Evangelism in Britain, 1947-1964

by Pastor Kenneth Lacey

 

(First published in ‘Messenger’ Volume 83, Number 16, August 4, 1978)

 

 

T

here is only one motto for the evangelist in the British Isles: ‘Expect great things from God; and attempt great things for God.’

 

Immediately after ordination in 1946, we were called to evangelism in the Scottish Mission in the city of Aberdeen, where we had ample opportunity to put our motto to the test.  Later we learned that no one expected us to do anything much in Aberdeen.  It had the reputation of being a hard city, but being young and inexperienced we began to talk about doubling the church membership.

 

We shall never forget that opening night, 9 November 1947.  We had booked the Picture House on Union Street, and twenty minutes before commencement time the theatre was filled to overflowing and hundreds had to be turned away.  A large interest developed, and in response to our appeal the brethren sent us A. J. Timothy and Jean Cowan to assist in the visitation programme.  After four nights in the Picture House we moved into the Cowdray Hall, located on the fourth floor and reached by three flights of stairs.  To our amazement, the people climbed those stairs, and we had the joy of baptising forty-one precious souls, and thus we did, in fact, more than double the church membership.

 

After Aberdeen we were invited to conduct evangelistic meetings in the city of Dundee where we had a small company of believers, some thirty in number, holding their services in condemned property on Dudhope Street.  Of one thing we felt certain: Seventh-day Adventists had no business in Dudhope Street!  Somehow we had to find a new church home, and, of course, double the church membership.  So first of all we concentrated on the challenge of evangelism, and a search began for appropriate halls.  We booked the King’s Theatre for our opening meetings and the celebrated Caird Hall—at least a third of it—for our follow-up hall.

 

The meetings were a success from the very beginning with an attendance of around 1,150 on the second night.

 

Apart from the evangelist and his wife, we had a good team including Jean Cowan, V. H. Hall and C. D. Baildam.  A special feature of this series was the pre-campaign programme in which 10,000  homes were visited with four copies of a folder which we called ‘Good News’, written by the evangelist and illustrated by Victor H. Hall.  David Dabson did some good footwork in this particular phase of the programme.  More than 200 of those visited requested tickets for the opening night, and some of these interests went right through to baptism.

 

With a good interest developing, we turned our attention towards securing a new church home for the growing congregation.  We searched high and low but every door was closed.  Finally, in spite of post-war building restrictions and the scarcity of materials and with little hope of success, we went to Edinburgh to apply for a building permit.  Imagine our surprise when the official, impressed by Adventist missionary work abroad, granted our request and sent us on our way rejoicing.  With this permit we were able to build a modest, prefabricated building on Arbroath Street, which was to accommodate the church membership for some twenty years.  And so the Lord blessed and we baptised thirty-six new members, thus doubling the membership and leaving the believers in their own church building.

 

From Scotland we accepted the challenge of evangelism in South London, particularly in the Brixton area.  Or team consisted of the evangelist and his wife, Pastors Gordon Hyde and William Frazer and their wives, Kathleen Mahon and Margaret Emm.  We opened our evangelistic series in the Empress Theatre, where we continued for ten nights with an average attendance of around 500.  After the tenth night, we moved into the Lambeth Town Hall and continued to attract a good audience for another sixteen nights.  Finally, we held Sabbath meetings and organised the South London Church in the Court Room of the Lambeth Town Hall.  Twenty-seven new members were baptised in the Wimbledon church, and these, together with the members of the Clapham church, became the nucleus of the South London or Brixton church.

 

Special mention should be made of the musical contributions made by Kathleen Joyce and her Philomel Ladies Choir, and much help and encouragement was provided by brother T. Culverwell, our head usher, who also became the first elder of the new South London church.

 

After our experiences in South London, we were asked to assist Pastor George Vandeman in his Greater London Evangelistic Crusade with meetings conducted in the Coliseum and Stoll theaters during the latter months of 1952 and later transferred to the newly acquired New Gallery Evangelistic Centre.  While most of our London churches gained new members from this large central crusade, a new Central London church was founded and organised in the Caxton Hall, Westminster, on 27 June 1953, the writer being appointed as its first pastor.  This new organisation was later transferred to the New Gallery Centre.

 

Our next call was to the city of Birmingham where Pastor Tom J. Bradley had been holding some excellent evangelistic meetings.  Our job was to pastor three churches and at the same time conduct a continuing city-wide crusade.  This was no small task, and during the three years we remained in Birmingham, working night and day, we had the joy of seeing 171 precious souls added to the churches:  101 the first year, 46 the second, and 24 the third.  In producing these results, we had the assistance of an excellent team of workers including Derek Mustow, Brian Pilmoor, L. A. D. Lane, Ron Brett, Philip Anderson, Eric Winch, James Cuthell, Laura Mason, Irene Kellett, Ruth McGeachie, Betty Hanna and Joyce Colledge.

