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A Brief History

Compiled

Cartoons
by by
Rev. Donald Elliott Bernard Pike

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SIX – THROUGH WARS HOT AND COLD

 In 1938 James Fraser was nominated for Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of England, and resigned from Trinity in view of having to visit widely over the country during his year of office and thus being unable to serve the congregation properly. 

Of his presiding at the meeting of the General Assembly in May 1938, there is this report: ‘The outstanding feature of the week was without a doubt the Moderator's personality and charming manner,… and his encouragement of younger members of Assembly.’  His address to the Assembly reflected his focus on the congregation with his strong pacifist convictions in the face of grim prospect of world war: 

Our task is to a large extent shaped and made urgent by the special needs of our time.  We are not daunted by the fact that the Christian faith is despised and opposed by some people.

Looking abroad through political glasses the world in general looks rather terrifying. But speaking from a human point of view the world is really a very friendly place. Wherever you go, in any land, ordinary folk, as a rule, meet you kindly, sympathise with your troubles, try to laugh at your jokes, and are interested in your ways of thinking and living. There are grim differences but there are common needs. By   considering human needs and the resources necessary for them rather than always stressing political differences, the problem is laid out differently and as I feel, more truly.

Peace has still to be made out of this dispeace, right in the face of the criminal violence that is abroad. We must get war out of our minds and off our agenda and concentrate on the causes and remedies for the trouble. Human nature is queerer than we understand. It was made by God, and reacts better to Christ's ways than to any other.

Our precious faith was born in tragedy, grew up amidst persecution and misunderstanding, winning its opponents rather than killing them, looking ever to Jesus the new type of humanity, teaching and practising a new kind of civilisation, unbelievably suitable to our need, fair and jurable. Progress was not automatic. The Christian victory only came to persons whose eagerness for it was an overmastering passion. Today there may be small sign of Christian faith and confidence on the surface of the world, but a rewarding confidence has come to persons and groups unmistakably. Our point of hope is the congregation. Our congregations are there to intervene in our time as Jesus intervened.... We are set to show forth Christ to our district. Preaching is not enough.... Our congregation is a ministry all the days of the week, and not merely a preaching  station on Sundays. We are a practising society as well as a teaching society.... Christ's merciful, victorious, and self-giving nature must be given to our district in all the ways possible for our varied membership. Within the congregation much can   be done.  There     are people in our churches with Christian faith and experience locked up within them and going musty for lack of out-door exercise. People of like knowledge and experience, e.g. business and professional men can meet together and gain Christian insight that will be most welcome and convincing to others of the same business or profession. Heads of families meeting together can help harassed parents to bring the Christian religion within the interest of their children other days of the week than Sunday. Young people in the plain manner of today can meet together and get to know how others are facing the future and shaping their ambitions. The raw material of religion is everywhere, and the Christian congregation can bring the light and spirit of Jesus Christ to breathe upon it and give it true life.

When a congregation like that meets for worship on Sunday or at any time, it witnesses confidently and joyfully to a factual experience, wonderfully reinforcing individual faith. Turning outwards to our district each of the Christian faculties just mentioned reaches out to its opposite number in Society struggling in life. When a minister gives much attention to these things by interviews, correspondence, groups and activities that exemplify this ministry, he is not neglecting public worship but ensuring it.

 Following the moderatorial year and the outbreak of World War II, James Fraser was inducted at Hammersmith, where he introduced many of the methods and approaches used in Camden.  In 1943 he was called to the war-devastated East End by appointment of the General Assembly, and was made superintendent of the churches in the area.  James and Madge Fraser established themselves in a flat in the Whitechapel Road that had only barely been made habitable after the blitz.  There he led efforts to meet immediate needs and to plan for rebuilding post-war. 

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In 1938, Trinity was ‘wonderfully favoured’ to learn that the Revd. Eric Philip and his wife Sylvia from Moston, Manchester, were willing to come to Camden Town. His academic standing at Cambridge, it was said, would have fitted him for a post at the university. On Sunday morning 2nd October 1938, Eric Philip gave his first address to the congregation, A Vision of the Congregation: 

…It  was shown me too that in the morning it was the custom to hold conference that they might help one another in right thinking and find the truth on divers matters, and always the spirit of humility and sincerity was in their hearts so that none spoke for the sake of speaking or in the spirit of controversy, but only to contribute of his own experience and thought or to ask help in his own perplexity. And I saw that even the deep things of the soul could be spoken of naturally, with no false shyness and no jarring note of spiritual pride. 

Moreover I saw in my vision that great friendliness prevailed among the worshippers.... And if a stranger entered he was so kindly entreated that when he came again he felt no more a stranger but said " J have found a home among the Presbyterians of Kentish Town, for I was a stranger and they took me in." ....And I saw that even those who were exceeding shy would say to themselves "Perchance this stranger is shy also and if I wait until she speak to me we may not speak at all, moreover I am  under bond to do to others as I would have them do to me. I will give her greeting." 

And I saw that no distinction was made between rich and poor, British and those of other races. For in the atmosphere of that place snobbery and prejudice could not live…….’ 

