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A Brief History


by by
Rev. Donald Elliott Bernard Pike



From 1962 to 1965 the Revd Michael Quinton served as minister.  It was a period of review and re-organisation, especially of the children’s work.  New methods for teaching faith were coming in. Then Margaret Mann, a deaconness from South Africa, was appointed for one year to supervise this development. Given the unjust racial apartheid system prevailing there, the Trinity elders had first to be re-assured about her attitudes in matters of race. On arrival she started a visitation of local streets beginning with ‘the most difficult areas’.  

In 1963 the Fellowship of Youth was formed and sometimes led worship. Meanwhile, the elders worried about low attendance at evening services.  Moreover, follow-up to visitation contacts was proving tricky. And the elders expressed concern about the churches’ attitude to the housing problems facing ‘coloured’ people.  

In March 1963 ‘some Trinidadians’ joined the church, and a Mrs Caramath (sic) applied for the baptism of her child. 

In April 1964 Bernard Pike, who taught and practised graphic art (his cartoons adorn this brief history), was invited to prepare a district collection for Inter-Church Aid, soon to be re-named Christian Aid. Bernard was to continue heading up this major effort on behalf of the local churches for more than a quarter of a century!

After Michael Quinton moved to Palmers Green, there was a ministerial vacancy at Trinity for over a year.  The London North Presbytery was minded to group Camden with some other congregation, but this was successfully resisted by the Elders.  These were Hector Turner (Session Clerk), Jean Cunningham (Treasurer), Hamish Fraser, Elsie Horton, Bernard Pike, Sarah Reeks and Betty Stephenson.  As a memorial to James Fraser, who had just died, they proposed that a Fund be set up and the organ renovated.

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In late Autumn 1966 the Revd Patrick Figgis was inducted.  He was already aged 60, but had laughed off the idea of retirement: "Retire? What on earth for? Don't be ridiculous!"  Doris Figgis, who had really enjoyed their years at Totteridge, knew her husband could never settle down for the 'quiet life'. So on they came to Camden. 

In 1990, his daughter, Bridget Harrison, published a little book entitled ‘HERE COMES THE ‘GOD-MAN’- A biography of Patrick Figgis - Churchman Publishing, 1990)

In chapter 18, she wrote:  

He wasted no time in getting to know his new 'parish' and was as thorough as he had been in his first church thirty years previously. "My most vivid memory is his visitation to over nine hundred dwellings in Camden Town in his first three months," said one of his tiny congregation. His intensive and very personal form of knocking on doors brought results. "More people entered the church during those three months than in the whole of the previous three years. He meant business." 

‘Our own first visit to Patrick's new church was an experience too. It was quite unlike any other he had had…. Many countries were represented in the little church: the Caribbean; India and Pakistan; Lesotho; Sierra Leone; Guyana and New Zealand.  

They soon discovered cases of real hardship. 

‘One Jamaican mother had been abandoned with six small children. They lived in two rooms and Patrick found they had no bedding whatsoever. He went quickly to the Social Services for sheets and blankets and asked for clothing from friends. Many mothers were grateful to him for the practical ways in which he helped them; he explained the complexities of the clothing allowance forms, the rent rebates and the extras they could obtain while on Supplementary Benefit. Sometimes the fathers were in prison or had abandoned their wives.’ 

There were plenty of marriages and christenings to take.

‘Some of his congregation objected to the 'casual' manner in which they felt he undertook these ceremonies. They did not think he made the couples take them seriously enough, did not command enough commitment. "Never make it easy for people to tell lies," Patrick explained. "People can only go at their own pace. If you ask too much, you lose them. Build on what they have." He only asked that they try to behave in a Christian manner and that they would do their best to bring up their children in this way. 

‘He once commented to a friend: "Don't you think Jesus's teaching about sex and marriage was really too strict and extreme?" On occasions he christened babies born to unmarried girls just as he would remarry divorced couples. Indeed, one wedding service included the baptism of the child at the same time. On another occasion, the mother was an unmarried schoolgirl of fifteen. He went to immense trouble visiting her and helping her over this important stage in her life.’ 

As today there were many vagrants in the area.  Bridget again: 

‘….Down and outs wandered in at the end of the service. Once a tramp cradled a wounded pigeon in his arms throughout the service, filthy hands caressing the soft pale feathers. Patrick regularly visited the men who lived in the huge hostel in Arlington Road and at least two of the worn old men from there attended every morning service, though they preferred to stand at the back and seldom sat on a chair.  

‘Seamus [a drug addict] frequently turned up at the church or the Manse. "I have to get to my mother's funeral in Ireland and I've no money," was his first excuse. The man constantly needed help. Patrick gave him clothes, visited him in hospital and prison and gave him food: as far as possible, he avoided handing over cash. Instead, he made an arrangement with a local cafe: they would give a free meal to anyone Patrick sent in and he would pay the bill later. In this way, he tried to cut down on the amount of money wasted on drink and drugs. Doris was often afraid when Seamus called while she was alone but he never became abusive and waited quietly until Patrick returned. 

In 1969 the Minister wrote the following salutary word in the Annual Report of the church. 

I mention one danger that, as I see it, confronts any Church like ours. There is a fairly clear cut distinction today between those who attend Church, the minority, and those who don't. In a small Church the energies of most of the members are largely spent on Church affairs. The danger is that such a Church may become cut off from life and people outside; yet it is for the sake of the majority outside that the Church primarily exists. If this danger faces the Members of the Church it certainly faces its Minister. I therefore intend to maintain every possible contact with people outside, and with every worthwhile activity. If there is such a gulf it must be bridged. Should not all possible bridges of friendship be formed and kept in good repair?

 Early on, Wednesday evening discussion meetings began. Patrick Figgis introduced a great variety of speakers to Camden. ‘He asked anyone, however famous, and expected them to accept his invitation which they usually did - there was no fee in it for them.’ Lady Mary Wilson, the then Prime Minister's wife, gave a talk about living at number ten and read from her book of poems. Lord Longford, George Melly, Alec Rose the round-the-world yachtsman, Jonathan Miller, the Irish Ambassador and the Jamaican High Commissioner were just some of the fascinating people prepared to give up a Wednesday evening to come to the Manse. One of the group always present on Wednesdays wrote, 'We had such churchmen as Father Trevor Huddlestone; a Greek Orthodox priest; Father Chiel a Dominican Friar, the Dean of Westminster and Monsignor Bruce Kent. Newspaper editors included Harold Evans, then of the Sunday Times, who was visibly impressed by his audience and their intelligent questions.’

 "The dominant issues were the threat of war and unemployment when Patrick started his ministry and they still are today," commented Dr. Daniel Jenkins, "but Patrick cared more for people than causes; his concern for causes arose out of his concern for people in everyday situations as well as times of crisis."

Bridget recalls that on his study desk there stood a much-loved photograph of Jesus as portrayed by the carpenter at Oberammergau. On the mantlepiece were propped snaps of some of the babies connected with Great Ormond Street hospital where Patrick Figgis served as Chaplain. He did not confine his visits to his 'own' people though many did not know his name. "Here comes the god-man!" one patient exclaimed as he strode smiling down the ward. 

Hector Turner remembered: "Patrick invited folk who lived alone to a dinner in a Japanese restaurant in the West End. We were treated with so much deference by the staff as if we were people of rank. Then we went back to the Manse for reading and a leisurely afternoon till tea time. Patrick and Doris's unselfishness on a day like Christmas day was something we shall all hold dear.” 

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 Revd Patrick Figgis on the beach 1976