23 May 2022

Central Methodist Church
on Aldergate in Tamworth
closes after 136 years

The Central Methodist Church on Aldergate closed on Sunday 22 May 2022 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The last service was held at the Central Methodist Church in Aldergate, Tamworth, on Sunday afternoon (22 May 2022), and the church building, which started life in Tamworth in 1886, is closing. A decision has been taken to refocus the congregation on the 1960s building of Saint Andrew's Methodist Church in Thackeray Drive, Leyfields, now known as New Life Methodist Church.

The decision to close the church means that since the movement was founded in the 18th century, there will be no Methodist congregation or building in Tamworth town centre.

The Methodist Church in Aldergate dates from a split that divided Tamworth’s Methodists in the mid-19th century. A new group was formed calling itself the Wesleyan Reformers and later the Free Methodists. When they left the Bolebridge Street Chapel, they met in a room nearby before acquiring a room in Aldergate that was known as ‘The Hut.’

In the late 19th century, the Free Methodists found the Hut did not meet the needs of a growing congregation. They bought a plot of land in Aldergate for £250. The memorial stones were laid at Easter 1886, and the building was completed late that summer, with a fine spire. The fine, Gothic-style building cost £2,250 and opened for worship on 29 September 1886.

In 1907, the Free Methodists became United Methodists. In 1933, the United, Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist Churches became one Methodist Church, but it was many years before this became a reality in Tamworth. Meanwhile, the original spire was removed in the 1950s.

When they were joined by the Victoria Street Methodists in 1972, the new congregation in Aldergate became known as the Central Methodist Church.

But the premises in Aldergate were inadequate for the needs of the new congregation. It was impossible to extend laterally so it was decided to extend vertically, and a large part of the cost was met by grants from the Joseph Rank Benevolent Trust.

The church reopened on 16 September 1978. In 2005, a further upgrade was undertaken to improve access, toilet facilities and the kitchen. The Aldergate church is now known as the Central Methodist Church.

The church has a church organ by Nicholson and Lord of Walsall (1903) that is Grade II* listed in its own right due to its quality. There are many other fine monuments, memorials and features, some of which were moved there from the Bolebridge Street Methodist Church and the Wesleyan Temple in Victoria Road when they closed.

With its spacious rooms, the church has welcomed many community groups for hold meetings and activities over 136 years. The Tamworth and District Civic Society (TDCS) was memorably re-launched there in 2015.

The former Wesleyan Temple, later Victoria Street Methodist Church, has been converted into apartments as Victoria Mews (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John Wesley (1703-1791), the founding Methodist, first visited Tamworth in 1743. Following disturbances in the Black Country, Wesley rode over to Tamworth to take legal advice from a Counsellor Littleton who lived there. However, the first visit of Methodist preachers to the town is not recorded until 1771.

The early Methodists in Tamworth first met in the home of Samuel and Ann Watton and later in a room in Bolebridge Street. In 1787 John Wesley met the first Sir Robert Peel, who gave the Methodists a site for a permanent chapel in Bolebridge Street. He told them: ‘My lads, do not build your chapel too large. People would like to go to a little chapel well filled better than a large one half full.’

The chapel was opened on 15 July 1794. But the chapel was clearly not built ‘too large,’ for by 1815 it was proving to be too small. In 1816, a new and larger chapel that could seat a congregation of 300 was built at a cost of £1,000.

But just as the first Wesleyan chapel in Bolebridge Street had proved too small, the second one also became inadequate, and in the 1870s it was decided to build a new one.

In 1877, Thomas Argyle, a Methodist solicitor, donated a plot of land for a new chapel on the corner of Victoria Road and Back Lane, now Mill Lane.

The foundation stones for what would become the Wesleyan Temple were laid on 21 May 1877 and ‘topping out ceremony was held on 28 November 1877. The Wesleyan Temple, was built at a cost of £4307 2s 6d and opened on 9 April 1878. The Wesleyan Temple had an inspiring façade, and could seat a congregation of 650 people.

The Sunday School continued to use Bolebridge Street Chapel until new schoolrooms were built in 1898. The old chapel was sold to Woodcocks’ Printers, who used it for many years. Later, in the 1960s the congregation at Victoria Road was joined by families from the Bolebridge Street Mission when it closed.

However, serious defects were detected at Victoria Road Methodist Church, as it had become known, and the costs of remedying them were beyond the resources of the church. In early 1972, a decision was taken to close the church on Victoria Road and to amalgamate with the Methodist Church in Aldergate.

The magnificent Victorian edifice of the church was preserved and at first accommodated squash courts. However, the inside was stripped out in 1974 to accommodate a squash club. The old Wesleyan Temple has since been converted into residential apartments, but the façade remains part of the architectural legacy of Tamworth’s church history.

There are still Methodist Churches at Glascote and Hopwas, and the ecumenical church at Saint Martin’s-in the-Delph at Stonydelph is shared between the Church of England and Methodists.

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
23 May 2022 (Psalm 89)

‘I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, for ever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations’ (Psalm 89: 1) … street art near Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 89:

Psalm 89 is found in Book III in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 88.

Psalm 89 is the last in a group of psalms at the end of Book III within the 150 psalms, from Psalm 84 to Psalm 89. These psalms attempt to provide hope to the exilic Israelite community. But, despite their celebration of the historic traditions of the Jewish people, they remind the reader that these elements no longer provide the hope they once did.

