For many centuries Ireland has been sending out sons and daughters as missionaries to carry the Gospel to other lands. Since the latter half of the 18th century, the newly formed Methodist Church in Ireland has gladly shared in this activity but, instead of organising its own small missionary society it has been a partner with the British Conference in the Methodist Missionary Society. So when I entered the Ministry of the Methodist Church in Ireland, it was in that country that I gained my first three years experience in circuit ministry, received my theological training and was ordained. However, as I had offered and was accepted for service overseas, the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, as it was until Methodist Union in 1933 and then became the Methodist Missionary Society (MMS) controlled my movements and was responsible for keeping missionary candidates in our Irish Theological College for a third year. Our contemporaries, including my brother Day, who had offered to serve in Ireland were given only two years in college because of the strain on accommodation and staff. (For accuracy of records, Methodist Union in Ireland had already become effective at the turn of the century.)
As the years passed and I married an English wife whose home was in London, we tended to spend more time in England during our furloughs. Years later, when our son Peter had to be left behind for educational reasons, we searched carefully for the best school. We looked at Wesley College, Dublin and then at the huge ‘Methody’ in Belfast, but finally decided on Kent College, Canterbury to be followed by our Kingswood School in Bath, where later he was joined by his brother Anthony.
All this, together with the fact that we had embarked on a mortgage for our own house in Birchington, Kent, had made me seek an official transfer from Ireland to the British Methodist Conference. This transfer raised no problems and simplified things for us now that we had come to the end of our service in Nigeria.
We developed the ‘Duologue’ in 1952.
This method of preaching made it possible to add new interest and a lot of fun to the old stereotyped missionary anniversary and enabled us to get over lots more information, each of us on our own subject. Instead of two addresses, we took it in turn to speak. Perhaps I would start but, if my story transgressed on to Joyce’s subject, she would coolly cut in on medical stories or on women and girls. Then equally sharply, I would await my opportunity and give five minutes or so on church, education, transport etc. This kept the audience awake and interested. We found that people enjoyed a laugh at a missionary meeting as much as elsewhere. This method tended to make our Duologues much longer but it did enable us to get over far more information and it gave our audience a frequent change of voice. The Duologue idea has been taken up by the B.B.C. in news bulletins and is also widely used elsewhere.
When we returned from Nigeria in 1952 we decided to use the descriptive title we had used for years overseas: “Partners in Pioneering”.
Allen Birtwhistle who had been a young Science graduate teaching under the MMS in Lagos, candidated for the Methodist Ministry. After his training and gaining experience he was appointed to the London Mission House staff in charge of work in the UK amongst young people. He had an additional gift in art and used this in production of many clever and attractive posters and also in the production of the MMS collecting box which bore pictures of our Mobile Medical Unit and of work through the Laubach Literacy Campaign. He very quickly booked us for the 1952 Missionary Conference at Lowestoft, where we were given an hour each day for the week. This meant five duologues.
Dr Ralph Bolton, the Medical Secretary of the MMS wrote to me stating that shortage of doctors on leave made it very difficult for him to arrange the medical sessions at the Laymen’s Conference at Swanwick “So I am writing to ask you if you will become a medical worker (as you so often were) for the period of Swanwick”. I would speak on front line medical evangelism. I was glad to oblige and evidently had a reasonably good time for, as a result of Swanwick and our joint performance at Lowestoft, invitations from many parts of the country poured in.
I was due to enter the work of the Home Church in September, the Missionary Society however intervened and invited us to remain on their staff for a further year and be at their beck and call for appointments anywhere. We were pleased to accept this invitation. The MMS paid rent on our house in Birchington and throughout the year we made for home as often as possible. We always went together and our visits included a week or two in Ireland several times, a week in the Channel Isles in the French Circuit, the Moray Firth from Aberdeen to Inverness, Cornwall, Wales, East Anglia and all sorts of places between. We did mad things like going home after a meeting in Sheffield or Swansea, travelling through the night and getting in by daylight, but it was HOME.
