A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
From then..... .....to now
It was at the turn of the twentieth century that a wooded mission room was first erected on the corner of New Street / Coalway Road. Services began being held in this corner of the fast-growing parish of Penfield in the June of 1902 and continued until 1929 when the emission room was sold for £50.
In that same year Sir Charles Marston loaned a site of 5 acres for a Mission church to be built in Merry Hill this would be a church dedicated to St Joseph of Arimathea to serve the growing community that he foresaw would one-day cover this area. As the wooden mission church was being built, a similar building was also erected on the site to serve as a scout hut and community resource.
Bricks and mortar……
The intention had always been to build a permanent church on the site to add a vicarage and a churchyard. However, the Second World War intervened and so plans were put on hold. This was followed by the local authority placing a compulsory purchase order on the entire site for the building of the Waterstones Estate. The parish was very disappointed to retain the only a small portion of the original site, and by the meagre compensation paid for the land. However, the original plan to build a lasting church to serve the community remained, and so in 1954/55 a new brick building was built costing £8000. The Sunday school raised almost £2000 for this, and the wooden mission church was dismantled and sold for £450 to be a village hall. The new Church was dedicated by the Rt Revd. Stretton Reeves, the bishop of Lichfield, on Saturday 5th November, 1955.
A building for the Community
The brick building was envisaged as a dual-purpose - what one church member remembers calling a “Chall”. The vision was that one day the first building would be left as a hall and the new church be built alongside. Further renovations were carried out in 1976, on the west side of the church with the addition of a kitchen, toilets and a meeting rooms.
A District Church
St. Joseph’s now had a building it needed to serve Sir Charles’ original vision, but not yet a stable structure of leadership in place. Until now ministry at St. Joseph’s had been the responsibility of curates of the parish of Penn Fields, changing every 2 or 3 years. Thus St. Joseph’s – and St. Aidan’s the other daughter church in the parish – experienced a rather disjointed ministry.
In the early 1970s talk began of St. Joseph’s becoming a ‘district church’. This would give the church its own experienced minister, more authority to make decisions, and much greater continuity in its life and ministry. At the same time, it would establish its relationship with Penn Fields as a whole. The then vicar Revd James Challis, the PCC of Penn Fields, and St. Joseph’s Church Committee all agreed that this would be a good way forward, and after a number of discussions and much prayer they agreed a constitution with the diocese of Lichfield.
The scheme was approved at the Annual Parochial Church meeting in 1977 and came into effect from the AGM in 1978. Revd. Alex Jack, then curate in the parish, was licensed as District Church Minister on 27th September 1978.
Alex Jack’s arrival as minister and becoming a district church brought a new lease of life to all at St. Joseph’s and laid good foundations for future growth. These were the early years of Mothers and Toddlers Group, Wednesday Circle, and the Key Club for housebound people. Alex also encouraged new home groups meeting locally. The development of new homes in the Warstones estate led to about 10000 people living in the Merry Hill area, and thus created many opportunities for visiting homes and welcoming new tenants.
Keep on building…..
In 1984 Alex Jack was succeeded by Revd David Banting as Resident Minister. Each generation of worshippers at St. Joseph’s had wrestled with how to build God’s church in Merry Hill, and under David’s dynamic leadership the latter years of the 1980s were no different. As well as wrestling with the spiritual call to fruitfulness and discipleship, talk about a possible re-ordering or extension of the Church was added to the agenda.
A Venture in Faith
Gordon Rostance was one of the key players of this period. Whilst waiting one morning in 1985 he heard a very loud, deep and very clear voice say “Build my Church” this led to the founding of a building committee who worked with the church the dioceses and the architects to prepare ambitious plans and estimates for what would be a new church built at the site side of the then church. It would accommodate over 200 worshippers in an attractive and flexible space and would free up the old church to be a resource for the Church and community alike.
During this period the church was encouraged in particular by the biblical figure of Moses who showed great faith in a great God and acted on that. Given the scale of the project it would not have been difficult to shy away from the challenge, but instead the congregation of St Joseph’s stepped out in faith and trust. The total cost of the building project was £468,000 of which £245,000 was raised through the sacrifice and the efforts of members and friends of St Joseph’s. The loan for the building work was repaid 14 months ahead of time by Christmas 1995.
“With God nothing is impossible.”
Building began in autumn 1988 with one of the mildest winters on record. The “new” church was first used on Christmas eve in 1989, with a formal opening in April 1990 this coincided with the arrival of a new resident minister Revd Michael Hunter, to take the church on its new stage of ministry. Affirmed by Michael’s quiet encouragement and inspired teaching, new patterns of lay ministry began to emerge in the 1990s.Taking on board the Diocesan “Primary Purpose” areas of worship and prayer, teaching and nurture, justice and care, outreach and evangelism, the church was encouraged to “Move forward together with God.” Whilst formally some had been called from within the church in the parish to ordination, and others to serve abroad as mission partners, this period saw the calling, training and equipping of a number of lay leaders in the church and in the parish of Penn Fields.
Into the 21st century
The journey of faith did not cease when the building project was completed. The doors of St. Joseph’s were poised to open even wider to serve God both in the church and the surrounding community.
2002 saw the arrival of Revd Jeremy Oakley as vicar of Penn Fields parish, followed by Revd Phil Cansdale as resident Minister, in March 2003. They both brought new areas of expertise, and new inspirations about what is to be is to do church in changing culture. The journey continued in January 2010 with the arrival of Revd. Dr. Carl Rudd as Resident Minister.
Over these years we have stretched out into the community with Joe’s Café, serving the best cooked breakfast in Wolverhampton, every Saturday morning; and we have grown in depth through our weekly focus groups discussion groups. Ministry among the third age has grown with 5 Ways Lunch and carpet bowls. Ministry to children and young people has continued and evolved with the appointment of a children’s and families worker and a number of youth workers. We saw our first ‘home grown’ assistant curate in training hurch with the Revd Joy Dale whose own journey with God saw her join the church as mother of young children. Over the years of God’s calling to her faith deepened and her vocation changed. She served in so many ways from deanery synods, to helping in the café, to church warden, Reader, to assistant curate, to associate minister, and ultimately to her present calling to serve God in France.
For all the ‘saints’ whom God ha called to serve at St Joseph’s Church we give thanks, and look forward to the next chapter of the journey.
How will God’s calling for you see you play a part in the journey of St Joe’s?