Consider, if you will, a rural area on the outskirts of London. A country lane with three farms along its length and small pockets of housing scattered along the main road running from Brockley to Forest Hill and Catford. This was Crofton Park as the 20th century came into being. A quiet, unassuming area it may have been, but it was also an area with a great deal of anticipation and expectancy. The railway lines which by now criss-crossed the area had been built during the latter half of the 1800s and London was expanding rapidly. People were on the move, indeed Crofton Park Road had recently been built and one of the farms along the lane had already sold land for housing development; the area was about to change!
It was in this atmosphere of anticipated change that the Reverend J. Lewis, the minister of Brockley Baptist Church, chaired a meeting in the Wesleyan mission Room, 13 Merritt Road, at 8.00 pm on Friday, 15th December, 1899, which had been called to discuss the setting-up of a ‘Baptist Cause’ in Crofton Park. It was to be the start of the history of Crofton Park Baptist Church!
There is no doubt that the Rev. Lewis felt strongly that something needed to be done to meet the spiritual needs of the growing population of the area, especially among the children. Neither is there any doubt that he was also a man of vision and enterprise for we find that prior to the meeting he had already approached the London School Board about the possibility of hiring part of Brockley Road Primary School for that purpose. As a result of that initial meeting a small committee was formed to investigate and implement the matter further and Mr. Elvin agreed to act as its secretary. At its first meeting, held on the 10th January 1900, the committee heard that whilst the London School Board could not agree to adult Sunday meetings it was amenable to its premises being used for Sunday-school work. So it was agreed that the Infants hall would be hired for that purpose at a fee of £8.12s p.a. with the use of the piano costing a further £1.00 p.a. According to church records this was all paid for by an unnamed local man who had a vision of what God required in the Crofton Park of his day. Thus, the work of Crofton Park Sunday School commenced on Sunday 4th of March, 1900, which makes us somewhat unique since our Sunday-School is older than the church itself. But not by much, since the first Sunday morning service of the Crofton Park Baptist Mission was held on Sunday 1st July 1900.
The congregation at this time consisted mainly of small groups of people who normally met in local houses and were still under the care of Brockley Baptist Church. So the first steps towards meeting the spiritual needs of the Baptists of Crofton Park had been taken and the work was under way.
But God was working on another front too, for he was preparing the man he had chosen to carry this work forward into the new century: a man well able to meet the challenges of the changing situation. It was in 1908 that the Rev. Charles Pummell, then pastor at Abbey Road Baptist Chapel in Bermondsey, was led to the conclusion that his work in Bermondsey was nearing its end and that he would soon be moving. Naturally, during his prayers, he mentioned this to God and sought his guidance, but he received no immediate reply. So the matter was left in abeyance. However, the feeling that change was imminent would not go away, and so at one Monday prayer time he spoke to God and made an appointment to meet Him in the pastor’s study the following Wednesday to specifically speak to him about the matter. Wednesday came and following a time of quietness and meditation the following words came to him with great certainty “he would speak God’s word to a people that did not yet exist”. Obviously he was being commissioned to set up a new church, but he was still not given a location. Wishing to resolve the matter and settle his mind, he decided to consult with colleagues at the Metropolitan Tabernacle at Elephant and Castle, where he had trained for the ministry under the watchful eye of Spurgeon himself. It was his friends at the Tabernacle who suggested that he should go to Crofton Park to minister to the people of that evolving area. So they joined him when he visited the area looking for a suitable plot of land on which a church could be built. Eventually some of the land and property belonging to Joy Farm, one of the farms along that country lane I mentioned, was thought suitable and purchased. At the same time the Rev. Pummell was contacted by Mr. Elvin and asked to preach to the nucleus of the new church; those already incorporated into the mission nurtured by Brockley Baptist Church and a further twenty people from a house church run by Mr Boothby.
So the independent Crofton Park Baptist Church began its life in a dilapidated marquee standing on what is now our car-park. But things were not to stay in that perilous state for long, for on September 4th 1909 the foundation stone for the first permanent structure was laid and in a short time the membership of 45 people was worshipping in what we now call the ‘Old Hall’. But, from the start, conditions must have been cramped in this small building and barely a year after the laying of its foundation stone, a new foundation stone for a much larger building was laid in what we now know as Huxbear Street.
This building is now our church hall.
Although the framework of this building already existed as a farm building, its renovation and refurbishment took quite a while and it was not until 1913 that it finally opened for worship.
The church continued its work during the upheaval of the 1914-1918 war, and in the post war years it continued to grow at a steady rate with the Rev. Charles Pummell overseeing its administrative work and its need to minister to the spiritual needs of the people in the area. However, the greatest changes he had to face did not occur until the 1930s, some 25 years after his original calling to the area. It was then that both the Wates estate was built on the farmlands of Brockley Hall and the Bridge House Estate, which surrounds the church, finally extended from Ladywell until it met the ‘Catford Loop’ railway line. This meant a great influx of new people and a corresponding need to expand the work to meet their needs.
It was at this time that we see the youth work expanding with companies of the Boys Brigade and Girls Life Brigade being formed to provide both midweek activities and Bible teaching on Sundays. The church too expanded rapidly, growing to an unprecedented 250 members during this period.