The acceptability of the Duologue method resulted, in addition to our official MMS appointments, requests for numerous privately arranged meetings. We sometimes went singly to address afternoon Womens Meetings in the same towns and about the same times. This led on one occasion to our accepting invitations to address two meetings in Oxford. We found that the two churches were in neighbouring streets, in fact, very nearly backing each other: so much so that I could hear the women singing in Joyce’s meeting and probably her women could hear my louder voice when speaking.
I have turned over pages of jottings I made of those days.
In a Welsh city the chairman at our duologue was no less than the Mayor. Now this mayor had the very unfortunate habit of dropping off to sleep if a speech were too long. He knew of this failing and has often joked about it. After his introduction of the speakers he settled down comfortably, but when he eventually finished what was a longer effort than usual, he pulled out his watch from his waistcoat pocket and said “It isn’t, it can’t be, an hour and twenty minutes and I have not been to sleep”.
In Manchester, the Missionary fortnight was coupled with the circuit Eisteddfod. Each of the ten weekday evenings in a different church in the circuit, all packed to the doors, had an hour of competitions, instrumental and vocal, then followed an hour for their annual missionary meeting. This was a grand idea but it meant that the captive audience included many people who followed to every church in turn and that meant for us the preparation of ten completely different duologues.
Every weekend meant afternoon Sunday Schools as well as morning and evening services and often a Question hour at the close of the day. Very often there had been a Saturday night tea and meeting to follow, or possibly on the Monday night, in the same church.
We were invited to a North London Church: Willoughby Road. I conducted morning service and kept to a fairly tight time schedule so as to allow the maximum for the missionary address. There was a clock directly facing the pulpit, probably on the gallery, ensured that I would stop in time. Joyce told me afterwards that I had been leisurely in the first half, much slower than usual, then suddenly I had pressed the accelerator and fairly dashed through the remainder of my talk (which she had heard before) and arrived at the end, almost breathlessly announcing the closing hymn. The explanation? Five minutes after I started speaking, the clock stopped. Now, I alone could see that timepiece and suddenly realised that it was the same time as when I had begun the story of a young man who had become a Christian in the face of much opposition from family and companions. That story should have ended many minutes earlier, hence the accelerator. When I apologised and explained about what had happened with the clock, folk were most understanding. I did not hear one single comment about the overcooked joint at home, but did hear the expressions of regret that I had finished so soon, they wanted more. An oft repeated remark was the expressed wish that on missionary anniversaries, speakers could forget an ordinary sermon and take the congregation to places where the front line work was being done. But then, the number of missionary speakers on furlough is small and of those who are available, many have been engaged in educational work which does not necessarily give the same first hand thrill.
Our hostess was in charge of afternoon Sunday School and during lunch asked Joyce if she would like to visit the School and possibly say a few words. Joyce jumped at the idea. I rested at home. On their return, our hostess burst into the room and said “My goodness, your wife CAN talk”. I showed no surprise, I already KNEW.
Chairmen differed greatly, from the experienced to the beginner. One gentleman was very particular as to the correct pronunciation of Ilesha, where we had spent 16 years. In advance he asked should he say Eye-lee-sha or EE-lay-sha. We assured him that the latter was correct. He came to the introduction of the speakers and said that they came from Elisha (the Old Testament prophet’s name) then turning round he smiled and said “I’ve got it right haven’t I?”
In the eighteen months (April 1952 to September 1953) we had the privilege of speaking in over 200 different churches, all over the U.K., Ireland and the Channel Isles. We met the most wonderful groups of people with tremendous variety of talent, dedication and culture. It was a thrill to speak in churches big and small, in packed Central Halls and remote chapels. Everywhere, people were ready to listen and wanted to hear as much as possible of the Christian Church in West Africa.
