Over a hundred years ago in a small room over a shop in Wimbledon Road, Summers Town, in the parish of Streatham, in the county of Surrey (so the Trust Deeds say) the pioneering work of Summerstown Mission was started. The first circular sent to interested friends stated the object: "to carry the Gospel to the poorer inhabitants of Summers Town, a hamlet situated between lower Tooting and Wandsworth Common, with a population belonging chiefly to the working classes". The daughter of the Rev. John Bigwood of Upper Tooting was the pioneer who found the room and started a sewing meeting for mothers. Before long a Sunday School and a Sunday evening service were established. After a year a local coach house was lent for the meetings and was also used as a coffee and reading room for winter evenings. Four years later, in 1887, the main hall was erected.
The oldest surviving annual report is from 1889 and it is impressive reading. There were 10 on the management committee, 2 secretaries, a mothers' meeting, a girls' sewing group, over 120 attending the Sunday School (with 9 teachers), over 100 members for the week-night 'Band of Hope' group, a team of seven ladies doing door-to-door work, Temperance Society meetings and even a 'Provident Bank'! The report modestly understates God's blessing on the work, but clearly this is impressive growth for a new church in under 10 years. Mention is made of the many supporters who gave their time, efforts and money to start and sustain the work.
A press report on the early work of the Mission described the people of the neighbourhood as being "of the poorest and most neglected". There were four public houses in close vicinity and Summers Town was just a rural lane of small cottages with a stream meandering at the bottom of the gardens. The bridge over the River Wandle was just wide enough for one vehicle to pass over. On both sides of the lane were cornfields where the children of Summerstown would glean corn and gather fruit including blackberries. Some of the members in the 1980s still remembered the watercress beds in Plough Lane, the leather mill in Copper Mill Lane and Prices Bakery off Garratt Lane. Back in those days the local people took their Sunday joints to be cooked in the bakery oven!
The work of Summerstown was truly a missionary enterprise and for a number of years members of at least four churches in the wealthier neighbourhoods of Wandsworth Common, Upper Tooting and Balham, subscribed to the work. Through the years and two world wars the Mission has endured, independent and undenominational.
In 1925 the Sunday School had 240 scholars, but today there are only a handful yet the work goes on. Up until the 1980s we had a Girls' Brigade Company, a Boys' Brigade Company, Women's meeting, Sunday School and Sunday evening services; today we have Junior Focus, Messy Church, Minis and Minders and COM club. The building has been completely flooded twice and more recently flash flooding has caused water to flood into the lower hall. Intruders have stripped lead from the roof on at least two occasions, stolen equipment and constantly smashed windows until we replaced them with unbreakable glass. Is it all worth while? The Mission has its own missionary, a former scholar converted in the Sunday School who is in Brazil and was working with the Evangelical Union of South America until He retired, other former members still in touch are in Australia and New Zealand. In 1949 an anonymous gift was received from an old gentleman in Toronto, Canada, converted at the Mission sixty years before, who urged: "Carry on the good work". In 1980 the team of workers and members was small and the building was dilapidated, but they praised God for a hundred years of service, and in faith renovated the premises. The expenses involved seemed enormous but the promises of God are being proved. God is faithful.
A reunion and thanksgiving day was held in March 1979, and they were led by two former student pastors, the Rev. David Sayer of Braintree and the Rev. S. Noles of Billericay. In the providence of God, the very next day the pastor, Mr. Philip Rose, was suddenly called into the presence of the Lord. "A man of God, of the Bible and of prayer," he became laypastor in 1964. The shock of losing such a friend and counsellor after almost sixteen years of dedicated ministry was felt not only by the fellowship, but by a wider circle of friends also. God's timing is always perfect. The joy of the centenary celebrations was in many ways a fitting and triumphant entry for him into the presence of God.
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It was at a crisis time in 1980 and as a result of a discussion between Summerstown and friends at TRC, that Colin became our Secretary. Years later, in 1990, as we were looking for a full-time pastor, the Lord indicated that Colin was His choice and so we lost a secretary but gained a pastor. It would be impossible to write an adequate appreciation of the solid Bible teaching the church has received, not only in the Sunday services, but also in the more informal Bible studies on Wednesdays.
