150 years on in Coventry
In 1857 when ‘Rehoboth’ chapel was opened in Hillfields, it was in an area of terraced housing for weavers, watchmakers and the like. Much of Coventry was destroyed during the heavy bombing of the Second World War, but the congregation’s prayers were answered and the old building spared.
As recently as 1985, when the present pastor Paul Watts began his ministry, mainly white middle class people attended the chapel, and the membership was around 20 in number. Today Hillfields is a multicultural community.
There are 1960s high rise flats, newly built student blocks and upmarket apartments, but there is also social deprivation, drug dealing and prostitution. However, the church now has 73 members and a congregation of 100-140 on a Sunday morning.
It includes people from Africa, India, Iran, China, Singapore, the Caribbean, and different parts of Europe. English is not the first language for most of these; and even for English people outside, the truths of the Bible are sadly like a foreign language.
The gospel never changes, but society and culture do change. The church must learn how to bring the unchanging message into new situations, with the only offence being the offence of the gospel. Our vision is to bring the truth to this diverse community, faithfully yet accessibly.
In 2002 we were joined by James and Lis Young as city missionaries. Their input has helped the church develop its personal witness. They have coordinated door-to-door work; developed follow-up ministry and open air outreaches; run Christianity Explored courses, through which several have been converted; broadcast Christian talk shows on local radio; and started a football team, building friendships among the young men.
Our approach to children’s work changed too. We stopped the ‘minibus round’ collection for Sunday school – that had been dwindling and was using much resources with seemingly little result – and instead focused on an evening youth club for 11-14s and building up contacts with local schools.
A group from the church now goes into a local school each week to lead a Bible story-based assembly. We also have visits to the church from several schools as part of their RE syllabus. We have taken RE lessons in schools also.
Shortly before James and Lis were appointed, the church bought the house next door to it. James and Lis live in a flat on the upper floor; the ground floor provides additional space for church activities. Our plan is to develop this property even further, especially to enhance outreach activities.
There have been many changes, yet the students and single mothers who fill the area today are just as lost as the ribbon weavers of the nineteenth century. As we see the huge need we recognise that we are hardly scratching the surface. But it is God’s church, not ours.
How we need the Holy Spirit to move in power and save the lost millions of our nation!