The following account of the founding of the Methodist church at Rake Gate was emailed to me by Heather Graham (Doreen Cochran in this history). Her father Fred Cochran was the main author of the leaflet which includes forewords from the first minister of the church (Douglas Bebb) and the minister at the time of writing (1966), Tom Wilkinson.
Some of those associated with the early days of the Church felt that a permanent record should be made of how it started and developed, if, for nothing else, but to remind members, present and future, that from the beginning it was the work of God, the Holy Spirit. The idea was then expressed that copies should be made available to the many friends of the Church .
Acknowledgement is gratefully recorded of valuable guidance given by the Rev. Dr. Douglas Bebb, in the production of the story.
God's Holy Spirit caused a veritable explosion at Rake Gate which in the last 10 years has affected many hundreds. Out of 'nothing' something came, unexpectedly and at times dramatically, as the acts of the Holy Spirit are apt to be. Even the Holy Spirit needs human agents, and Fred and Kathleen Cochran - aided by their daughters - were chosen, called, and came. Their response was in faith and zeal, Fred with greater caution and Kathleen with greater verve, making an admirable team.
I well remember a certain evening in 1954 when, at my invitation, they called and we spent a full hour in my study discussing whether it was right to ask people now attending services at Rake Gate to join the Wolverhampton Trinity Circuit, and if so the ways and means of financing the new buildings. I had not before that time met them, but their manifest devotion, well tempered with common sense and humour, convinced me that a permanent Church must be built so that the intentions of the Holy Spirit, as they seemed to be, and the wonderful vision and self-giving of Fred and Kathleen should not be lost; nor can they ever be. It was my privilege to have a small part, in conjunction with them, in securing the future, but the whole enterprise, under the Holy Spirit, was their's.
From the Minister;
I am grateful for the opportunity of including a note in this booklet It has enabled me to have a preview of the contents, and this has been a revealing and enthralling experience. Despite having been Minister here for over 3 years, I knew so little of this wonderful story of the Grace of God at work through human devotion. If you who read it find the story only half as interesting as I did, you will count it well worth-while. And if, like me, you are made all the more aware of the heritage which is ours in this little Church, and come to its familiar worship with a renewed sense of appreciation and dedication, then this book will have fulfilled its purpose.
In a sense it is a pity that someone else couldn't have written this account, for the restraint of modesty and a great Christian humility is evident throughout. And yet no-one else could possibly have written it, for this whole Church stems from a personal response to a call from God, cannot have been an easy task, but I am grateful that it has been done.
It may be worthwhile commenting on this descriptive word 'explosion'. So often this signifies a shattering upheaval......... but when the dust settles, all is quiet and inert again. That is not our kind of explosion! Ours is rather like an atomic explosion. An atomic explosion changes lives .. and even over this brief span of time there are many whose lives have been re-shaped for the better, and given real purpose and joy, because of the work of this Church. An atomic explosion scatters its influence. So from this little Society people have gone out into other areas, but they have taken the influence of Rake Gate with them, and are now serving the Church in many different places with the loyalty that they learned here. And then an atomic explosion releases a power that goes on and on. So it is at Rake Gate. This is just the beginning of the story. There are moments of calm when it seems that nothing is happening, but that Power is at work. The full results are yet to be seen, but they are so sure that we go on working not only hopefully, but confidently. In that assurance, building on the foundations of the past years, I count it a privilege to have some share in this partnership under God at Rake Gate.
THE EXPLOSION AT RAKE GATE
Rake Gate, a new estate in the 1950's, lies two miles from the centre of Wolverhampton , near the large factory of the Goodyear Tyre and Rubber Company. Not long ago, it was a farm stretching from the Stafford Road to the Canal, and part of it had for a long time formerly been used as a sewage farm. Where the modern Clinic and Library now stand there were buildings used as riding stables. Much of the area was marshy land, hence the nearby Marsh Lane. In order to get carts across this marsh "rakes", rather like wooden farm gates, were laid flat, end to end, to prevent vehicles sinking in as they might well have done. Hence the name "Rake Gate". Herein lies a parable; the building of a Christian Church on this very site was to provide a moral and spiritual foundation to many people in the years ahead.
