The Woodley Chapel - The Later Years

The Old Chapel as Laflins 1987 The Old Chapel in 2020

The First Minister

Preparations have to be made for a new experience - an Induction Service for a minister. For the first time in 130 years Woodley Chapel is to have a minister - the Rev. R.G. Scribbins, M.A. and the Induction is arranged for Saturday 14th September 1963.

There follows an extract from a letter from Mr. Scribbins:

"... I was the first full-time minister at Woodley (Chapel), after more than 125 years of dedicated witness and service by lay preachers, deacons and members. I was received with affection and concern, particularly by Mr & Mrs Bradley and Mr & Mrs Jordan; Mr Bradley being Church Secretary, and Mr Jordan Church Treasurer. The church ministered to adults and young people alike, including Cubs and Sunday School, Mr Willett and Mr & Mrs Perryman being very actively involved.

"Although small, the church building was extremely picturesque. I have vivid memories of it in the snow, looking like a Christmas card picture, and can recall one Christmas service when the church was so full that children were clustered round the pulpit steps.

"I remember with thanks the faith and prayerful devotion of the congregation; the spirit of joy and peace which pervaded our worship; the Christian fellowship with neighbouring churches; and the dedicated witness of the members.

"I am delighted to join with you in giving thanks to God for 150 years of faithful worship and service at the United Reformed Church in Woodley..."

One outcome of the arrival of a minister was the approval of a suggestion that in future the Congregationalists and Methodists share the annual Watchnight Service - an ecumenical act of witness with which to begin the calendar year.

Another idea was that of accepting the help of students from the Oxford Mission Team who would come to Woodley in their Easter vacation and spend a week extending the visitation work on the estates. This was, in fact, transferred to September.

Interesting and gratifying without room for complacency is an assessment review of the expansion of the Chapel work. Briefly that since 1959, 32 children from 27 families had been baptised, there were 93 children in the Sunday School from a total of 35 families, of which 7 families had connections with Chapel activities.

Further expansion of Chapel activities came about with the formation of an inter-church group comprising the Congregational churches at Park, Twyford and Woodley. This was an informal linking of the three churches which manifested itself mainly in joint meetings of the three Deaconates. Participation on the part of the members in the activities of the other churches was encouraged. Some close and lasting friendships developed as a result.

An example of the long and faithful service rendered to the Woodley Chapel can be found in Alf Jordan, who served as treasurer for 34 years. Warm appreciation of his efforts was expressed by the members when he finally relinquished the office.

In 1965 the membership was recorded as being 35 persons, while in 1966 it is interesting to read that although shared worship with Anglicans and Methodists was welcomed, there were doubts and reservations about inviting Roman Catholics to share worship on the Congregational premises.

Rev Scribbins announced in 1967 that he intended to terminate his ministry in Twyford and Woodley. At this time a typical weekly programme of church activities read like this:

Sunday     10:30        Family Service and Sunday School 
            2:30        Afternoon Sunday School 
            6:30        Evening Worship and After Meeting 
Monday      6:30        Youth Fellowship 
Tuesday     7:30        (Monthly) Church or Deacons Meeting 
Wednesday   7:30        Prayer Meeting - Bible Study 
Thursday    3:00        Alternate weeks - Women's Own 
            7:30        Choir Practice 
Friday      6:00        Cubs 
            7:00        Scouts 
Saturday                Pilots 

Evening meetings in the autumn found the members discussing plans for extensions to the recently erected Church Hall; fund raising events were varied and numerous.

Rev. Albert Hodgkins

On 1st October 1967 Rev. Albert Hodgkins was inducted to the pastorate of Twyford and Woodley Congregational churches. Three years later, the minutes of the church meeting in January 1970 read like a report on the selection of candidates for a national election. Five names were submitted as nominations for the Deacons' election, and delegates were sought to represent the church on the following bodies:

  1. Central District Assembly
  2. County Assembly
  3. National Assembly
  4. Free Church Council
  5. Free Church Federal Women's Council
  6. Council for World Mission Women's Auxiliary

On weekdays the builders are at work erecting the proposed extensions to the Church Hall. These rooms, added to the rear of the hall, were opened on 11th July 1970. They were later known as the "George Arnold Rooms", as a tribute to the man who put so much time and effort into getting them from ideas through plans to bricks and mortar.

