Short History of The Bethel Undenominational Church,
Christian Street, Ramsey, Isle of Man.
By - Norman Vondy - Elder.
The first missionary work amongst seamen in Ramsey began in the 1860’s. Two men, John T. Christian and William Radcliffe, operated from various places in the town - Parliament Street, Neptune Street, and then to what was known as the, ‘New Connection’ ( now the MEA Showroom ), where it is believed the Rev. William Jeffs was the Pastor. At this point, John Christian was the Superintendent of the Bethel, which was later referred to as the ‘Old Seamen’s Bethel’. It wasn’t until 1887 that a new ‘Seamen’s Bethel’ was erected by the Seamen’s Christians Friend Society (S.C.F.S.) based in London, on Derby Road, West Quay.
My grandparents had moved from Vollan to Aust, Regaby, where we are now, in the year of the great snow in 1895, and each Sunday morning the whole family walked the three miles down into Ramsey to attend a Brethren meeting in the old Town Hall.
One hundred and eighteen years a go Captain John Iddon was the first ‘Port Missionary’ sent to Ramsey by the S.C.F.S. He attended the Brethren meeting in the town hall in the mornings, while he had his own mission services at night in The Bethel. He was Pastor/Missionary in Ramsey from July 1887 to February 1936 – forty-nine years! - and went to be with his Lord and Saviour aged eighty-eight. Then, in August 1937, the year Captain Iddon passed away, Pastor Thompson arrived.
At this time The Bethel was located on the Quay, where the R.O.A.B. Headquarters are now, commonly known as ‘The Buff Club’, and it is from this time that my first memories of The Bethel hail. I distinctly remember the friendly and welcoming reception everyone received when they attended, and there were always cheerful choruses ringing forth wherever the fellowship was situated.
Pastor Thompson worked hard, together with his wife, who played an active part in the Sunday School. Pastor Thompson was here in the war years when the airmen came to town from Jurby and Andreas airports. The ladies in particular had a busy time in those days, making sandwiches and cups of tea by the hundred! I especially remember Miss Collard who worked very hard at the Bethel although there were many others too.
There were Ladies Meetings too where the ladies knitted all through the meeting, in fact, I don't think they ever stopped knitting! Hundreds of balaclava helmets, scarves, gloves and socks were made throughout, to help with the war effort.
As well as faithfully preaching the gospel to men, women, children and the many airmen from the two airports, Pastor Thompson was looking to the future. He wanted to take The Bethel forward, so he started a building fund and one of the methods used was for everyone save their `ships half pennies`. There must have been buckets full of them saved and together with some handsome donations from one or two generous people, Pastor Thompson was ready to purchase another building.
The Northern Water Board, (as it was then called, before all the boards were amalgamated to form The Isle of Man Water Authority) put their building on Parliament Square up for sale, (although that too has recently been demolished to make way for a car wash!). It was around 1946/47 that The Bethel bought and moved into these premises and there on the front of the pulpit was a large carving of a ship’s half-penny, a reminder of how much of the money for the building was raised!
By 1948 the war was over and things were beginning to get back to normal. Pastor Thompson left The Bethel and was soon replaced by Pastor Hugh Wilson. However, Jurby airport was still in active use for National Service Training and many of the airmen made long lasting friendships with the Bethel folk. As well as being Pastor at The Bethel, Pastor Wilson was also temporary Scripture Reader for Jurby airport, where he made many contacts and that was how our association and support of S.A.S.R.A., (Soldiers and Airmen’s Scripture Readers Assoc.) began, which carries on to this very day.
We spent about twenty-five years in the building in Parliament Square, but there were a few problems with the actual building itself. To begin with, the services were held upstairs and that often proved to be a little difficult for some of the elderly folk. Also, the walls were made of solid concrete, with no cavity and were rather susceptible to condensation which could be unpleasant, added to which when we had to have a funeral service the undertakers were naturally none too happy about going up and down the stairs! Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that we had some good times there.
Pastor Wilson remained in The Bethel all this time and it was always his ambition to see a new purpose built building erected. Everyone thought it was a wonderful idea, but faith ran very weak at times. I often remember the question being asked, “When are we going to get this new building?” It was a long hard struggle, but Pastor Wilson persevered and worked long and hard to achieve what he wanted.
Often he would do pulpit exchanges with his brother Sandy at holiday time and we got quite used to Sandy Wilson coming over in the summer months. They both had many good friends in Northern Ireland and a lot came to the Isle of Man with camps in the summer. In those days the boats were smaller, didn’t hold to such a tight time schedule and came in here in Ramsey at the Queen’s Pier, as well as in Douglas. Sandy Wilson conducted many wonderful Gospel Campaigns and many souls were gloriously saved.
We have always been blessed with willing helpers.
I can remember the old stove which the late Mr. Fletcher used to light early in the morning so as to have the hall nice and cosy for the services.
The late Miss Bell playing the piano, (she came to the island as Sir Mark Collet`s secretary - chief accountant to the Bank of England. You would see his name signed on Bank of England notes.)
Miss Bell was succeeded by our much loved sister Mrs. Gwen Foulis who went to be with her Saviour a few years ago.