 

It was in the Camp Hill church that the writer had the privilege of baptising fifty-seven candidates at one time.  The old Theatre Royal was the venue for these crusades which were advertised as the ‘The Theatre Royal Sunday Series’, together with mid-week meetings featuring studies in the book of Revelation, and Sabbath services in the Midland Institute which were later transferred to the Camp Hill church.

 

It was in Birmingham that we experimented with the Spirit of Prophecy counsel to postpone the presentation of the Sabbath truth until we had obtained the confidence of the people; and it certainly seemed to work well.

 

After finishing our work in Birmingham, we moved on to Manchester and began our Palace Theatre Sunday Series on 20 October 1957.  During our two years in Manchester we had the privilege of working with some excellent team members: Amos Cooper, pastor of the Manchester church, Philip Anderson, Edward Bell, Martin Anthony, Joyce Colledge, Edith Borbe and Tony Proudley.

 

We began our crusade in the Palace Theatre, later transferred to the Houldsworth Hall, and finally held Sabbath services in the Friend’s Meeting House.  Once again, we experimented with a new idea.  After presenting the Sabbath truth, we invited our audience to attend Sabbath School and morning worship the very next Sabbath.  This was a radical departure from the usual practice of inviting folk to a Sabbath afternoon meeting first and then later introducing morning services.  Imagine our surprise when sixty-five non-members attended Sabbath School and eighty-five the worship service.

 

We held our first Manchester baptism on 21 June 1958 when we had the joy of baptising fifty-four and adding a further three by profession of faith.  On 19 July, we baptised another twenty-one and added two more by profession of faith, making a total of eighty souls added to the Church through our labours during 1958.  We concluded our work in Manchester with a final baptism in April 1959 of thirty-one more candidates, thus giving us a grand total of 111 added by baptism or profession of faith.

 

In the spring of 1959, we were called back to London to lead out in the evangelistic programme at the New Gallery Centre on Regent Street, where the writer had the privilege of being resident speaker for more than three years.  We launched our first series on 20 September with the title ‘Invasion from Outer Space!’  And in two sessions we had the satisfaction of addressing 1,800 people.  During our first year in the Centre, we baptised ninety-eight candidates.  Sixty-six were baptised the second year, and forty-five the third year.  Russel M. Kranz was our general manager and choir director, Reg Mudford our business manager, Miss V. Warren our senior Bible instructor.  The balance of our team was made up of six or seven young men and women, interns from Newbold College, who assisted with our visiting programme  that took us from one end of London to the other.  After all, there were some eight million people living in our parish!  We were blessed with good musical talent including Kathleen Joyce, Uriel Porter, David Elliot at the organ, and Leslie Riskowitz at the piano.  We sent out our first bulk mailing from the Centre.  From 40,000 pieces of mail we received some 600 replies, requests for 250 reserved seats, and 450 sermon requests.

 

On 30 July 1962, we left London for Scotland and Glasgow.  The brethren had booked the St. Andrew’s Hall with a seating capacity of more than 3,000.  We advertised our opening meetings on 26 October the best way we knew how, and we shall never forget that opening night.  When the evangelist walked out on the platform, there were hardly 200 in the congregation.  We had known how to be exalted—when we had turned hundreds away—now we knew how to be abased.  Coincidentally, within five days the St. Andrews Hall burned to the ground.  This saved us any further embarrassment but left us with the problem of what to do next.  Three of us—Bob Smart, Derek Mustow, and the writer—met in George Square and prayed under falling snow that God would open the way for us to continue our crusade.

 

We went to the city fathers, trusting that the Lord would work through them to solve our problem, and He did.  They gave us a sympathetic hearing and allowed us to go into our secondary hall a month before our booking was due.  So we were able to continue without interruption in the McLellan Galleries on Sauchiehall Street.

 

It was in Glasgow that we first experimented with a Bible Marking Class.  Collins printed us a special edition with a zipper binding, and we learned quite a lot from this trial run.

 

Our audience grew in the McLellan Galleries.  Kathleen Joyce and Uriel Porter came up to sing for us, and Derek Mustow was our director of music.  We baptised twenty-six in Glasgow and on 3 June 1964, we stepped on board the Empress of Canada to face the challenge of new fields of labour in a distant land.

 

The motto we chose at the beginning of our evangelistic labours has remained with us through the years.  We have always expected great things from God and have attempted great things for God.  We have enjoyed the challenge of evangelism.  It has thrilled our souls and we believe it to be the greatest and most rewarding work in the world.  Thirty-five years of public evangelism has left its mark upon us, but we would not exchange this calling for any other.  Today we are faced with the challenge of an unfinished task.  The challenge of evangelism is the need for men to finish that task.  Let us pray the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest that the work might be finished and Jesus return.