A Brief Summary, culled from the Minutes of the Chippenham Council of Christian Churches (the 4-Cs) by Jack Hosken, Hon. Secretary, Chippenham Churches Together, 2003
As Secretary of Chippenham Churches Together, I have inherited the Minutes of the meetings of the 4-Cs, the predecessor of CCT, going right back to the beginning. These provide a fascinating insight into the growth of ecumenical activity and of the mutual recognition of our churches' unity in Christ, seen in the aspirations and achievements of successive generations of faithful churchmen and women through sixty years of deliberating and working together.
I have felt that this story should not remain locked away as dusty archives, but deserves at least the airing of a summary of the highlights as seen by one humble reader of these Minutes.
Anyone who both reads this summary and looks through the 500-or-so pages of those Minutes will realise how drastic has been my extracting - there must be literally hundreds of matters that I have omitted.
But that is always both the nightmare and the privilege of the historian, who must necessarily select from a mass of data a very few facts that he or she regards as key to understanding the broad progression of a "Movement".
My hope and prayer is that my selections and the interpretation on which they are based will help many people to appreciate that the "Movement" which has gone on over six decades is well worth celebrating, and to look forward to its continuation and development in the future.
The Early Years
On 2nd November 1943, eight churches were represented at the inaugural meeting ot the 4-Cs at Monkton Hill Methodist Church. In addition to Monkton Hill (now called Central Methodist Church) there were Causeway (now amalgamated with Central) and Sheldon Road Methodists, St. Andrew's, St. Paul's and St.Peter's (then in Lowden) Anglican churches, Station Hill Baptists and the Tabernacle Congregational (now United Reformed) Church.
After settling routine matters such as appointing Officers and agreeing a Constitution, they soon got down to the matters that really interested them.
First and foremost was their concern for children and young people, what they were being taught and how.
This was still the era of Sunday Schools and there was already in existence a Council of Sunday Schools, the support of which the new 4-Cs took up with enthusiasm.
They ran an annual Sunday School Demonstration and Training Week, when parents, teachers and pupils got together to look at what went on Sunday by Sunday. It often included a Pageant.
This happened every year for at least the first 30 years.
In the first year they were instrumental in setting up an interdenominational (the word "ecumenical" had hardly been invented then) Sunday School, meeting on the "New Bungalow Estate" (Monkton Park?) and attracting some 100 pupils.
For the older end of the Youth spectrum, they started a Youth Committee which initiated an "Alliance of Honour".
To our ears it sounds very old-fashioned and stuffy, but it attracted 100 and more to its meetings which were often unashamedly evangelistic.
It eventually became the "Council of Christian Youth". They were concerned about the children's home life and in 1948 they ran a "Home & Family Life Week", sending invitations to every home in the town.
This was reported as having been "very successful".
They were bothered about how young people spent their time and about under-age drinking.
Even in the first year they brought up the idea of a "beerless public house" - a concept that only came to realisation fifty years later!
They were interested in older people too. They insisted that any Peace Memorial made by the town at the end of the war should include "Eventide Homes" for the elderly.
They maintained a presence and influence on the Community Associations and Welfare Committees which eventually, in the second decade of the 4-Cs, provided a comprehansive range of services - hot meals, chiropody, garden-digging, cheap fuel, provision of alarms, a rest room (with supplies of flowers), outings and Band concerts.
Evangelism started to feature early on. In 1946 they had a "Christian Commando Campaign" with visiting evangelists. The churches took turns in holding weekly services in the Hospital. In the summer months, they held monthly Open-air Services in the Park.
They organised Missionary Exhibitions, mostly in the Neeld Hall.
With the co-operation of the Mayor, they held a Carol Service there every year.
In the second year of the 4-Cs existence they printed and presumably distributed 1,000 Handbooks giving details of all the churches.
They had started to talk about a town-wide Visitation of every home to "invite people to church and record the responses." (This actually happened 30 years later!).
The first Billy Graham Mission Relay in Chippenham was in 1955, and the next was in 1966.
They were involved in Community affairs and had set up a Christian Social Service Committee by the end of the first year.
They were concerned about poverty, particularly overseas, helping to send food parcels to war-torn countries in the immediate post-war period.
Later, in 1960, World Refugee Year, they helped raise £1,550 (something like £15,000 in today's money). Christian Aid Week and associated events became a more and more important focus for the shared activities of the churches.
In 1951, the original eight churches were joined by St. Nicholas, Hardenhuish.
Some General Comments on the Early Years
Mentioning the war prompts me to report what was to me a surprising observation: In all the Minutes written during World War 2, up to 1946, I only found a single passing reference to the War: they experienced difficulty in finding rooms to meet in, as so many of the church premises had been commandeered for the war effort.
At a time when no life was untouched by the conflict, this detachment seems to suggest that those pioneers of Christian Unity felt they were engaged on an even more pressing fight for the spiritual life and freedom of the souls of their neighbours.
