THE STORY OF GRANGE—1953-1960
Congregational Churches have now flourished in Reading for nearly 300 years. It is interesting to discover a significant similarity in the origins of the first, Broad Street Church, and the latest, Grange. it was in 1662 that Christopher Fowler, ejected from his living of St. Mary’s because of his nonconformity and Puritan ways, began holding conventiclers in his own home which soon became very well attended. It was from these meetings in a private house that there later grew the present Broad Street Church.
In 1953, God called two men and their families to live at Southcote and to offer themselves for the work of the new cause on this rapidly expanding estate. It was at one of these homes that the first meeting for worship was held and so came into being the Grange Church.
Earlier, a committee of members from Reading Churches had begun to investigate the possibilities of witness at Southcote and soon the present site had been purchased. However the building of a large new Church cannot be achieved overnight and without lengthy and arduous preparation, and it was to be six years before Grange could be officially opened.
Meanwhile another pressing problem was how to accommodate those who wished to worship every Sunday, private houses involving such a serious restriction in numbers, it was wonderful that at this time prayer was answered. A local farmer offered to reconstruct a small barn, which had been a dispensary for sick animals, for temporary use as a Church. One cannot but be impressed by this amazing example of the way in which God provides when He wants something done. This was the turning point and the decisive event in establishing the Church as it made so many things possible. Plans were immediately laid for regular Sunday evening services, Sunday School and Women’s meetings, and these were all put into action in May of 1954. The evening services were at first conducted by Ministers from the Reading Churches, and the following November a Congregational Church was formally constituted with 10 founder-members.
Rapid progress was now being made and the number attending the various departments was steadily increasing. The Sunday School in particular was making great strides. Beginning with 39 scholars, it leapt to 76 and then 95 and continued to swell by some 10 children every week until an average of over 200 were being taught. The need for a full-time ministry here was becoming more and more evident, and in January, 1955, the Church Meeting sent a unanimous call to the Revd. Roger J. Hall of Western College, Bristol. This was accepted and our present minister was ordained in September at Broad Street.
During all this time the Southcote Committee had been meeting regularly, praying and planning for the construction of the Church on the site that had been purchased. Their problems were many, not the least being the enormous burden of finding the huge sum of money such a project would involve. But it was just at this time that the County Union was dealing with the Closure of Castle Street Congregational Church, and it was agreed that the proceeds of this sale would be devoted to the cause at Grange.. The Churches of the Union were helping to raise the remainder, whilst the fellowship at Grange was to provide for the furnishings. A Building Fund was set up and the proceeds of many of the Church’s activities were devoted to this. The great objective was a tremendous spur to the fellowship and the wonderful way in which everybody rallied to the cause was indeed heart warming.
The Committee visited many new Churches, seeking for ideas to incorporate in the plans for Grange, which were eventually completed in October of 1957, the actual work on the building being started in March of 1958. This year, 1958, was a most exciting one for us all Every day the passers-by could see the building taking shape—every day brought nearer the realisation of the dream of six years. The Church continued to worship in “The Barn” as it was affectionately called. The congregation was growing steadily. Many were the activities already being engaged in—Women’s Fellowship. Christmas Fayre, Jumble Sales, Concerts, Junior Christian Endeavour, Sunday School, Bible Study and even friendly cricket matches with other local Church teams—and all the time, everybody was awaiting and anticipating the Opening Day.
It came on November, 8th, 1958, an emotional occasion that few of us present will ever forget. We left the ceremony feeling that this was the beginning of a new chapter in the life of Grange. Our task was to consolidate the progress that had been made and to expand our scope of witness at Southcote. for this end, regular Sunday morning services have been held and also shorter mid-week services, a fine choir has been developed a Youth Fellowship has been formed and the Sunday School has been re-organised.
In the first six short years of its history, the Grange Free Church has become an Integral part of the estate; we pray that, soon, many more folk from the estate will become an integral part of Grange.
ROGER J. HALL.
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