I arrived at Wesley Hall one dark Sunday evening in October 1988. I had been raised a Methodist – my Great Grandfather and two friends had raised funds for and built a simple Primitive Methodist Chapel in my home village of Oldcroft in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. I attended Sunday School there until it was forced to close and (much to my Grandfather’s chagrin) started attending the nearest Methodist Chapel, a Bible Christian Chapel with which he would have no truck, preferring to attend the Church Of England. We attended every week (myself and four younger siblings) and I recall the nervous excitement of the Sunday School Anniversary recitals (two services) followed by the Sunday School outing to Barry Island the following week – so exciting I could never manage my breakfast.
At the age of 14 I started helping with Sunday School and when a Christian Union opened at my Secondary School I joined that too. Unfortunately the Christian Union at University put me off and for the next 10 years I did not attend a regular service, although I was married in the Methodist Chapel that I had attended at Yorkley Slade (pronounced slad) when I left London to return to live in the Forest in 1984.
Returning to London in 1987 I found myself in Plumstead knowing no-one but my husband. I wanted to be settled and part of the community. I realised that I missed the routine of Sunday church-going. Furthermore we wanted to start a family and I felt it was important that a child should have a routine and a knowledge of Christianity. I started looking for a church I could attend. Sunfields seemed too far away. I tried Trinity Methodist but it didn’t feel right. Then I discovered there was a funny little building tucked away near the common. I came to that first service feeling rather doubtful. The service was in the main hall, led I believe by a female minister (quite a novelty at the time). The hall itself I recall as being dark – dull paintwork and even duller green curtains on the stage, there were strange banks of folding wooden chairs, a battered floor and hissing gas fires on the wall. I remember a smart-looking couple (Dorothy and Derek Fairclough) and a dapper little man (Mr Nichols). Mr Bryan was playing the organ and was accompanied by his wife who was wearing turquoise stone earrings. The place had a familiarity about it – the look and homely feel reminded me of the chapel at Yorkley Slade (and how odd that this building was in the Slade too).
I decided to return the following Sunday evening when the minister, Harvey Richards, put out a notice that “Debby is looking for someone to help her with Sunday School”. Everything seemed to fall into place so I attended the next morning service and volunteered my services. I have helped with Sunday School ever since and much has changed. People have come and gone, two of those original children play the organ for services (Helen and Jo Nichols), my daughter has grown up and I have two grandchildren. However, the special feel of Wesley Hall remains. Recently my grandson exclaimed – “Grandma – I like coming to chapel” – and when I asked why, he said “Because I feel like I’m part of something”. I couldn’t put it better myself.
Christine Anthony, Sunday School Leader