Another impression gleaned from the Minutes, as much by what was omitted as by what was explicit, was that there were discouragements as well as achievements.
They often found great difficulty in finding volunteers for varous offices, particularly that of Vice-President, and for convenors of some committees.
In one year a Vicar declared he had grave reserves about joining in United Services, because of "Church Orders".
There was no clear indication of what these Orders were, but his statement caused great consternation in the other churches.
They carried on holding united services nevertheless, and it seems that the Vicar concerned overcame his scruples as we subsequently find him playing a leading role, including that of President, for many years afterwards.
They frequently gained help and inspiration from outside Chippenham - from the national British Council of Churches, founded only a year before the 4-Cs started and to which it was affiliated, and from church leaders in Bristol and elsewhere.
But there is no doubt the driving force was the indwelling Spririt of unity and love working through both lay and ordained local church members, male and female, young and old.
Another strength was the close inter-action of the 4-Cs with the Minister's Fraternal, the informal meeting of the ordained leaders of the churches.
From the beginning there was a "Clerical Secretary" as well as a Lay Secretary, and there was always a free flow between the two bodies of suggestions for initiatives and of considered comments.
The Council of Christian Youth was running a Coffee Bar and having Christian pop groups visit them. However, this organisation had folded up by the end of the decade.
The first Home Group discussion course organised by the 4-Cs was called "The People Next Door". It was not truly ecumenical as the groups met as separate churches without mixing, but out of it there arose the intention to plan for a Town Good Neighbour Scheme.
Though this was never fully achieved, one church at least (St Andrew's) has maintained such a scheme ever since.
A Publicity or Press Officer was appointed for the first time and the holder of this Office continued as an Executive member for the next four decades.
St Mary's Roman Catholic Church joined, bringing the total up to ten churches.
The annual subscription was raised from £1 to £2 per church!
In the Seventies
Most of the the "business" in the early years of the decade was concerned with organising a Visitation of the Town. This large undertaking was spread over six years in practice. There were never more than some 70 visitors but in one year they succeeded in visiting 1,000 homes.
How many homes in all were visited was not recorded, but the number must have represented a substantial portion of the whole town before exhaustion set in.
Churches reported making useful contacts, and the reception from the general public showed approval that the churches were co-operating.
An inter-church Football League ran for some years, mostly won by the Baptists.
The Baptist Church also organised an annual Eisteddfod of the Arts, in which a number of members of other churches competed.
A weekly Luncheon Club was started for elderly people.
This has continued to the present day.
There was a Dick Saunders Crusade which attracted up to 2,000 attenders in a night.
The Salvation Army Corps joined, but St. Peter's Lowden resigned, claiming joint membership with St. Andrew's, so the total membership remained at ten churches.
The Good Friday March of Witness through the town was initiated.
Series of Lenten Talks were held.
In the Eighties
Ecumenical Lent home-groups were started as annual events.
The Chapel of Unity in St. Andrew's Church was consecrated, each of the member churches contributing to the furniture something illustrative of its particular church life.
A formal Local Ecumenical Partnership was formed between St. Andrew's, Causeway Methodists and Tabernacle URC.
This only lasted a few years as a change in leadership of one of the churches led to the new man "killing it off" by studied neglect.
The Revelation Christian Bookshop opened its doors in the Causeway in March 1985.
The project had been mooted at previous 4-Cs meetings, but the initiative for its founding was made by a husband-and-wife team, members of Sheldon Road Methodist Church.
It moved to 1 River Street in 1990 and has been a centre for ecumenical sharing and fellowship in the town ever since its inception.
Gifts of Christian books were made to the Library.
This practice has been repeated on several occasions since.
Buses were run to the Billy Graham "Mission England" in Bristol.
The "Jesus" film (Luke's Gospel) was shown publicly for a week.
St. Peter's Anglican Church moved to a new building in Frogwell. The old church in Lowden was adopted by the New Testament Church of God, which joined the 4-Cs soon afterwards.
With St. Peter's rejoining, this brought the number of churches up to twelve.
In the Nineties (up to 1997)
An Ecumenical Prayer Group met quarterly.
A quarterly newssheet called the Chronicle was produced from 1990 onwards through the decade.
Conceived to provide a non-alcoholic bar for teenagers, the "Arches" Trust was born, so-called because it was originally planned to build it under one of the Western railway arches.
It actually opened as "The Underground" in the basement of a building on the corner of Langley Road and Foundry Lane and was popularly used by young people for several years.
Many contacts made there became key persons in later ChristianYouth initiatives.
A Christian Counselling Service was initiated, originally called "Trust" but taking the name "Olive Branch Counselling" when it became a charitable Trust.
A number of church members underwent long and rigorous training to become accredited Counsellors.
For several years the counselling took place in people's homes, but by the end of the decade, the Service was installed in premises in New Road.
