prepared for a new hall. After considerable delay by the various authorities, work was commenced and completed in the autumn of 1954 at a cost of £2,384. The main hall seats 120 and has a bap-list ry, I he classroom seats about 30 and has a moveable partition which opens into the main hall. The contract was undertaken and admirably carried out by a “ builder brother,” Mr. C. Callard, of Newton St. Cyres.
This new hall was opened by Mr. D. Brealey, of Clayhidon, who gave a helpful and inspiring message that could well be entitled “ What we believe, and why.” About 120 attended this meeting from the locality. The following day, in glorious sunshine, fellowship meetings were held and about 150 believers who packed the hall for praise and prayer heard Messrs. C. Darch, S. Dipple, D. Clifford, and R. German minister the Word. At these meetings it was announced that £1,450 had been raised towards meeting the cost. This amount was comprised of gifts from individuals, from assemblies, and a substantial sum was given by the assembly. The work now continues in a permanent building more worthy of the gospel and we all say with the Psalmist, “ The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad.” Psa. 126. 3.