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Our first visit to the Full Gospel Church, Fleetwood

1965, the year that changed my life
We return home

video

Perhaps Sunday 14 March 1965
 1. If we suppose that Pastor Williams lost no time in sending us the addresses of churches after our end-of-February visit to Manchester, our first attendance at a local Pentecostal church could have been on Sunday, 7th March, or the following Sunday, 14th March, 1965. I am assuming that it was on the latter date
[1] that towards evening Chris, Peter and I got a bus to Fleetwood with the intention of finding the Full Gospel Church in Lowther Road, the church left undeleted by Pastor Williams in his letter.
 But we didn’t know where Lowther Road was. We got off the bus in Poulton Road, Fleetwood, and ended up going the wrong way — probably going down Manor Road, into Shakespeare Road or somewhere around there. (At one point we stood in a shop doorway. There were some shops on one side of Shakespeare Road, up to the corner where it crosses Manor Road.)
 And Chris met somebody he knew from when he worked at the boating lake the previous summer. At that time we were still a bit embarrassed among our peers about going to church. And Chris said, “Oh we’re going to church, hee, hee, hee!”
 By this time, it was probably about six o’clock, but it was still daylight. It was raining, though by this time of year the weather was beginning to get milder.
 Anyhow, we found the church in time for the meeting, which began at 6.30pm. We probably approached the church from Warren Avenue South, only to discover that it was only a stone’s throw from the main road the buses came along, Poulton Road.
[1] I am assuming that it was on the latter date: Chris recalls that it was still daylight when we arrived in Fleetwood and were searching for Lowther Road. We need not look for a later date than 7th March, for sunset would have been just after 6pm and lighting-up time shortly after 6.30pm. For good measure, though, I place the visit on the 14th, when sunset would be just that bit later.


Part of Fleetwood showing places mentioned in the text: "Lowther Road… Poulton Road… Manor Road… Shakespeare Road… the boating lake… Warren Avenue South"
 2. And so we went to the church for the first time. It was a fairly plain, rectangular, single-storey building with a simple pitched roof whose gable end faced Lowther Road. In the centre of this wall was the entrance door.

“A fairly plain, rectangular, single-storey building with a simple pitched roof whose gable end faced Lowther Road. In the centre of this wall was the entrance door.” Actually, as this drawing shows, the building was less “simple” than I remembered.
A shallow anteroom gave entrance on each side to a small cloakroom (though only the right one was used; one went in that way) and thence into the “minor hall”. Not far beyond was the wall separating the minor hall from the main hall. We went through the central, double, plain door into the main hall, which had a centre aisle and was furnished with chairs, not pews. It had a suspended ceiling with acoustic tiles. At the far end were some windows with leaded lights and panes of various colours. In front of this was a wide raised platform with brass rails. Below this to the right and spreading somewhat in front of it was a slightly raised area where a lady in an ornate hat played a grand piano and a man with dark, neatly Brylcreemed hair and a moustache picked out the melody on a fat acoustic guitar fitted with a pickup which was plugged into an amplifier. Behind him may have been a youth with short hair playing a bass guitar. The lady was Mrs. Smith, the pastor’s wife, and the man was David Bidle, the pastor’s son-in-law. The bass guitarist was called Mike.[2]
[2] Mike was going out with a very pretty girl called Judith, who went to my school as well as to the church. So if I saw her at school I would say “Hello” to her, and I would smile at her when I saw her at church. This must have been misinterpreted by Mike, though, because one Sunday evening shortly after we had started going to the church he took me on one side, and referring to the fact that we were both Christians as grounds for remaining amicable, nevertheless implied what the consequences would be if I continued my actions. Both Judith and Mike were a year or two older than we were.


“The main hall… At the far end… was a wide raised platform with brass rails” This photo was taken, ca. 1969 — actually, on the occasion of the wedding of now-widowed Mrs. Gooding, Peter’s mother, to Tom Smith. It was just before the church moved from Lowther Road to larger premises in Elm Street, Fleetwood. The posts for the “brass rails” can be seen, but the rails themselves have been removed, for they were turned into an ornamental feature at Elm Street. Pastor Stanley Smith officiates, and John Nelson Parr stands by.


“The main hall… was furnished with chairs, not pews.… Below [the platform] to the right and spreading somewhat in front of it was a slightly raised area where a lady in an ornate hat played a grand piano…” This photo back-tracks somewhat from the above one, as Tom Smith, with stepson and best man Peter Gooding, awaits the arrival of his bride.


“A lady in an ornate hat played a grand piano… The lady was Mrs. Smith, the pastor’s wife”
 3. Our arrival did not go unnoticed — at least by Mrs. Wood, whom I got to know quite well later on.[3] She later told me that she remembered the first night three “long-haired scruffs” came to the church. Our hair wasn’t excessively long for the mid-sixties, being collar-length or just below collar length, but it was obviously longer than what was considered normal in Pentecostal circles. I don’t suppose that we were excessively scruffy either, but we had been out in the rain searching for this place.
[3] Mrs. Wood, whom I got to know quite well later on: I went out with her daughter Audrey for nearly two years.


