The following is a reprint of an article published in 2002 as a supplement to Heatherside Newslink commemorating twenty-five years of Heatherside Church.
The Early Days.
The story begins with a decision by St Paul’s Church Council on January 22 1976 to respond to the needs of the new Heatherside Estate. It was agreed that the vicar, Rev Robert Crossley, endeavour to obtain a second curate “to explore this opportunity”. Robert writes “this was no easy task as the Church of England were in favour of sending curates to the North due to technical staffing in the in Guildford Diocese. However as the newly created Surrey Heath Borough and Deanery was growing so quickly an exception was made allowing recruitment to start. It was to be a Local Ecumenical Project between the Anglican and Methodist Church with the opportunity to have ministers from both denominations alternating over the years. Initially accommodation was a problem as the Methodist church was unable to as they previously indicated. St Paul’s church launched an appeal and raised the necessary £20,000 to purchase 119 Cumberland Road. And so the vision could be realised to start a church, recruit a curate and house him.
Ken Scott takes up the story and remembers when he and his wife Helen arrived in November 1976. We were given a house to live in and a scrappy bit of paper with the names and addresses of a couple of families that might be interested in helping to start a church. After a leaflet drop in late December inviting attendance at a new church service to be built in the newly built Heather Ridge school hall, the very first group met on January 9th 1977. It was all very basic with fortnightly services which became weekly in May and we served coffee in plastic cups which we re-used until the Community Centre opened in 1981.
The congregation started around 50 including supporters from St. Paul’s and grew to around 75 by 1979 with a real sense of fellowship. All other meeting, house groups, church council meetings, women’s meetings and the Sunday morning creche were all held at the Curate’s Lodge at 119 Cumberland Road as was the AGM! A real demand on space and family life.
Baptisms could not be taken for two years until the Bishop granted a special dispensation. Care for others, central to the church was demonstrated by links with the London City Mission and the Far East Broadcasting Association, which are still in place. Also the Christian Aid collection in 1979 raised £152 and the harvest collection for Tear Fund raised £57. In 1980 the first church magazine was produced using a duplicating machine, messy ink and blotting quality paper.
Ken says that he became secretary of the Heatherside Community Association within a week of arriving and remained active helping to specify the design of the Centre. This initially was to include a dedicated church, as the second storey but was not included. During discussions on the plans he asked for it to seat about 200 people and now apologises for not requesting anything larger! Church finances were a struggle and he remembers trying to exist on giving of £20 a week. Many groups were started between 1977 and 1981 including Junior Church, which met twice a month, and the Heatherside Ladies group. Ken’s children, babes in arms during his stay, are now a youth worker in Suffolk with the other an accountant. Ken and Helen left Heatherside in June 1981, three weeks after the Centre was opened, to move to Dorset.
Neil Barker, curate from July 1981, remembers having a ‘fun time’ here on Heatherside with Caroline and a growing family. There were lots of new and unusual things to try which we were not afraid to try including church weekends away in rickety caravans on a quiet farm near Evesham. Very popular and happy times were enjoyed there with lots of children and joint activities, worship times, walks and fellowship.
We started a Gym and Swim evening at the Arena centre and I got my nose caught in a trampoline. The first Easter Sunday “Son rise” service was held on the Green at 7am with around 20 brave souls joining in. In 1982 we produced car stickers and posters in ghastly green to start the visibility campaign and finally got approval to erect the swinging door sign at the Centre. To help fund my post here I was a teacher at Elmhurst and minister to Brompton Hospital but in 1984 I stopped teaching at Elmhurst to concentrate on the community on our estate. Brompton Hospital closed later so I then became full time on Heatherside working with Tony Bullock the Methodist minister. The church started a ‘Good News Down the Street’ home visiting scheme knocking on many doors in February 1985 to share beliefs. One of those challenged was Paul Filmer who joined the church and later became an ordained minister. We started a choir, a junior music group, renamed young peoples’ groups with names like CIA, had groups including ‘After Eights’ and ‘Ladybirds’ and grew numbers but still struggled with evening services attendance. Our first joint confirmation service was held with the Anglican Bishop and Methodist Chairman both attending – a real first. Harvest festivals became an art form with masses of colourful coliage and gifts for the needy and homeless of London.
John Edmondson was inaugurated in April 1986, after a frantic time by church members completing major refurbishment of the Curates Lodge. During John’s time there were a number of new initiatives with music, preaching and the installation of the PA system, while Jill enthusiastically became involved as editor of the Church magazine. Our first Youth Club was formed mainly with church young people but this grew to a membership of over forty with crazy evenings of fun, activities, music, adventure and youth hostelling weekends. The young people’s music group also developed and peaked with 25 musicians and voices and a number of special productions at local churches.