In preparation for one of our two visits to the Channel Isles (French and English circuits) Joyce had a hair do. With pleasurable anticipation she told her hairdresser of our forthcoming visit to Guernsey and, as it was around Easter time after a very cold winter, she looked forward to wearing lighter clothing. The girl immediately changed the outlook for she was born and bred in Guernsey, and said “Take with you the warmest clothes you have, remember Guernsey is a small island and the Atlantic winds sweep every inch of it.” Forewarned, our suitcase was repacked and we set out for the Antarctic. The island was cold but the warmth of our French host and hostess was outstanding. We did not have to worry about the Patois, for although they were of French stock, had a French name, lived in our French Circuit, they were completely bi-lingual.
Our host was a very big man, in height and girth, who had for many years worked in a quarry before taking to tomato growing. His wife equalled him in size and neither of them ever felt cold, being so well covered. We slept in the guest room over the drawing room, which had a fire only on Sundays. Twin beds were covered with ample duvets. We took it in turn to be the first to get into bed and warm it up a bit then slept in one of the beds. The trouble came next morning for our hostess brought in a cup of tea. So that she would not find us using only one bed, again we took it in turn to brave the cold and transfer to the other bed before her knock would come on the door.
The cooking was excellent and our midday dinners were served on overladen plates of meat, potatoes and amongst other vegetables, topped with a whole cauliflower dripping with a rich sauce. I do not remember ever seeing the pattern on those dinner plates as I never succeeded in digging to the bottom of the generous supply. A large helping of pudding followed and, thank God, a large cup of tea to help reduce the feeling of being full above safety level.
An all too short rest came next until it was time to prepare for our evening duologue. Now our week-long visit was the occasion for the Annual Missionary Anniversary of the six or eight churches in the French Circuit. Each evening followed the same pattern. It started with a huge tea in a home connected with the church in which tonight’s meeting would be held. To this our week-long home host and hostess were invited, The Ministers of the circuit, The Overseas Missionary Secretary, the Treasurer, the Chairman of tonight’s meeting, the Organist, the Soloist and others. We faced large helpings of cold meats and salads, then a rich trifle. At this stage, already having reached the above referred to ‘danger level’ we still had to have a slice of Guernsey gache. In none of the many homes did we find anyone who understood the word ‘small’. Already defeated, there was no alternative but to surrender and eat it. It is a lovely rich fruit cake, but really a meal in itself and certainly not an ‘afters’ as in Guernsey.
After all this, too full for words, we were wheeled to the meeting i.e. in a car. I would emphasise, speaking with feeling, another good point about our duologue method. It meant that the one who was not speaking had the opportunity to sit quietly until his or her turn came round.
Add to the generosity and care of all those listed above, devotion, keenness, loyalty, and multiply it by 7 or 8, and you get the Channel Islands atmosphere. I would also congratulate the Ministers of the Circuit who, night after night managed to find something fresh to say as they handed the speakers over to the chairman of the evening and then managed to sit and listen to those 7 or 8 duologues.
Apart from the conferences, travels and meetings there was one outstanding event in 1952. Joyce was awarded the M.B.E. in recognition of her outstanding medical work in Nigeria. As we were in England, she would receive this award from the Queen herself at an Investiture in Buckingham Palace.
Two persons were invited to accompany each one being honoured. Obviously Peter and I would attend. Moss Bros were very busy with the hire of so many grey top hats, tail coats and striped trousers to those who wanted to give the impression that they wore such garments frequently at important dress occasions. We did not need to support the firm for I wore my clerical garb and Peter his school Sunday suit. Joyce, of course had to buy her outfit. We never even thought of being able to hire for a lady but since then we know it is quite in order to do so. Ladies usually think they will be able to use the new outfit on other occasions.
We parked the car as near as we could to Buckingham Palace and then got a taxi which dropped us at the gates around which and all along the tall railings a crowd of interested onlookers stood. Most people clutching their identity papers must have been thrilled, as we were, to be able to cross that large forecourt sacred to the splendidly uniformed guards with their tall bearskins, or the passage of Royal and official cars. We arrived eventually at the arch which is the last point TV watchers get of Her Majesty as she passes through. Here, having nothing to declare, we were directed across the inner courtyard to the covered entrance to the Palace proper. Joyce was directed straight on whilst Peter and I turned left and climbed the long red carpeted stairs and eventually reached the large Hall where the Investiture would take place.
