27 March 2023

Is the Gospel Hall in
New Bradwell the least
welcoming church
in Milton Keynes?

The Gospel Hall on Caledonian Road, New Bradwell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Tucked away in small cul-de-sac near the War Memorial in New Bradwell, the Gospel Hall on Caledonian Road is a like a surviving relic from a time long ago.

The Gospel Hall is a tin hut of the type that would be familiar to many people in Northern Ireland. Its style is typical of the many ‘tin hut’ churches, chapels and mission halls that were raised hurriedly as railway times expanded rapidly in Victorian England.

A plain sign behind the grim railings gives no other name than ‘The Gospel Hall’ and the regular events: ‘Sunday 10.30 am Breaking of Bread 12.15 pm Sunday School 6.30 pm Gospel Meeting Wednesdays 8.00 pm Bible Study Other meetings as arranged.’

Simple posters with scripture passages on each side of the door partly block the windows. There are no contact details, no words of welcome, and no signs of outreach to the neighbouring or wider communities. The letter box on the front door is overflowing with leaflets and post that has not been collected.

The closed-up appearance and the disconsonant place it occupies, squeezed in between the red-brick Victorian terraced houses in this quiet street makes the Gospel Hall look like an isolated anachronism and a cold and forbidding place for anyone needing to hear the God News of the Gospel.

This claims to be ‘the only Gospel Hall within the city of Milton Keynes.’ But could this be the least welcoming church in Milton Keynes?

As well as the Gospel Hall offering no contact details, it is difficult to find any online presence that would indicate a presence in New Bradwell or an eagerness to reach out in mission.

When, eventually, I found an obscure blog posting that proclaims five points firmly:

‘We are not ecumenical.

‘We hold to the Authorized Version of the Bible.

‘We reject all forms of Reformed Theology.

‘We are an independent church.

‘We are not associated with the Brethren movement.’

The hall also complains that ‘the fire escape route … is being persistently and wilfully obstructed with the knowledge of the trustees.’ I wondered whether this indicates a problem with neighbour or a dispute with former members.

The possibility of disputes with former members is hinted at in the declaration that ‘a member of the Gideons, and an alleged trustee, has left us now and we are therefore no longer associated with the MK Ecumenical Mission. No trustee is a member of this assembly.’

In the past, New Bradwell Gospel Hall was linked with the Brethren and was involved with the Evangelical Chapel in Stony Stratford, part the orphanage run by JWC Fegan, in the formation in 1917 of Emmanuel Chapel in Wolverton, now Wolverton Evangelical Church.

But in recent years, the hall has isolated itself from the Brethren, other evangelical and fundamentalist groups. I never expected them to be ecumenical. But I wondered who they maintained contact with when I realised they dissociate themselves from the Brethren, the Gideons, and ‘Reformed Theology.’

They have cast their net so wide in finding groups to isolate themselves from that one posting even condemns Rathmines Gospel Hall in Dublin, which I passed by twice last week. Despite the origins of the Gospel Hall in New Bradwell, they now declare: ‘The Brethren gospel does not relate to the Gospel of the New Testament in any case.’

If you are thinking of visiting New Bradwell Gospel Hall some Sunday and expecting a warm welcome, they let you know: ‘A letter of commendation may be of little value. If we neither know you nor the church from which you come then a letter is meaningless. We need to establish that we walk by the same rule. We cannot walk together if we are not agreed.’

And they continue: ‘So come in time to introduce yourself. If you are in the area and you are likeminded with us, you are welcome to have fellowship with us. That is, you have had a conversion you can speak of. You have experienced believer’s baptism. You have not been divorced and remarried. You follow the apostle’s doctrine.’

If you are thinking of visiting New Bradwell Gospel Hall some Sunday morning and actually receive a warm welcome, I’m sure you are not going to find it difficult to find a choice of seats all for yourself.

The Gospel Hall on Caledonian Road, New Bradwell … hardly a welcoming sign (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Praying at the Stations of the Cross in
Lent 2023: 27 March 2023 (Station 2)

‘Jesus is loaded with the Cross’ … Station 2 in the Stations of the Cross in Saint Dunstan and All Saints’ Church, Stepney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Passiontide began yesterday, the Fifth Sunday in Lent (26 March 2023), and in the past that Sunday was known as Passion Sunday.

Before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I have been reflecting on words from Samuel Johnson, the Lichfield-born lexicographer and compiler of the first standard Dictionary of the English language. But, in these two weeks of Passiontide, Passion Week and Holy Week, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on the Stations of the Cross, illustrated by images in Saint Dunstan’s and All Saints’ Church, the Church of England parish church in Stepney, in the East End of London, and the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Francis de Sales in Wolverton, which I visited for the first time last month;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the lectionary adapted in the Church of England;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Station 2, Jesus is condemned to death:

The Second Station in the Stations of the Cross is an awkward moment as Christ receives the Cross.

In the Second Station in Stepney, Christ takes the Cross with both hands as it is placed on his right shoulder by two soldiers behind him and a third man in front of him who is not in uniform. Two well-dressed and older, bearded are closely watching what is happening.

The words below are phrased awkwardly, reflecting the awkward moment, and read: ‘Jesus is loaded with the Cross’.

In the Second Station in Wolverton, Christ retains his composure and his regal dignity as he raised his hands in prayer to the Father while two soldiers are in the process of lifting up the Cross, preparing to place it on his shoulder before he turns to face towards his Passion. Having received the Cross, Christ is going to turn around for his journey to Calvary. In Lent, he invites us too to turn around too and to join him on this journey.

Below all three figures, the words read: ‘Takes the Cross.’

‘Takes the Cross’ … Station 2 in the Stations of the Cross in Saint Francis de Sales Church, Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 8: 1-11 (NRSVA):

8 1 while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11 She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’

Christ with the Woman Taken in Adultery (Guercino, 1621, Dulwich Picture Gallery)

‘Good Neighbours: A View from Sri Lanka’

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Good Neighbours: A View from Sri Lanka.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday morning with an adaptation from Father Rasika Abeysinghe’s contribution to USPG’s Lent Course ‘Who is our neighbour,’ which I have edited for USPG. Father Rasika Abeysinghe is a priest in the Diocese of Kurunagala in the Church of Ceylon.

Today’s Prayer:

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Monday 27 March 2023) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Church of Ceylon in Sri Lanka. May its people know the bond of fellowship through prayer and action.

The Collect:

Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us
that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters
we do also for you:
give us the will to be the servant of others
as you were the servant of all,
and gave up your life and died for us,
but are alive and reign, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Who is Our Neighbour?’, a six-week study course for Lent 2023 produced by the Anglican mission agency USPG

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