In gaining a pastor, we also gained a pastor's wife and we cannot write of Colin without including Eunice; they have worked as a team. One outstanding gift has been pastoral visitation; they have kept in touch with the sick, the housebound, and friends inside and outside the church. To many in the district, I am sure, Summerstown Mission is Colin and Eunice. Colin has been asked to conduct funerals on behalf of families who have never stepped into the church, but who have come to know and appreciate him through his visitation and interest.
Eunice started the church bookstall and has kept it up to date over the years, and many of us have enjoyed the evening in early December at the Manna Bookshop which she has arranged.
Colin has always been ready to listen to new ideas from members and so, as appropriate, families have taken part in the Sunday morning service, market outreach was started and continues once a month, and the Good Friday day of prayer was instituted.
A feature which has been particularly Colin's has been a six-weekly contact letter from him personally to all our neighbours in the district. Generally these have been much appreciated; some have even been collected (like a fan club!). It has been a source of wonder to some of us how God has enabled Colin to write on a different topical subject every six weeks and include the Gospel.
The women's meeting could not have had a more faithful leader than Eunice, who has kept in touch with ladies when absent because of illness or when they were no longer able to attend. Eunice insisted that we held an Anniversary Service each year and what a blessing that has been as ladies from other churches have joined us in fellowship and praise.
Colin and Eunice's home has always been available, for barbeques for the younger group, garden parties for the ladies, and 'Carols & Cake' for everybody at Christmas. In fact, 'Carols & Cake' has become so established as part of the church calendar that the year the pastor tried to give it a miss, it had to be re-instated by "public demand".
It was at Colin's suggestion and encouragement that the church accepted responsibility for support of Elizabeth Bacon in Brazil and then for Elizabeth George (as she was then) in Madagascar.
Much more could be written: attendance at the Sunday morning service has increased; the church has become established; new members have been welcomed; there have been conversions and much seed has been sown: we trust and pray to see the resultant fruit in the future and in eternity.
We praise God for the service of his faithful servants and pray God's richest blessing on their future.
In the last few months of Colin's time with us, he set up a committee to find a new pastor. We heard a number of preachers with a view to calling them but none of them seemed suitable until Peter Bines came along. In the course of discussions it became apparent that there would be a three month gap between Colin leaving us and Peter 'taking over'. An interregnum was planned and a schedule drawn up. It was pretty much business as usual with the regular annual events such as the Holiday Bible Club going ahead. It was also a time for reflection, thanking God for providing us with a new pastor to direct and guide us.
On 1st November our interregnum came to an end as Peter officially took up his position of pastor. We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to the deacons and all others who helped to lead the church during this time.
Peter's induction service was held on Saturday 13th November and the plan, naturally, was to hold it at Summerstown. However, as the date neared and the replies to invitations came in, it became apparent that it was going to be a very tight squeeze. With less than a week to go, and the replies still coming, we accepted the fact the we were not all going to fit!
So the deacons approached Roger Ryan, the vicar of St Mary's in Wimbledon Road, to see if we could possibly hold the service there. We are grateful to God that the church was available, and to Roger for saying 'yes'.
Approximately 200 people gathered there for the service, including old friends and members of Summerstown, and representatives from many churches in the area. Colin and Eunice Paris were among those taking part in the service, offering a prayer of thanksgiving for Peter and Thelma, his wife, at the start of their ministry.
Andrew Paterson, lay-pastor at Summerstown from 1980 to 1984, gave the message. He used the apostle Paul as an example of what a church leader should be and the qualities he should have, stressing that, first and foremost, he must live out what he professes.
Following the service, refreshments were served back at the Mission, and the place has never been so packed. Grateful thanks again go to Jo Havell and Elaine Dennis for their tireless efforts in the food department - it was a mammoth task and they outdid themselves!
It was a wonderful occasion, and we trust that Peter's ministry among us may be a long and fruitful one.