During John’s time it was realised that the facilities at Cumberland Road were really inadequate for the joint purposes of a family home, study and a meeting centre and plans were put in place to find new accommodation. As the post grew in size it was agreed that Heatherside now warranted a vicar not a curate, and in 1988 John was appointed Team Vicar of Heatherside with St Paul’s and St Mary’s. This coincided with the purchase and move to 61 Goldney Road, which became the new ‘Church House’. John left Heatherside in October 1990, moving to Market Harborough.
John Carter remembers that it was only a few months after their arrival in April 1991 that Heatherside celebrated its 15th Anniversary. “I had been invited to come as Team Vicar the previous December” says John, following interviews in which the other candidates either did not like Church House, got stuck in Allders visiting Father Christmas or could not even get out of the homes for snow drifts. Yes the truth can be told – I was vicar by default! We came from a charismatic church in Nailsea and discovered a certain caution concerning the work of the Holy Spirit but tried to gently encourage ministry after Sunday services, more open times of worship and an openness to change. For some we went too slowly and for others we were not quick enough – a tightrope walked by many vicars. Home groups were always an active ingredient of a church, as were regular prayer meetings and it was important for these to develop and grow. The development of Youth work led to paid youth workers Mandy and then Tony. Regular prayer visiting started around the estate, the first Newslink was produced and church weekends at Swanage and Brook Place still bring back fond memories. Music developed and a new keyboard was purchased for Sunday services. Our time at Heatherside lasted six years until August 1997, our longest stay anywhere and what we will remember most are the enduring friendships we made there. Although time and two hundred miles make it difficult to maintain contact, we know that in a corner of Camberley we have some of the dearest friends we will know this side of Heaven.
Phil Dykes. Katrina and I arrived in February 1998, surprised that we had survived the draconnian interview techniques and that God wanted us on Heatherside. The week before I was due to be licensed, Robert Crossley retired and the following week it was suggested by the Archdeacon that Heatherside become a parish in its own right! So from September 2000 I became the first vicar on Heatherside and could be here until retirement!
So where is the church now? In September 1999 we started having two morning services to accommodate more people and would now not be without them and accept them as normal.
The Church has rented a house from a member of the congregation in Martindale Avenue primarily for use by the youth groups. We now have two youth workers living there working with the different age groups: Lighthouse (5-11), Pathfinders (11-14) and Massive (14-18+).
In Autumn 2001 we launched our ‘small group’ initiative in which members meet weekly in homes with an intentional outward looking focus. The groups are exploring how they can be involved in the local or wider community. We have also appointed four people to work with me on a Ministry Team to lead the church.
Our Church Office, converted from an old storeroom in the Community Centre is open four mornings a week and has a lot of visitors. I continue the link with the community as a governor or Heather Ridge and a Trustee of the HCA. We have held a number of Alpha courses and a Gifts Course to help put the right people in the right jobs. Our wider Mission perspectives have developed with growing links to Romania and Emmaus, a project for homeless your people in Aldershot. These build on the established work with London City Mission, Tear Fund, ASCT and the Far East Broadcasting Association, Youth for Christ and Connect Christian Counselling.
Phil left at Easter 2008, moving to Winchester where his wife Katrina had been appointed chaplain to St Swithun’s School for Girls.
Larry Bain arrived in 2009 after a curacy at Emmanuel Church Stoughton near Guildford. Married to Elizabeth, a Staff Nurse at Princess Alice Hospice at Esher, the couple have three children.
Before his ordination he was responsible for British Transport Police finances for Southern England and South Wales before moving on to become a senior Director of a non-governmental organisation in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan called SERVE. There he was responsible for relief and development programmes assisting Afghans in refugee camps. On his return to the UK he worked for the Diocese of London for five years followed by three years in the Diocese of Southwark.
Larry believes all churches should be welcoming places with space for people to discover faith for themselves. Heatherside Church has always played an active role in serving the local community and Larry believes this involvement will grow in the years ahead and hopes that the church will continue to have a happy working relationship with Heather Ridge School. He recognises the obvious lack of provision for young people on Heatherside and hopes that the church will be able to help with this area in the future despite the fact that the church is not large and has limited resources. But he believes that in God’s hands all things are possible!
Larry is not a keen sportsman but found his interest in rugby, which he played at school in Epsom, was rekindled by a visit to Twickenham organised by the church men’s group. He admits to not being an accomplished gardener but the garden of Church House in Yockley Close keeps him busy and his muscles moving.