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Description

How does a Church function without a building? This was the dilemma faced by Corporation Road Presbyterian Church, when it was confirmed that the large Victorian edifice on the corner of Eton Road had to be demolished in the early 1960s. The easy option, of course, was to close its doors for ever, the members disbanding to individually find a new "home" in a like-minded Church or, alternatively, to join as one with another non-conformist congregation in the vicinity. But neither of these alternatives was acceptable to such a close-knit community, for it was unthinkable that they should lose their unique identity and, more importantly, they felt that God still had a special purpose for the members of Corporation Road. For them the Church was more than a building: it was a body of people, who had worshipped, prayed and played together for the past 60 years. It was a family of friends whose lives centred around God and each other and they were determined to stay together to be led by the Spirit, building or no building! However, with a membership of around 140, this was easier said than done. Although the church hall was to remain,it soon became clear that this was to be the workmen's base and the only available space for storage. With the greatest will in the world it was obvious that no group meetings, let alone Church services, could be held there. So, what then, was the solution? Under the guidance of the minister at the time, the Reverend Cyril Summers, the congregation was soon led to discover how the very first Christians worshipped. They had no Church buildings, but were a thriving, active, Spirit-led community, who met together regularly for prayer and praise in one another's homes. Was this, then, the answer to the problem? Realising that there were many in the Church congregation who would be more than willing to offer hospitality if asked, several members were approached with this request. The response was overwhelming and so the seeds of House Groups were sown. Although by this time the Church could no longer meet together as one, the advent of House Groups meant that all the congregation could participate in worship and discussion, albeit at different times and in different venues - in each other's homes. Together the Minister and elders carefully planned the content of each meeting with several of the elders becoming "leaders" of the various groups. As meetings were held on each of the week-nights, members were free to attend whichever one they found most convenient and, as the same format and content was followed by each of the leaders, it did not matter if one "mixed and matched" the group one attended each month. The meetings always opened with prayer at 7.30 p.m. followed by a Bible reading,study and discussion with a closing prayer at 9.00 p.m. after which tea and biscuits were served. The idea of House Groups was readily embraced by the Church and all the sessions were very well attended: so much so, in fact, that younger participants often found the only available space for them to sit was on the floor! One of the most memorable outcomes of these fellowships, however,was that everyone wanted to participate: even the previously shy and retiring members seemed to find their voice and wanted to make their opinions known. With everyone contributing, the members often became quite animated, which led to lively, vibrant, but always very worthwhile, discussions. After looking in-depth at the accounts of the Early Church found in the Bible, the groups moved on to study other texts such as "God's Frozen People" and "What on Earth is the Church for? " both publications being very pertinent to the then-current situation of Corporation Road Presbyterian Church. Through numerous discussions and much prayer, over time a vision of the future slowly began to emerge. Originally, many members had envisaged the new building as almost a replica of the old one or, at the very least, a building which would accommodate the needs of "Church" people. However, God moves in mysterious ways and, gradually, a new concept began to form in people's minds, as they realised that "God so loved the World" (John 3 v.16) - not just the Church. With this revelation came the understanding that any new building would have to be welcoming, accessible and open to all, whether Christians or not. As this idea began to take root in people's minds, the more excited and vociferous they became. Whereas before they had been discussing the pros and cons of where the pulpit should be and whether stained glass should be traditional or modern, conversations began to centre on such things as the necessity of a games room, a coffee bar, a multi-functional hall, etc.,etc. And so the idea of Community House was born, but it was soon realised that not everything could be done at once and so the new building would have to be developed in stages. After much soul-searching both in House Groups and later in Church meetings, it was decided that the "Church"would be the third and final phase of the building to be erected. However, that was not to be, for finances would not permit any further building on the site other than what is there today: and so the building for the Church members - "their" Church - never came to fruition. On the site that was allocated for that purpose, however, now one will find the Peace Garden: a place that can be enjoyed by all, not just the few. By the 1980s the Rev. Cyril Summers had joined together with another Presbyterian minster and one from the United Reformed Church to form a Team Ministry. This had an impact on all the churches in their pastorates, as they enjoyed monthly worship sessions and celebrated Christian festivals together. In addition to these joint services came the re-introduction of House Groups, but this time with a cross-section of the membership from the different churches. Meeting in one another's homes, as had been the practice twenty years previously, and studying together such texts as "Please God ...." really helped to "break the ice" and people soon felt comfortable enough to share their innermost thoughts and different religious perspectives. Also, it was through these House Groups that some life-long friendships were forged with people from the other churches who, in all probability, would never have got to know one another otherwise. And so it can be seen that House Groups have played a really vital role in the history of the Church at Eton Road. Not only did they leave a long-lasting, profound impression on all who experienced them first-hand, but their legacy is still very much in evidence today. Had it not been for the vision of all those who participated in study and prayer in over-crowded living rooms fifty-odd years ago, the likelihood is that Community House would never have been built. Maybe, there would have been just an ordinary church building on the corner, attended by a few Christians, but generally ignored by the rest of the inhabitants of the local vicinity. But that was not God's plan for this site; instead, He guided His Church of the 1960s to build the vibrant centre of the neighbourhood that Community House has become today.

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