 In December 2001, his son, John Philip, wrote nostalgically from Auckland. He recalls the impact the congregation had on himself as a boy: ‘This was the year that I, at six years old and of course not realising it at the time, first had the unimaginably great privilege of entering the company of the truest saints I have ever met…. My relationship with Trinity, to my shame, was all in my favour, my memories of loving friendship and joyful occasion and the wonderful, wonderful people’. 

In the winter of 1941 during the blitz, two lady members, Miss Gough and Miss Betts, ‘were both buried in their basement shelter for many hours [during the night] after a bomb fell in their street.  They were immobilised by collapsed structure and in complete darkness, but could hear activity.’ John Philip remembers their giving an account of their ordeal several years later at a Guild meeting: 

‘The two ladies questioned each other in the dark and cold as to their condition.  Thank God, no pains or injury, but trapped in their bunks and totally immobile.  They listened – shouting, screaming and police and wardens’ voices quite clear from the broken basement windows.  The guns were still firing as the raid was still on.  They discussed calling for help but decided that, as they were not hurt and did not believe they were in danger, they would wait till morning so as not to be a nuisance.  “So we waited. After a few hours it began to get light.  The worst of the noise was over, so we decided to call out together, ‘Help! Help!’  The wardens and police came and rescued us”’. 

‘The western boundary of Trinity marched with one of the famous deep shelters.  They started building them in about 1943….  Before it was a vacant site… let out to a Fair Ground.  I remember going with my daddy to negotiate with the proprietor for having the music of the merry-go-round lowered a bit during the Sunday Evening Service.’


 The pamphlet written in 1960 records that ‘the trials and dangers of war-time in central London did not daunt [his father’s] devoted attention to individuals or to the Church at large.’ But then in 1942 Revd Eric Philip was suddenly struck down with a tumour on the brain, and did not survive the consequent operation.

The Revd Eric Philip

 John and his mother were later bombed out by a flying bomb from their house in Torbay Street.  Trinity people rescued their belongings and stored them in what was known as the Nursery School room until 1945 when they came back from staying in Birkenhead at his Grandad’s. During the war, there were many among the congregation there who sought to put into practice the Gospel as it had been heard at Trinity over the years.  Thus it was that Stan Stuckey enrolled as a Conscientious Objector and Ethel found herself living out at Barnes Close in Warwickshire.  While her husband grew food for children evacuated from Southend, she brought up their baby, Roger, in considerable isolatio, returning  to Tufnell Park in 1943.  Hector Turner and Alf Slade worked as C.O.s at the University College Hospital.

+      +      + 

In 1943, the Revd Lewis Maclachlan, the minister at Southend, and his wife expressed themselves willing ‘to stand by’ Camden Town, in spite of war damage to the building and the scattering of people and children from the district. During their time at Camden, Mrs Maclachlan was the organist. In 1947, with Hector Turner as Session Clerk, Lewis Maclachlan wrote of the congregation being surrounded ‘by an almost pagan community’.  He was also finding the limitations of a small church building ‘irksome’.  The next year Lewis Maclachlan accepted a call to the Crouch Hill church.

+          +          + 

By that time, James Fraser had completed his assignment as Superintendent among the bombed and vacant charges in East London. Thus at the Call of Trinity he and Madge Fraser returned to Camden Town in 1948. 

As a life-long pacifist, he took up personal correspondence in the fifties with Mr Khrushchev leader of the Soviet Union in the hope of working some reconciliation between the nations principally involved in the Cold War.  The Church Annual Reports from this period indicate steady and sustained progress with increased numbers of people and giving at the church. 

In June 1958 there was held a Midsummer Exhibition in the church.  The leaflet stated

 

Dear friends,

Here are things done happily by members and friends of Trinity, not in competition, but in the genial company of artistic feeling. We hope they will interest all and surprise some. Thank you for paying us a visit and sharing our pleasure in displaying them.

Yours sincerely,

James Fraser.

 

‘In this Exhibition we have commissioned no great artists, nor do we expect a great sensation in the artistic world. Rather, we wish to show that among all of us there are gifts which can be developed to produce something beautiful. We should like to feel that all our individual members will be encouraged to reach for something beyond the works of everyday life, and that by seeing the work which our fellow members have done we will gain fresh impetus to use our own small talents to the further glory of God.’

In 1959, through a generous gift from the Church Aid Committee, the outside of the building was washed ‘as clean as new’ from the grime of fifty years in central London, and beautifully re-floored inside. In 1960, fifty years of the buildings were celebrated.  A pamphlet was published which concluded as follows:

‘Thus the church that was rebuilt in 1909 in dual purpose form for worship and social work has completed fifty strenuous and exacting years of constant use. It has proved itself to be suitable to modern ideas and conditions….. The church has endeared itself to countless numbers of people of all ages for some of their deepest experiences and happiest friendships, as they have taken their place in the love and purpose of God and in faith in Jesus Christ and his Church.’

The next year in November James Fraser retired most reluctantly through ill-health. He was to die in 1966. The obituary concluded, ‘Much loved by all his friends he retained a strong and boyish humanity. To the end of his active life he had a passion for yachting which he indulged adventurously’

CHAPTER
One
Two
Three
Four
Five
Six
Seven
Eight
Nine
Ten

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