Where the peat (caused by the sewage disposal) once stood on a site almost in the middle of this former marsh, there now stands the Rake Gate Methodist Church, the only Church on this estate. Before that came to be built in 1956-7, however, there had to be an explosion, an explosion of the Holy Spirit. This explosion, though they did not realise it at the time, had its first stage, not in Wolverhampton, but in Dublin, unplanned, unsuspected, unsought. In that "Fair City" the Cochran family lived - Fred, Kathleen, and their daughters Hazel, Doreen and Avril. An upheaval eventually landed them in England, and to Wolverhampton. There they found a home in 83 Probert Road, overlooking the Common as it was then but which is now the Rake Gate estate. They had wanted to live in another district, but a remarkable succession of circumstances, which some might not unreasonably think to have been the Holy Spirit at work behind the scenes, so to speak, brought them to Probert Road.
About a mile away was a Church of which Fred and Kathleen were members, actively engaged in Sunday School work. Some of the children came from the new houses then going up at Rake Gate, while there were also many little children who were unable to attend any Sunday School without having to make the dangerous journey on the busy Stafford Road. The parents of some of these children appealed to the Cochrans that something might be done locally for them.
So began the second stage in the explosion. What should they do? What, indeed, could they do? The Cochrans prayed about it, and thought about it and the answer came : "Let Kathleen have a class in her front lounge! ". She did, the first class being held on Sunday morning the 17th February 1952. Eight young children attended and from this small beginning grew a movement which was to give inspiration to many; to be mentioned at Methodist Conference and talked about not only throughout these islands, but as far afield as Yugo Slavia and Australia. It was a news item of sufficient interest to be reported in the local papers the "Express & Star", the "Wolverhampton Chronicle", the "Birmingham Sunday Mercury " and the "Daily Express". The following Sunday the number attending increased to 17, and each Sunday numbers grew until it was necessary to use the back living room which was a little larger. Home-made benches, a garden seat, biscuit tins with a plank laid across etc., were used to accommodate the children. Fred being a Lay Preacher was away most Sunday mornings, but when the work grew, he decided to devote his attention to the new venture. It should be said, too, that Hazel, aged 13 was a proficient pianist and used he r gift in leading the children in hymns and choruses, the latter being very popular. The problem of teaching a variety of age groups in one large class was solved by using Visual Aids, especially Flannelgraph. In less than six months numbers had risen to 60 and rather than refuse admittance to any child, it was decided to hold two sessions of school, one at 10.30 a.m. and the next at 11.30 a.m. The first Sunday of this arrangement 87 children were able to attend and it created quite an interest in the neighbour - hood when, at 11.25 over 40 children trooped out of the house, while a similar number were queueing to come in. This system was continued with increasing attendances until September 1953. To get so many boys and girls into a small house was a large problem; it was solved by the Cochrans selling their three-piece suite!
As larger and more suitable accommodation was essential Fred requested permission from the Wolverhampton Education Committee to rent a room in the new Infants' Day School, and this was readily granted. Accordingly, on September 13th. 1953, the Sunday School was held in the Dining Hall of the Day School.
A certain anxiety was felt about the possible reluctance of children to come to school again on Sunday, but these fears were unfounded, and on the first occasion 119 attended, numbers steadily increasing until in a few months there were over 400 names on the register with an average attendance of about 240. A tribute should be made to the remarkably high standard of conduct (with a few exceptions) but it soon became evident that help was needed to assist the children whenever necessary, and to ensure order and discipline.
It was also recognised that the school was, in fact . - a children' s service, and the possible advantage of grading because of numbers and diversity in ages was considered, hence the leaders had in mind the training of a teaching staff. Assistance came willingly from Beckminster Methodist Church and Winchester Road Baptist Church. A delightful aspect of this work was the happy relationship existing between the Sunday School staff and the Head Mistress of the Infants' School, Miss Daphne Watson. Not only did she make available the premises and equipment of the school, but took a keen interest in its progress. The staff will always remember with pleasure the relaxation of a cup of coffee and a friendly chat in her office after the morning session.