Four psalms of this group – Psalms 84, 85, 87 and 88 – are attributed to the Korahites, who are described as the doorkeepers of the tabernacle in the Book of Chronicles.

Psalm 89 recalls how God spoke to David.

The superscription of the psalm states that it was written by Ethan the Ezrahite, who, along with Heman the Ezrahite (to whom Psalm 88 is attributed), was a wise man from the time of, or before, King Solomon.

We are told that Solomon ‘was wiser than anyone else, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, children of Mahol; his fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations’ (I Kings 4: 31).

In II Samuel 7: 12-17, God promises King David that there will always be a king of the Jews. Some scholars claim that this psalm was written after the people were deported to Babylon. However, this claim is inconsistent with the dating of Ethan to the time of Solomon. Perhaps, instead, it was written on behalf of the king – either David or Solomon – during a time of trouble. The author expresses his belief that the promises outlined in 2 Samuel 7: 12-17 will be fulfilled

This psalm begins with words of praise for God’s goodness and covenant faithfulness. For the first 37 verses, the psalm recounts the promises made to King David and the covenant established by God with him.

Verse 19 recalls how God spoke to David through his words with the Prophet Nathan.

Verses 20-37 recall how God anointed David as his regent, and God will be constant in his love for him. Through God, David will be victorious, he will rule from the sea to the river (verse 25), from the Mediterranean to Mesopotamia.

David will acknowledge God as Father, and God will adopt him as his firstborn. David will be closer to God than any other king, no matter what he and his descendants do. David’s line will continue forever, as the moon endures in the heavens (verse 37).

From verse 38 to 51, the psalmist laments what seems to him like God’s lack of remembrance of his covenant promises.

The closing verse (verse 52) proclaims: ‘Blessed be the Lord forevermore! Amen and Amen.’ This closing verse is the benediction or doxology by which Book III of the Psalter is brought to a close. It may not be part of the original text of Psalm 89, but it is entirely in harmony with the spirit of it.

‘Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord … For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?’ (Psalm 89: 5-6) … the night skies at Wolverton Mill, over the banks of the River Ouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Psalm 89 (NRSVA):

A Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.

1 I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, for ever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
2 I declare that your steadfast love is established for ever;
your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

3 You said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to my servant David:
4 “I will establish your descendants for ever,
and build your throne for all generations”.’

5 Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord,
your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.
6 For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?
Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord,
7 a God feared in the council of the holy ones,
great and awesome above all that are around him?
8 O Lord God of hosts,
who is as mighty as you, O Lord?
Your faithfulness surrounds you.
9 You rule the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, you still them.
10 You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
11 The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours;
the world and all that is in it—you have founded them.
12 The north and the south—you created them;
Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
13 You have a mighty arm;
strong is your hand, high your right hand.
14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
15 Happy are the people who know the festal shout,
who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance;
16 they exult in your name all day long,
and extol your righteousness.
17 For you are the glory of their strength;
by your favour our horn is exalted.
18 For our shield belongs to the Lord,
our king to the Holy One of Israel.

19 Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said:
‘I have set the crown on one who is mighty,
I have exalted one chosen from the people.
20 I have found my servant David;
with my holy oil I have anointed him;
21 my hand shall always remain with him;
my arm also shall strengthen him.
22 The enemy shall not outwit him,
the wicked shall not humble him.
23 I will crush his foes before him
and strike down those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him;
and in my name his horn shall be exalted.
25 I will set his hand on the sea
and his right hand on the rivers.
26 He shall cry to me, “You are my Father,
my God, and the Rock of my salvation!”
27 I will make him the firstborn,
the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 For ever I will keep my steadfast love for him,
and my covenant with him will stand firm.
29 I will establish his line for ever,
and his throne as long as the heavens endure.
30 If his children forsake my law
and do not walk according to my ordinances,
31 if they violate my statutes
and do not keep my commandments,
32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod
and their iniquity with scourges;
33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love,
or be false to my faithfulness.
34 I will not violate my covenant,
or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
35 Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness;
I will not lie to David.
36 His line shall continue for ever,
and his throne endure before me like the sun.
37 It shall be established for ever like the moon,
an enduring witness in the skies.’

38 But now you have spurned and rejected him;
you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant;
you have defiled his crown in the dust.
40 You have broken through all his walls;
you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
41 All who pass by plunder him;
he has become the scorn of his neighbours.
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes;
you have made all his enemies rejoice.
43 Moreover, you have turned back the edge of his sword,
and you have not supported him in battle.
44 You have removed the sceptre from his hand,
and hurled his throne to the ground.
45 You have cut short the days of his youth;
you have covered him with shame.

46 How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself for ever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire?
47 Remember how short my time is—
for what vanity you have created all mortals!
48 Who can live and never see death?
Who can escape the power of Sheol?

49 Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,
which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
50 Remember, O Lord, how your servant is taunted;
how I bear in my bosom the insults of the peoples,
51 with which your enemies taunt, O Lord,
with which they taunted the footsteps of your anointed.

52 Blessed be the Lord for ever. Amen and Amen.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Mission in Australia.’ It was introduced yesterday by Peter Burke, Manager at Mission and Anglican Community Engagement AnglicareSA.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (23 May 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Anglican Board of Mission, the national mission agency of the Anglican Church of Australia, as they work for love, hope and justice in Australia and abroad.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org