So, by the mid-1930s discussions about the possible expansion of the church were in their preliminary stages. However these plans were to be shelved for quite some time as the Rev. Pummell’s health and eyesight began to fail and he realised that he would not be able to see such a project through to its completion. Instead the ‘New Hall’, what we now know as the lounge, was completed in 1935. Two years later, in 1937, following the recent death of his wife, our founder retired and the first phase of our history came to an end.
Following the retirement of the Rev. Pummell the church went through an interregnum period of twenty months until a young minister, the Rev. C. H. Preston commenced his work at Crofton Park during November 1938. All started well and during the first year of his ministry the church continued to grow and seemed to be on the brink of a great future. But in September 1939 the Second World War commenced and that was to change the whole life of the community. Young people went off to fight, or take part in the war effort, and bombs fell throughout the neighbourhood, killing many and making others homeless. There were great needs, and the church continued to play its part in trying to bring comfort to those in distress. It was therefore with some regret that we said goodbye to the Rev. Preston in the autumn of 1943, when he left to take up a new work in Horely.
But we were not without a minister for long and in 1944 the Rev. St. Clair Taylor joined us as our new pastor. It was during his ministry at Crofton Park that we had the opportunity to purchase the plot of land on the corner of Brockley Grove and Huxbear Street. This was bought with the view to building a new church on it at some future date and fulfilling the dream of the church members of the 1930s.
So the war came to an end and things began to return to ‘normal’ but it must be remembered that it was a time of hardship and frustration for everyone. As far as the church was concerned the youth work, which had been such a feature in the pre-war church, had suffered badly during the war years and membership of the church had naturally declined over the same period. This sorry state of affairs was not helped by a two-year interregnum following the resignation of the pastor at the beginning of 1947.
But when the Rev. Andrew King arrived to be our pastor during 1949 things took an upward turn. The youth work particularly began to thrive, both within the Brigades and in the work of the Saturday Youth Club. Through these activities many of the young people came to know Christ as their Saviour and were baptised and became members of the church. So the membership once again began to rise. It was during this period too, that the church was able to purchase a manse in Bexhill Road which offered security for our pastor and his family.
With this growth in membership came the renewed desire for a building set aside solely for worship, leaving the existing buildings to cope with all the mid-week activities and the thriving Sunday-School which now existed. So a new building fund was started and discussions regarding the new premises came high on the agenda. But again the plans were to suffer another set-back when the pastor resigned in the Autumn of 1954. Although the church activities continued with great enthusiasm the next four years without a Pastor were to prove difficult.
But the work of those steadfast and loyal church members was to be rewarded, for in the year following the appointment of our new pastor, the Rev. F. O. Staddon, in September 1958, over twenty candidates were baptised and forty new members joined the Fellowship. We also expanded our activities and started three new organisations in order to reach more people in the area. The League of Young Worshippers, The Young Women’s Devotional and Social Group, and the Cricket Club allowed us to try new ideas, spend time with old friends and make new ones. What’s more it gave us opportunities to bring new people into the church. To complete this new found feeling of expectation and excitement we moved forward on the building front too!
On the 12th November, 1960 the long held dream of a new church building was finally realised as we laid the foundation stones for the new sanctuary, and there was a great deal of excitement as members watched the completion of the building work over the following year. It was during this period too, that the first member of our church went to theological college to train as a Baptist minister. It was an exciting time. However, the corner-stone of the church remained, as it always had been, the desire to do God’s will among the people of Crofton Park. It was in the mid-1960s that the Rev. Staddon left Crofton Park to undertake a new work in North London.
The area was changing, it was no longer the leafy suburb, neither was it still situated on the outskirts of London. The metropolis had overtaken it and expanded far beyond its borders. This change was to confront our new pastor the Rev. Gordon Campbell, a graduate of Spurgeon’s College, and the members of the church with a fresh set of problems. For example, many of the young people who had formerly been the bed-rock of our church membership moved away to the outer suburbs as soon as they married. This meant a deficiency in those working within certain areas of church life and an imbalance within the membership itself. The area was in the process of changing its make-up too and was in the process of becoming a truly multi-ethnic society. It was therefore necessary for the church to take on these new challenges and the pastor and his wife Jill worked tirelessly towards that end. So the church continued to meet the needs of the new people moving into the area and to look at the existing organisations to see if they were still the best way to meet these new requirements.
This search for new methods of service and a desire to reach out into the area continued when our new pastor, the Rev. Bob Allen, was inducted into the church in September 1975. Under his leadership came a desire to adopt a more informal approach to visitation and a lighter touch to the services offered by the church. So the role of the uniformed organisations, the centre of our youth work for so many years, was discussed and a decision was taken to disband both the Boys and Girls Brigades in favour of a much more informal structure. The changes seen within the youth work were reflected in other areas of church work too. There was an awareness that we needed to get more involved in the day-to-day life of the community and attract people into the church. So our visitation took on a more personal touch and the services offered by the church widened in their scope.