The next important phase of the work came about in June 1954. Up to this time the school was un-denominational, and children of several church traditions were meeting together. It was felt desirable to call a meeting of parents to tell them the reasons for providing the Sunday School, the methods adopted, and the objects hoped for. Because it had no denominational backing it was thought advisable to seek guidance from the Wolverhampton Free Church Federal Council, and the intention to hold such a meeting was discussed with the Moderator - Rev. McKenzie Simpson - and the Secretary the Rev. G. Forsythe. The meeting was called for 3rd June 1954, Mr. Forsythe to preside and Mr. Simpson to attend in an advisory capacity. During the meeting Fred Cochran outlined the history, methods and objects of the school, and when opportunity was given for questions a lady expressed appreciation for what was being done and asked could a service be held for adults under Fred's leadership. T his was quite unexpected. What was to be done? Could they begin and maintain a weekly evening service as well as the Sunday School? Would this not be too large and risky an undertaking? Again the Holy Spirit moved strongly, compulsively, and Fred and Kathleen knew what they must do. They must help the people in this new estate, still incomplete, to worship, and so they must commence a regular evening Service in the Day School. Hand bills announcing the first Service for the 12th September 1954, went into every letter box. All Rake Gate was invited - but would they come, would any of them come?
The evening of the 12th September was fine and the roads of Rake Gate were quiet and almost deserted on that memorable Sunday evening. Fred and Kathleen stood at the door to receive all comers.
At a quarter past six not a soul had come, and by 6.20 only three or four had ventured in. Fred had his service and sermon prepared and Kathleen was ready to give a real welcome to whoever should turn up, but as they and their family waited in the vestibule of the school and saw the clock indicating that only ten minutes remained before the advertised time of the service , they could not help wondering if their faith in what the Holy Spirit wanted them to do had not been mistaken. Perhaps it was a mistake and people were not interested in religion -as they had been so often told "religion is all right for kids".
Unknown to them many people had been waiting for their friends at the school gates, needing, perhaps, moral support. Then in 5 minutes or less it happened - over 50 came into the room in a block, and many more came a little later, and altogether between 70 and 80 people attended that first service, and among them a fair number of young people.
Faith like a grain of mustard seed had been rewarded. The theme of that service was "God so loved the world" : great Christian hymns were sung, and prayers were offered together, and a much appreciated item at this and subsequent services was the rendering of gospel solos by Kathleen Cochran - accompanied on the piano by her daughter Hazel. Later a young people's choir led the singing at these services.
Was the venture worthwhile? the worshippers thought so, for the following Sunday they came and brought others, and for months this act of worship in a school canteen met a deep need in the lives of these people. From amongst these good folk came helpers in the Sunday School - Joe Brindley, Arthur Coffin, Bob Elwell, Bernard Greenwood, Jack Parry and others when they could.
The time of Harvest was approaching and there was a natural request for a Harvest Festival as an expression of thanksgiving and joy.
This was planned for Sunday 3rd October 1954, and gifts of flowers, garden produce etc., which were brought were a joy to see, and were beautifully arranged by the ladies - with the men assisting - (afterwards these gifts were loaded into cars and distributed to hospitals and the National Children's Home and elsewhere).
An increased congregation was expected, but extra chairs and benches had to be brought from other parts of the premises, and eventually about 250 people had gathered. It seemed that the venture into adult work had been justified. As John Wesley would have said: "What hath God wrought?"
At this time two possible eventualities concerned Fred and Kathleen, one was the insecurity of rented premises - they could have been withdrawn at any time - and the other was the possibility of being unable to continue leadership because of ill-health, business circumstances, or any other reason. They thought and prayed much about ensuring the continuity of the leadership of the work. They negotiated too about erecting a building on the estate, and the following incident seemed to be an assurance that in this they were in the will and purpose of God.
While they were both absent from their home for a short time, an elderly lady called to see them. She explained to one of their daughters that she had saved a small sum of money to buy her sister a birthday present, but before the day, her sister had died. She handed over what she had already saved - two shillings and sixpence -a donation for the "New Church". It was impossible to find out her name or anything about her - she was stone deaf! In a very real sense this gift was greater than all that came later, because it seemed that God was telling them to go forward in faith, nothing doubting. Their convictions were shared with the Free Church Federal Council, who, after consideration invited the member Churches to sponsor the cause. As a result the Trinity Circuit of the Methodist Church through its Superintendent the Rev. Dr. E D. Bebb, offered to help. After a period of careful consideration a special meeting was held following the church service on Sunday, 16th January 1955, to decide whether they should apply for admission as members of the Methodist Church or remain independent.