“Mrs. Wood” (ca. 1967), “Audrey” (1966)
 4. Before the hymns and prayers and singing items and testimonies of the main meeting, there was a “warm-up” session of singing choruses, led by a man standing on the platform who looked quite mature to me, but who was probably only in his twenties. This was Barry Hill, the pastor’s nephew. His hairline was beginning to recede, or perhaps that was only the impression I gained because his wiry hair was brushed back. His brow was furrowed by horizontal lines which gave him an almost surprised look, and he had a small lump on his forehead. (In the course of time, this almost, but not quite, disappeared.) He had a distinctive way of conducting the singing, of having his hand in a loose fist and waving it from side to side through an upward arc.[4] Although we had sung a number of choruses at Sharon, many of those that evening we heard for the first time. One of the choruses from those early days at Fleetwood was:
I get so thrilled with Jesus
Every moment of the day;
I get so thrilled with Jesus —
He’s the truth, the life, the way.
I get so thrilled with Jesus,
He satisfies my longing soul;
I get so thrilled with Jesus:
He’s the one who made me whole.
[4] He had a distinctive way of conducting the singing, of having his hand in a loose fist and waving it from side to side through an upward arc: Ken Wood, Mrs. Wood’s son and Audrey’s older brother, once commented that it was like the actions in the game “one potato, two potato”.


“Barry Hill, the pastor’s nephew. His hairline was beginning to recede, or perhaps that was only the impression I gained because his wiry hair was brushed back. His brow was furrowed by horizontal lines which gave him an almost surprised look, and he had a small lump on his forehead. In the course of time, this almost, but not quite, disappeared.” There’s no definite evidence of a receding hairline on this late 1960s photo, and it doesn’t have enough definition to determine whether the “lump” was visible or not when it was taken.


"Ken Wood, Mrs. Wood’s son and Audrey’s older brother" — 1966 photo

 5. The main meeting was led by Pastor Smith, an affable though authoritative man in his fifties. He had a round face and a great, round belly.[5] He preached that evening, and when he gestured with his hand to emphasise a point it was noticeable that his fingers were badly twisted with arthritis. This also presented a problem when shaking hands with him: which part of the hand should you take hold of?
 There was no prayer for the sick at the end of the sermon, I was surprised to note. I didn’t realise just then that while Pentecostal churches included divine healing as part of the “full gospel” message, most did not practise a separate, distinctive healing ministry.

[5] He had… a great, round belly: He wore trousers that came up to his chest. At that time “hipsters” were fashionable, pants or jeans which were cut to sit low on the hips, so Ken Wood called Pastor’s trousers “chesters”.


“Pastor [Stanley] Smith.” This photo was taken in 1969, shortly before he fell asleep.
 6. At the end of his sermon Pastor Smith gave an appeal for people to receive Christ as Saviour and Lord, as he did during subsequent Sunday evening Gospel Meetings. “No-one can see you but the Lord and myself,” he would say, as he invited people to raise their hand. “I’ll see it,” he added on one occasion, “and the Lord will see it and save you.”
 During these appeals I used to get very worried and frightened — Chris’s experience is similar — that I did not know Christ in the way the preacher said, and I used to fear the consequences of this.

 7. Afterwards there was a “Coffee Rendezvous”, where there were tables set up, and where unconverted young people were invited off the street to come to sit and talk, and drink weak, milky coffee.
 And we stayed for the Coffee Rendezvous, and were pounced on by all the “regulars” there because we were three new faces; and they tried to chat to us and convert us. They must have assumed that we were complete strangers to the faith, because they started off by asking us in a tactful way what we thought of the meeting, and so on.
 It was a big, muscular man, Richard English,
[6] who came and sat with us, and he was joined at the table by a thin chap, Ian Clayton; and at the first available opportunity in the conversation they asked us if we knew Jesus Christ. (I think Barry Hill joined us too.)
 I was acutely embarrassed at this point. “Do you know Jesus Christ as your own personal Saviour?” they asked. Silence—. The feeling I had got during the appeal, which had subsided somewhat in the interim, came back again forcefully: did I in fact know Jesus Christ as my Saviour?
 But Peter assured them that we did, so that was all right, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
 And they marvelled at the fact that we were already converted.
[6] Richard English: See also My Dad goes to the church and Back at church.
 8. Did I, in fact, know Christ as my Lord and Saviour at this time?
 When Chris was healed Peter and I had, at the order of Pastor Williams, been kneeling. I had prayed, “God heal Chris”; and when Chris had been prayed for, I suddenly had the realisation that God was indeed real; in my own words, “We don’t believe any more — we
KNOW!” I think that was the time when I was “born again” [John 3:3,7] (because that is what it felt like: everything seemed new and different), even though I had not yet heard the message of repentance and faith in Christ.
 However, appeals at Sharon and Fleetwood worried me, and my heart beat, and the worried feeling raged in my stomach.
 And I can even remember saying to God at home concerning commitment to Christ, “Not now — later, when I’m older.”

 9. After the meeting, Chris said, “Oh, we shan’t be here next week because we’re going camping in the Pennines.”


The “Abortive Camping Expedition” — Day One


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