Gwen`s brother-in-law Mr. Geoff Foulis was a good joiner and had vast experience in building and he, together with the late Mr. Hector Beechey, who was gifted in plan drawing, negotiated with the Local Government Board for planning permission.
Hector and his wife Joan also worked in the Sunday School for a number of years and later Hector preached on countless Sunday mornings when he faithfully brought God's Word.
Then there was Mr. Shimmin who we can never forget. He gave a lot of support to Pastor Wilson in so many different ways, not least as a very faithful prayer warrior.
All, good and faithful servants, gone home to be with the Saviour they loved and served so well and these are just a few of the many helpers down through the years.
Eventually, about thirty-six years ago, Pastor Wilson set up a building committee charged with the task of finding a suitable site and erecting a new building and I was appointed chairman. Another year or more went by and then the Salvation Army finally decided to give up their work in Ramsey. We bought their hall and the land around it where this Church now stands, but the headaches were only beginning!
Would we repair the old hall? How much would it cost? Would we build a new hall? Could we afford that? What type of construction would we use?
After much consideration, prayer and God's guidance we decided on a new camber type building which has served us well during the past 30 years.
However, I think in relation to the preparation and finishing work for the new building we must give a large share of the credit to Pastor Wilson. Day after day, with the help of a few of us, he worked at taking down the old building. Breaking up those tough concrete foundations and carting load upon load of rubble away, in preparation for the new building which was erected by Messrs Camber Ltd. Then once that was done, there was all the finishing work, not to mention the cleaning up after the workman had finished. He certainly was a man of leadership. The laying of the floor tiles was a big job, but help came forth and all was ready for the opening day and the dedication of our new church building.
Unfortunately, we were only in our new building a few years when Pastor Wilson`s health began to fail rapidly. He decided the time had come for him to retire and for us to change from being a mission fellowship into an Independent Church, as really the mission work in Ramsey among seamen was now very small, compared to the church work, and the S.C.F.S. were not keen to appoint another Mission Worker. The building committee together with one or two others met for prayer and discussion after which Pastor Wilson announced Trustees, Elders, Deacons and our Statement of Faith (see attached).
The entire finance for both buildings had been collected by the S.C.F.S. through their Port Missioners and they paid all the expenses, but at this stage they very generously handed over this new Church to the local Trustees, free of charge, to continue the work they had started in Ramsey and thus the General Secretary of the Seamen’s Christian Friend Society remains one of our Trustees to this day.
We have had our trials over the past thirty years, but praise the Lord, He has brought us through and we look to Him alone for the future.
We give Him all the Glory.
The story continues..........................
(updated by Ali Vondy)
When Pastor Wilson retired, Pastor Ron McMillan came from Templemore Avenue, Northern Ireland. Pastor McMillan stayed with us for ......... years continuing a strong ministry and was then followed by short ministries with Pastor Phillip Smith and Pastor John Coles.
The Rev. Jack Anderson was called to the pastorate of The Bethel in......... 199????? Pastor Jack was a strong 'man of the Word' and served in the Bethel for xxxx years. During this time Pastor Jack was also involved with the Prophetic Witness Movement and many in the church learned much from his teaching on prophecy and 'the end times'.
On Saturday10th October 1998, many friends of The Bethel old and new, from near and far, gathered together in thanksgiving to the Lord for 25 years in our 'new' building. Another milestone to the fithfulness of God to the fellowship here.
A new Carers and Tots group, later called 'Bethel Busy Bees' was also started in 1998 and continues to seek to 'build a bridge' between the church and the wider community.
Following Pastor Jack's move to a church in Scotland there was a vacancy of almost two years when our own deacon Kevin Vondy took on much of the ministry.
In February 2003 Rev. Colin Griffiths came from Wales to take up the Pastorate. Colin and his wife Doreen fully immersed themselves in all areas of ministry within the church. Doreen set up a bookstall on Friday and Saturday mornings at the church and sold many books, cards and gifts over the next seven years, all with scripture texts, thus spreading the Word far and wide. The bookstall also provided a place where people could call in for a coffee and a chat, giving many people needed fellowship.
Pastor Colin & Doreen also began a Youth Club work on Saturday evenings which provided much needed fellowship for the church youth once a month.
Pastor Colin and Doreen retired and returned to Wales in December 2010, but continue to visit us from time to time and have helped out with the pulpit ministry on a number of occasions as we continue to look to the Lord for a new Pastor to lead the work here.
Although we are currently without a Pastor the work and ministry here at The Bethel continues. The Lord has truly blessed us despite some serious illnesses within the fellowship.
The pulpit has never been empty and we have been truly blessed by the many men who have ministered during this current pastoral vacancy.
The ministry here has not stood still with a new regular Youth Club meeting on a Saturday evening once a month and a new outreach work having also begun in the Rearyt Skyall care home.
The fellowship at the Bethel are very pleased to have Kevin Vondy inducted as part-time pastor. Together we look forward to what the Lord has in store for us and where He will lead us.
(N.B. If anyone can furnish me with the necessary missing years and dates I would be most grateful. - Thanks. Ali :-) )