The formation of the United Reformed Church

It was at that time that the national debate over the union of the Congregational Church in England & Wales and the Presbyterian Church in England came to a climax. The decision had to be taken whether to unite or not. It is worth noting in passing that the frequently expressed opinion by members of both bodies was that `we are giving up a lot of long-cherished principles whereas they are giving up very little'. It all depended on one's viewpoint! Each local Congregational church meeting was asked to pass a resolution to the effect that it would or would not consent to the union. To be carried such a resolution had to have at least 75% support. Among other remarks at the church meeting in Woodley was the following:

"With many churches closing, we should join together in strength and grow; if the union fails a select club would result."

The meeting revealed its opinion in the voting of 15 for and 2 against the resolution that the Woodley Congregational Church should become a member church of the United Reformed Church (U.R.C.), another milestone along the road of adjusting to meet the needs of a modern church in today's world.

Members of the Chapel were also involved in their support of the work in the world-wide church. Since 1913 the membership had increased from eleven to between thirty-five and forty, and their giving to the London Missionary Society, later the Council for World Mission increased from £21 in 1955 to £58 in 1965. Oxfam and Christian Aid were also supported by special fund-raising events.

The Joint Watchnight services with the Methodists gave rise to a suggestion that other joint services be held in Holy Week. Thus the traditional Good Friday Tea, Service and concert gave way to a joint service.

The building upwards and outwards in contacts of the Chapel continued for another decade. The Minutes reveal increased responsibility regarding the maintenance of the property and in spiritual enrichment of the fellowship.

The ministry of Rev. Alan Finch brought new insights into the role of the church within the community and an increasing awareness of the need to co-operate with the other churches in the town. An expression of this came with the formation of the Woodley Council of Christians, which the Woodley U.R.C. happily supported. This Council sought to promote ecumenical witness in an ever expanding urban district which had far outgrown the hamlet visited by the barons of King John before the signing of the Magna Carta.

First steps towards a united church

At this time fresh approaches from the Woodley Methodist Church with a view to uniting the two churches were debated at length within both Elders' and Church meetings. The consensus was that the time was not yet ripe and that in view of the expected expansion of the residential development on the airfield there was more than enough scope for both churches to continue on their present sites. The members of the U.R.C. were anxious to develop the buildings on their site as it was proving impossible for the whole church to worship together within the chapel. This could only happen in the church hall and occurred once a month in the form of a Family and parade service. On the other Sundays one department of the Junior Church attended the first part of the worship on a rota basis.

After several unsuccessful attempts to get plans passed for extension and modernization of the church hall to provide a dual-purpose building with more of the necessary facilities, the members came to the opinion that the Lord was perhaps leading in a different direction. Accordingly it was decided to open talks with the Methodists with a view to exploring the possibilities of a united church. It was agreed that no firm steps could be taken until the current ministerial vacancy had been filled.

The vacancy was filled with the Ordination and Induction of Rev. Hazel Day on 1st November 1980.

The succeeding months saw many meetings to draft a constitution for the united church; the quirks and inconsistencies in the modes of government of the two denominations were revealed as never before!

On 24th February 1982 a final draft of the Constitution was discussed clause by clause. There were some reservations about the finance and property aspects, which it was decided to discuss with the treasurers of the two churches and the appropriate denominational authorities.

After many discussions, the Constitution was agreed and accepted by both the URC and the Methodist local churches and also by the parent denominations, and so the way was clear for the union of the two churches.

Some saw this as an ending, the closure of the United Reformed Church in Woodley, and were sad to think that after nearly 150 years of faithful witness in Loddon Bridge Road, it had all come to an end. But the majority saw it as a beginning, the opening of a new chapter in the story of Free Church witness in Woodley. Rather than a sad occasion, it was an occasion for much joy as the united church rejoiced in the expression of a common faith in our Lord, and pledged itself to the furtherance of the Gospel in Woodley. It was recognized that there was still a lot to be done to make the union work, but the overriding impression was that of an enormous tide of goodwill and a determination to ensure that it did work.

Thus it was with great joy and expectation that on Sunday 7th November 1982 Woodley Methodist and United Reformed met together in a Service of Union; Christ Church was born.

Church records

The following documents are lodged at the Berkshire Record Office under reference D/N 14.


History Index

Page last updated 18th May 2020.