With this prevalent desire to reach out into the area very much at the forefront of our minds it was agreed to purchase Huxbear House’ so that the premises could be developed to serve the needs of both young and old. It was in these premises that the work of the Community Care group developed whilst the downstairs offices were initially rented to a missionary society. The vision, however, was to develop the downstairs garage/office area as a drop-in for all age groups. However it was not only the methods of outreach that were altering, our church services were undergoing considerable change too. A more spontaneous form of worship was developing and it was during this period that our worship group was formed. This introduced us to a group playing a variety of instruments rather than the organ or piano that we had previously been used to, and to new songs which encouraged a freer form of personal worship. Added to this, ‘The All Age Learning Centre’ [TAALC] was formed which allowed members to develop their teaching/preaching skills.
Without a doubt our outlook had been enlarged over this period and this was particularly apparent when, in 1986, fifteen of our members left our church to reinvigorate the work of a small Baptist church in Hither Green. It was also during this time that a number of our church members were led into the ministry both at home and abroad. So in many ways it was a different kind of church that our pastor left in September 1989 to the one he had joined some fourteen years before.
After an interregnum of approximately sixteen months we were joined by the Rev. David McClenaghan. David had spent his early ministry working for the Baptist Missionary Society in Brazil and after returning home had joined the Voluntary Service Organisation [VSO], co-ordinating its work in Africa, so he had a wide experience of God’s work in the wider world. But now he felt called to return to the ministry in Great Britain and joined the church in February 1991 as our new minister. So the work of the church continued to flourish. We continued to visit the sick and housebound in their homes and contact our aged friends daily through the work of our phone link.
Community care, now known as ”Welcome Inn’ provided love and social contact for our elderly friends, whilst Playgroup and Rompers provided help and fellowship to the parents and guardians of the young children who live round about. Of course the ministry of the church also continued through its core activities: Sunday worship, youth work, and mid-week teaching and social gatherings. But change was afoot! We began to have closer contact with other churches in the area and also joined them in the annual ‘March for Jesus’ New friendships were being built between Christians in the area and a more unified spirit was coming into being. Within the church itself ‘Alpha’, a new and vibrant way of introducing Jesus to those outside the church, was taken up and used with considerable success during the week. With the new, freer, style of worship that had developed during the ministry of the Rev. Bob Allen, it was decided that preaching and worship conducted from the platform at the front of the church was too remote and a way needed to be found to involve the congregation. This was achieved by bringing the worship group and speaker down along the side wall of the church and turning the congregation sideways to surround them. Thus we became one in our worship of God.
David’s ministry at Crofton Park came to an end in 1999 as he responded to a call to Hospice work. At this time Carol Bostridge was our student minister whilst she completed her training at Spurgeon’s College. Over the next year the church prayerfully sought a new pastor and Carol looked elsewhere to fulfil her ministry. However, by the middle of 2000 there was a growing sense that the new minister was already in our midst and so Carol was inducted into our church in October of that year. Thus she became the first lady minister in the history of our church. Her vision was, and still is, that the church becomes a place where people grow and are equipped to minister to others. A people that are passionate in their love for others, dedicated in their service to God, and firmly based in their knowledge of Christ and grounded in unity. A church that is fully equipped to reach out to others in need.
During Carol’s ministry many things have changed: Our Playgroup closed after 21 years of service to the community and in its place a thriving Drop-In for children and their parents or guardians has emerged. We have further strengthened our links with other Christian groups in the area and regularly participate in joint ventures. We have also begun extensive work on our buildings and have already re-designed our lounge area; we have also removed the pews and replaced them with chairs, thus allowing a more flexible use of the available space, and there is still more to come! We have seen many changes on the leadership front too.
In 2003 we called a second minister, the Rev. Sue Christie, to work with Carol and under her guidance the Youth Work and the Prayer and Pastoral ministry both flourished. We have also restructured our lay leadership team, moving to a model of Elders and Team Leaders. At the end of 2007 Sue decided to move into chaplaincy work and the church called the Rev. Israel Olofinjana to minister alongside Carol.
Israel came to this country from Nigeria in 2004 to study for his Masters degree in theology at the South London Christian College and whilst completing his studies joined our church and became involved in the youth work. He soon became an active leader and was quickly involved in mentoring and teaching boys of secondary school age and setting up a Youth Club for the young people of Brockley. After graduating from college he felt called into the Baptist ministry and approached Carol to find out what needed to be done. So, having attended the London Baptist Association Ministerial Recognition Committee, Israel was first accepted by the church to serve as a student pastor for one year on the 10th September, 2007. Five months later Israel was accepted for Accreditation by the Baptist Union Residential Selection Conference and was ordained and inducted into the church on the 10th May 2008, thus becoming our first black minister.
Israel has continued with his interest in the Youth Work and has taken an active teaching role since joining the leadership. In his role as one of our full time ministers he also oversees the work of the home-groups and has become an Elder in the church too.
So our first century has passed and our testimony is that God has been with us every step of the way. With His help we are well equipped to deal with any future challenges we may meet. So we now look hopefully forward to the future and our vision is to continue to Build Bridges, Build Community and Build Disciples. We are indeed privileged to have such firm foundations to build on, laid by those who went before.