In search of a city: a history of Lee Mount Baptist Church, Halifax 1846–1977

Miss J M Crabtree BA and Rev. M V Jackson BA

9 Reaching for the sky

With the launching of Sputnik 1 by the Russians in 1957, we were now in the space age. Khrushchev, De Gaulle, Eisenhower and, at home, Macmillan, were all in power. By the early sixties the New English Bible had been published and Coventry Cathedral, so avant-garde, was causing controversy. At Lee Mount a moderator was appointed, a past president of the Yorkshire Association, the Rev. George Froud, a much loved man, who died recently. He challenged the Church with the pertinent question, ‘What kind of church would our church be if all its members were just like me?’

A new decade, a new ministry. Mr Reg Cook, a student at Rawdon, had undertaken a student pastorate at Lee Mount and, in 1960, was invited as its minister. He.was a bachelor but later married one of the church members. One of the first things that happened under Mr Cook’s ministry was the adoption of ‘Family Church,’ a very new idea at the time but one which, quite properly, brought the Sunday School and the Church much closer together. A ‘Youth Council’ to be responsible for all the youth work of the Church superseded the teachers’ meetings, and the Church was encouraged to support ‘Christian Aid’ for the Third World. ‘House Groups’ were also introduced. Mr Cook’s ministry also saw the introduction of ‘stewardship’ which, although not solving all problems, has provided a far more realistic basis for church work and giving.

In such a comparatively long ministry of eleven years (the longest to date), much more of course took place. Mr Cook is still well-remembered by many for his easygoing informal manner, friendliness and great pastoral concern. Always eager to discover the social implications of the gospel, under his ministry a Derby and Joan Club was welcomed onto the premises, which still flourishes.

While the church was being renewed annually in terms of new converts and the new life they brought, the buildings were just getting older and were becoming an increasing cause of concern. In 1967 the records say, ‘The sanctuary is far too large and does little to bring atmosphere to worship. The schoolroom in particular, is very old and likely to become more of a liability as time goes on.’ Nearly ten years was to pass before the radical steps were taken to come to grips with this problem.

The sixties thus drew to a close, and with them the termination of Mr Cook’s ministry. During it the Church had been very proud to see Mrs Doreen Stansfield appointed Commandant of the Girls’ Brigade in Halifax Battalion, her place as Captain at Lee Mount being taken by Mrs Barbara Smith. Then the Rev. W.B. Wilson and his wife returned to the church as a member, after leaving for ministerial training 42 years.before! The Church also welcomed a Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Brigade Company from a nearby Methodist Church which closed. Mr Cook left Lee Mount in October 1971 for Belgrave Union Church, Leicester, the city in which he still ministers.

We are now approaching the present day with our history, and judgements are not easily made about near contemporary events. Worldwide, man was now on the moon, England had won the World Cup and the Irish troubles had begun.

The church before modifications
The interior of the church as it was before modifications

In September 1972 the church inducted its twelfth minister, once again fresh from College (Bristol), the Rev. Michael Jackson, B.A. Almost at once the church had to face both the problem of its buildings and the A629 road. widening scheme which interfered with the Church premises and made life very difficult for nearly two years. In terms of the buildings, work was started on treating the areas of the two-storey wing of classrooms affected by dry rot and, at the same time, improving and modernising them. Then attention was turned to the Sanctuary as the first phase in an agreed three phase programme. This was to divide the Sanctuary horizontally, providing a smaller, more viable Sanctuary, on a higher level, and an activities area downstairs. The new sanctuary is now in use (opened 3rd December 1977) and the activities area almost complete. In the future it is hoped to construct a new entrance into what will be a storeroom/toilet block after the demolition of the old schoolroom (first church). The Church is grateful to God for the grant-aid received from the Yorkshire Association. Also grateful for the hard work and sacrifice of many of its people, notably Austin Crowther who masterminded the scheme with a great deal of personal sacrifice, Stephen Chaplin and Peter Salmons.

Rebuilt sanctuary
The re-built sanctuary almost completed 1977

But the Church is a living organism of believing, loving, hoping people. It is far more than buildings. So efforts have been made to win those outside for Christ and to build up converts in the faith. A ‘Mother and Toddler’ Club was initiated in association with the ‘Playgroup’ which was welcomed to our church in 1973. At the other end of life a ‘Luncheon Club’ was begun, providing a meal for elderly residents, in co-operation with the social services. In terms of worship, the first Sunday morning in the month is now a Family Service in which the youngsters participate even more than the Minister! Then an ‘Agape’ breakfast is held three times a year and is greatly valued by many. At this we eat breakfast together after sharing the Communion Meal.

Another valued activity is the Church family ‘Day’ or ‘Weekend’ held in various churches, colleges and centres, every year since 1972. Held in September, it is a fine preparation for the demands and possibilities of a new church year.

The Church is still very rich in children and young people, but, significantly, the majority of the Baptisms over the past five years have been of mature men and women. We are living in an increasingly ‘spectator society’ where commitment to anything is frowned upon. Certainly it cannot now be said that the ‘Sunday School is the cradle of the Church.’ Young people are not giving their lives to Christ as they once did.

As times change so do personalities. One of the greatest losses ever suffered by the church was the untimely death, at 44, of its secretary, Mr Gordon Smith, in 1972. He had served the church graciously and competently in this capacity for 14 years and his passing left a great ‘hole’ in the fellowship. He was succeeded, in 1973, by the Church’s first woman Secretary, Mrs Doreen Stansfield. Male chauvinism died a long time ago at Lee Mount! In addition Mr Norman Thompson retired from the diaconate after a full generation of service and Mr Geoffrey Brooke became Halifax Battalion President of the Boys’ Brigade.

Lee Mount has always been a highly active Church and to cope with the great amount of detailed work and planning, three committees were established through Stewardship. Namely the Finance and Fabric, Youth and Education and Pastoral. These have proved invaluable. They are the ‘think-tanks’ to which we owe many first-rate proposals and ideas.