We were indeed fortunate, a kindly official separated us from the file of relatives being directed to the body of the hall. He said that Peter would get a better view in the front, and led us to some raised seats backing the side wall and thus we would be looking straight on to the dais where everything was to be seen and almost within touching distance. The long waiting was whiled away with the bright music from a military band in the musicians gallery. Meanwhile, all those to be honoured were receiving directions and rules of procedure. On being called each would enter the hall, turn sharp left and halt directly in front of Her Majesty to whom they would bow or curtsey. After the reading of the citation of each, he or she would take about ten steps forward. Here the Queen would do her part, shake hands, speak some words of gratitude and hang the decoration on the recipient, who would then take those ten steps backwards, bow or curtsey again, turn right and then left and leave by the door behind the dais.
At the appointed hour we all stood while the Queen entered and the Lord Chamberlain took up his position. The band struck up and we all sang the National Anthem, then without any formal opening, the recipients were called individually. The above rules of procedure ran smoothly, except in one or two cases where, probably overcome by excitement the recipient forgot to take ten paces backwards, turned a back on the Queen and beat a hasty retreat as possible to the security of the withdrawing room.
Joyce was not one of these exceptions, she went through the drill without fault and graciously smiled as she spoke or listened to the Queen’s comment. I forgot to say that in the preparation a small hook was pinned on to each person being decorated. This made it easier to hang on the medal without danger of pricking the royal fingers.
Two comments remain. Peter was especially thrilled as knighthoods were bestowed. A small cushioned stool with one side frame raised high enough to hold firmly, was placed in front of the Queen. A plain ’Mr’ went forward, knelt on the cushion while Her Majesty touched each of his shoulders with a sword and commanded him to “Arise, Sir George” or whatever was his name.
The other comment concerned a very uncomfortable gentleman who blushed almost to the roots of his hair as he stepped forward for his award. The Queen held out her hand. He grasped it and levered her arm up and down like a village pump. I could see the muscles tighten on her cheek in an obvious but successful effort to prevent a grin or other sign of amusement. On completion of such a definite thanks or goodbye, he forgot the rest, turned his back on the Queen and almost ran to the exit. I feel sure that at the royal luncheon which followed, the incident of the village pump must have been one of the items in conversation.
We, the spectators, reunited with our wives, husbands, or other relatives who had been decorated in the inner courtyard. Official photographers reaped a rich harvest and doubtless many a husband told his wife not to forget to return his garb to Moss Bros before a further day’s rent was demanded.
In Methodism, one of the many methods wherein we differ from the Church of England and some of the Free Churches is that there are no interregnums, that is the period, sometimes a year or more where a parish can be without a minister before his successor is appointed. Our Methodist method is that all outgoing ministers vacate their manse occupancy and official duties in August and their successors are in charge as from the first Sunday in September. Many men are invited to their new appointment well in advance, others do not wish to accept invitations but leave their appointment to the guidance and decision of our Stationing Committee which is in the position to see the greatest need and the best man available to meet it.
I belonged to the latter group and although I received a number of interesting invitations, I awaited the decision of Conference. At the close of church year, the Superintendent of the South Devon Mission died suddenly. I was appointed to take charge of that large area which stretched from Widdicombe on the Moor to Salcombe on the sea. It had some forty churches and a ministerial staff of five, supported by a large and heavily worked band of Local Preachers. Our Home Mission Department paid a large annual grant to finance this large area but increasingly felt the need to transfer that responsibility to the local community. I was asked to do my best to transform matters and make the SDM self supporting. I would live in Totnes, midway between the Moor and Salcombe.