The matter was fully discussed and finally a unanimous decision was reached to apply to the Trinity Circuit for membership, and request their assistance in the consolidation and extension of the work. In the meantime Dr. Bebb had been invited to conduct worship on the 20th February and concluded the service with Holy Communion.
It was not very long before Dr. Bebb was able to inform the friends that their request for membership was received with enthusiasm by the Quarterly Meeting of the Circuit, and this was a cause for much satisfaction. The name of the Church was included for the first time on the Trinity Circuit Preaching Plan in April 1955. Approaches had been made to the Local Council to acquire a suitable site for a Church building, and eventually after many obstacles had been overcome a very attractive site was offered, and negotiations were commenced to secure it.
The Society actually came into being when on 3rd April 1955, Palm Sunday, Dr. Bebb received 43 Founder Members all of whom were loyally supporting the evening services. Then the Circuit Quarterly meeting at Springdale Church held on 6th June 1955 gladly welcomed the new Society into membership of the Circuit.
About this time the Sunday School staff organized the first excursion to Sutton Park near Birmingham. No fewer than 300 children travelled in 5 coaches with many of their parents. At this time, too, the Society commenced the Envelope Scheme as the basis of its income, and this has continued to be the policy ever since.
One Sunday when the School was held in the Cochran's home, a child asked "Could we have an Anniversary?" Of course , that was not possible then but in the Day School premises that hope became a reality, when on the 12th June 1955 the first one was held. Three memorable services were held that Sunday, with a choir of 40- 50 children taking part.
Another important service was held on 19th June 1955 when a further 16 members were received into the Society.
Adult services had been continuing for a year on 11th September 1955, and the occasion was marked by the first Church Anniversary service. It was a time of gratitude to God. Also the same month - 26th September, the second Harvest Festival was held - at which seven more members were received. By the end of the year there were 68 members in the Society.
Trustees were appointed from members of the local Church and other churches in the Circuit, and proceedings went forward to purchase a site in Renton Road. Oxley, upon which the Church stands. The site was dedicated at a service prior to evening worship on 10th June 1956. This was a wonderful service conducted by The Rev. Dr. E. D. Bebb. Meantime the life of the church expanded in many directions. A Men's meeting, held in the homes of friends proved a great success, and later became a Circle of the Regnal League. The first meeting was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Coffin. 41, Beech Road, Oxley. on 17th November 1955.
A Ladies' Meeting was inaugurated on Tuesday 7th February 1956 and met in the School Staff Room - this new venture was well supported.
A real step forward and a time of thanksgiving was the occasion of the Church Stone laying Ceremony on 8th September 1956. Stones were laid by The Rev. Dr. E. D. Bebb, Mr. Norman Bates who laid the Circuit stone, Mr. H. L, Ginaven, Works Director of The Good-year Tyre and Rubber Company Ltd., who gave valuable support in the whole venture, and the Founder's Stone was laid by Mr. and Mrs. Fred H. Cochran and their daughter Hazel. It was the wish of the Trustees that Hazel's name should be included, as, from the age of 13 she faithfully fulfilled her role as Sunday School Pianist and Church Organist. Bricks were laid by a number of boys and girls of the Sunday School, and also of Newhampton Road Sunday School, who collected over £1,000 for the Building Fund by means of a Building Book Scheme.
A service that will always be remembered by those who were present was held on Christmas morning 1956 when quite a few friends gathered in the half-built church - no roof - and piles of bricks everywhere. The weather was very cold, but there was a glow in our hearts as we remembered the birth of the Saviour. Never were Carols sung more lustily than in that cold morning air.
At this time there were many young people living in the area who seemed to have no interests of any kind, and Fred felt that a week night fellowship should be arranged, and many came to join in recreations on the School premises. This Fellowship was continued over the years, and through it many have benefited from the influence of the Church.
Building progressed during that Autumn, Winter and Spring and the official opening of the Church building took place on Saturday 13th April 1957, in the presence of the Mayor of Wolverhampton, Alderman G. Rastall, Ministers of the neighbouring churches and over 300 local people as well as many who came from other pans of the town. Kathleen was honoured to open the Church door officially and lead the worshippers into the service.
The services during that week-end, continuing through Holy Week to Easter Sunday, 21st. April, were the culmination of the hopes and endeavours of the many who had worked and prayed for the church in which they were then worshipping.
The cost of the whole project was £13,500 of which £6,500 came as a grant from the Joseph Rank Benevolent Fund, £750 from the Connexional Funds of the Methodist Church, £1,000 collected by the children of the Sunday School and the rest given by the friends of the Church locally and within the Trinity Circuit, Wolverhampton, both in the form of direct gifts and interest free loans.
Those associated with the early days of the venture would wish to acknowledge the wisdom and untiring efforts of Dr. Bebb, who so ably guided it. When faced with the need to raise a considerable sum of money, he gave the assurance that there were many generous people ready to contribute to a worthy cause, and this proved to be true. The Cochrans will always remember his frequent visits to their home with donations he had obtained of amounts varying from £1 to £100. One of the most touching was a gift of £3 from two pensioners who certainly did not give 'of their abundance'. The Church stands as a monument to Christian generosity, and it is hoped that it will continue to inspire this spirit among its people.
It has been remarkable how the needs of the Church have been met often when there seemed to be no answer. But the Holy Spirit knew the answers. When Hazel, following her marriage, moved away from the district an organist was needed, and about that time Mr. and Mrs. Percy Nicholls came into membership of the Church. He had been organist and choirmaster at a church in Essington, and although not in the best of health agreed to serve as organist. Not only this but he arranged for the organ to be renovated at his own expense and eventually presented his own electronic organ to the Church. It seemed a tragedy that within days of making this gift he passed to his reward, and the organ stands to his memory as yet another inspiration to Christian generosity. Again faced with the need for an organist Mr. E. B. Morris A. T. S. C. willingly offered his services.
The Church pulpit was presented by Mrs. M. Clifford of Wombourn, Staffs., in memory of her husband, who, for many years was, in a business capacity, closely associated with the Rake Gate district.
A good friend of the Church, Mr. Dennis Taylor, made a colour film of the main events here recorded and he has shown it in the Church on several occasions. The making of the film was an event in itself, for a number of the children who had been scholars from the early days of the Sunday School re-enacted attending the Cochran's home, afterwards meeting in the Day School and both old and young figures in the Stone-laying and Opening ceremonies of the new Church. We are very grateful to Mr. Taylor for this visual record.
Over nine years have passed since the Church Opening and many changes have taken place.
Almost all those children who attended Sunday School have grown up and left the district but some remain to serve the Church. Some have been married in the Church and have had their children christened and some of these names are on the Cradle Roll.
A happy event was the wedding of Hazel Cochran to Ken Woolcock on 3rd October 1959, the weather being like mid-summer. Hazel was the first of our members to be married in the Church. The service was conducted by the Minister, Rev. J. Gordon Scott. On the 12th August, 1961, her sister Doreen was married to Rev. Douglas Graham at a service conducted by the Superintendent Minister. Rev. R. E. McLean.
A number of members and trustees have moved elsewhere and some have entered into their reward.
The Church has experienced times of spiritual uplift as well as times of disappointment, but has always realised the presence and leading of God.
The debt was finally cleared in the Autumn of 1962 and a Stewardship Campaign launched in November of that year gave an impetus to the spiritual life of the Society, and this in spite of the most severe Winter that many can remember.
The Church has been ably led by the following Ministers who succeeded the Rev. Dr. Bebb : -
The Rev. John L. Wynne who served for one year before taking up an appointment in Northern Ireland.
The Rev. J. Gordon Scott had charge of the Church,
and the present Minister is
The Rev. T. Wilkinson, M.A., B.D.
Before closing this chapter in the history of the Church at Rake Gate, it should be put on record that without the faithful and untiring service of members and friends, it would have been impossible to have achieved anything so worthwhile. With such a band of workers, augmented by young people growing up, with faith in God, the Church can go forward to yet greater achievements.
From the start it was the work of God, and in obedience to His will, what may seem impossible can become a reality.
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