Following the death of the late Superintendent, a missionary of the Church of South India who was on furlough volunteered to fill as much as he could of the vacancy until my arrival. He very kindly wrote and left for me a large file of helpful items and tips. Under the heading of ‘Ministerial garb’ he drew attention to the fact that Methodism had not yet arrived at a universally acceptable type of clerical dress. I quote: “Most ministers may have worn black or dark lounge suits, following the frock coat era, some more venturesome have donned Geneva gowns. Our SDM staff differ widely (proper names changed), Smith wears a plain Geneva gown, Jones adds his BD hood to his gown, I continue as we do in the Church of South India and go the whole hog with cassock and surplice, while old Brown wears nothing at all.” I have belonged to the Brown brigade for the first sixty years of my ministry. I cannot foresee any radical change in my attitude until hopefully being “clothed in white”.
The appointment to Devon marked the end of our Nigerian days and belonging to the Methodist Missionary Society for over a quarter of a century, but does not end this section of my Memoirs. I must record happenings under three headings: 1953, 1962 and 1976.
In preparation for the 1986 Bi Centenary Celebrations of the MMS, the Chairman of the Officers Meeting in London invited those who had served overseas in earlier years to send in an account of our work and experiences long ago. After pages covering my years of 1929-1953, and Joyce, with her medical experiences of two years less, I turned to correspondence with my successor. I feel the best way to report here a very unwelcome turn in events connected with our northern work is to copy pertinent lines from those submitted to the Chairman of the Officers Meeting in 1986.
When we left Nigeria, we were succeeded by the Rev Raymond Rowlands and his wife. Before ordination, he had obtained a degree in Engineering and his wife was a qualified nurse. They were keen evangelists and pioneers, eager to take on this exciting work. It could be taken that all had gone well during our years in the North, but that would be to fail to realise that there was a constant tug for staff and funds to enrich the work in the south, even at the expense and loss of any advance in the struggling northern circuit. I have already written of schemes like Omo-aran where, through the help of a friendly Government Education Officer, we were asked to take over completely a full secondary boarding school just over the northern border. Government would guarantee an adequate annual grant. This would have been a great help to our acceptance and establishment in the north. The Standing Committee of our Mission in Lagos met to consider the offer. They came down on the side of those who felt that this would lessen the number of teachers available for the south. The offer was rejected.
Then in 1953, there came a very unpleasant interruption to our northern circuit after a visit from the Chairman of the District, accompanied by one of the hospital doctors (both Europeans). They came to view the prospects and future financial and manpower needs of the circuit. They engaged in discussion with the leaders of a mission in adjoining territory and came away with the amazing ‘one man’ recommendation (the Chairman’s (the doctor was only looking at arrangements for hospital supervision) that we should withdraw from the whole area. It was unfortunate that the senior African Minister appointed was unable to travel through illness, so there was no African opinion whatsoever. The Standing Committee in Lagos, not one of whose members knew anything whatsoever of an area 500 miles up country simply adopted the recommendation.
This proposal that we once more withdraw from the north and concentrate on the south reminded me of John Milum’s humiliation and grief in 1880 when he was recalled from the Niger to work in the south.
There was however a happy conclusion, my successor, the Superintendent of the Ilor and Borgu circuit was bitterly opposed to the recommendation. He sent me a cry of despair and asked me to see Tom Beetham, our Secretary for Africa. I gladly did this and whatever I could in all directions. Meanwhile, African annoyance was growing and in January 1955 I received another letter from my successor: “We are thrilled to tell of the answer to our prayers about the northern work in Borgu. The District Synod, after a full discussion, decided by a very strong vote that the pioneer work should be developed and that the whole area be now regarded as a ‘Mission Field of the Nigerian Church’.
And the response of the M.M.S. in Marylebone Road, London?
And the response from the Nigerian Church?
Since John Milum’s day the Sudan Interior and the Sudan United Missions and other churches have fully occupied the territory north of the River Niger, so we shall never reach Lake Chad. But the barrier that stuck our Church to the south has been broken. We did add 300 miles towards Chad without encroaching on any other missionary society.