Alpha courses were run from 1994 onwards, the first being at Sheldon Road Methodist Church.
Most courses were fairly small in numbers but the Youth Alpha courses run jointly by several churches attracted up to 60 youngsters at a time.
Jointly run adult courses arrived later.
A Link Transport Scheme was begun at the initiative of 4-Cs people.
It usually has a dozen or so drivers to call upon to provide trips to and from hospitals, clinics and sometimes shops.
There is a co-ordinator to receive calls and organise action.
The service has been very well used and appreciated.
Church representatives were provided with a Welcome Pack to give to new arrivals in their street.
This was to contain information of general local interest as well as details of church services and contacts, and was well received.
Several hundred packs were distributed, mostly on the new estates.
It became apparent though that keeping the information up to date and organising distribution of updated packs was a major undertaking that few could give the necessary attention to, and the scheme has now lapsed.
Homeless people were provided with a weekly breakfast in a church hall.
This continued until all who wished had been re-housed.
The Billy Graham Livelink Relays in Trowbridge and later in Melksham were supported.
Annual Open-Air Celebrations were held at Pentecost.
For two years they were called "On Fire", offering entertainment as well as worship in the Island Park.
Subsequently the celebration was continued on a somewhat reduced scale in John Cole's Park.
"Light Parties" were held for children on Hallowe'en as a counter-attraction to "Trick-or-Treating".
The Churches joining the 4-Cs in this period were Pewsham (subsequently Chippenham) Christian Fellowship (Elim), Dayspring (non denominational) Church and Cepen Park Methodist Church. Causeway Methodist Church closed, however, and amalgamated with Monkton Hill to form Central Methodist Church.
The net gain was therefore two churches, making the total fourteen.
The Change to "Chippenham Churches Together" and its Effects
At the end of 1997, the decision was taken to change the name and format of the 4-Cs to Chippenham Churches Together.
It was felt that the time had come to move on in our recognition of the churches' pilgrimage together towards unity.
The old Council could be seen too readily as a marginal add-on activity, patronised by a group of "ecumaniacs", instead of being integral to the life of each church.
The name "Churches Together" encourages the whole membership of the church to "own" the common Christian life of the town, instead of leaving it to the official representatives of a Council.
Following the example of the British Council of Churches to disband and re-form as Churches Together in England (Scotland, Wales and Ireland also have their own form of Churches Together), the Ministers' Fraternal (now called the Ministers' Meeting in recognition of the number of ladies involved!) gave the lead for Chippenham churches to express their aspirations to work for an ever-closer unity by adopting the same name-change.
The characteristic attitude to be fostered in each church was to be seen as: never do anything on your own if it can be joined in with by others.
The old General Council Meetings were re-named "Forums" to indicate that they are open to all and not only to representatives.
This idea was re-inforced by the new practice of including in the Agendas topics of wide interest to be discussed in Open Forums, confining the "business" part of the meeting to either a prelude or a postlude to the main event.
Churches were also encouraged to engage in joint co-operative ventures with their own bi- or tri- partite agreements, rather than expecting to obtain the blessing of the whole body of churches first, though of course the other churches would normally be kept informed of such developments, probably through the Forums.
In this way more flexible and ready responses can be made to opportunities for sharing Christian service and witness as they arise.
At first, in 1998, little seemed to have changed.
By and large the same representatives came to the Forums as to the Council meetings, with Agendas set as before by an Executive Committee made up largely of the same officers and members.
The activities discussed were much the same as before, some new and some old.
However, looking back over this period from where we are today, one can see definite signs of movement in the direction indicated by the name-change.
I would be hard put to it to say precisely the dates on which these signs first became evident, and some are difficult to nail down to a "lo here, or lo there" definition, but I will outline what I see as the key areas of movement.
There is a new vibrancy in praying together.
This is particularly seen in the monthly over-night Prayer events held at the Salvation Army Centre, Foghamshire, attended on a drop-in, drop-out basis by members from a number of churches.
Other prayer sessions are held in other places at other times for special objectives as they arise.
On the other hand the "official" Week of Prayer for Christian Unity normally held in January has of late lost much of its general appeal.
There is a growing trend for two or more churches to worship together on an occasional or a regular basis.
It is customary for the host church to keep to their normal liturgy or style of worship, and for the visitors to savour the experience of sharing it.
An example of a regular shared worship event, with charismatic and evangelistic overtones, is "Seeds of Revival" a monthly event originally led by Station Hill Baptists and Dayspring Church but now involving people from other churches.
This trend among the adult congregations has been even more evident among the young people.
Two churches were at one time holding their own separate Youth Worship sessions on different Sunday evenings in the month (The Big Lift and The Late Late Breakfast were their names). It became clear that their clienteles and even their leaders were partly common to both, and it made good sense to amalgamate.
Appropriately the name chosen for the united worship was "Vision", in response to a clear vision of the need to work together in unity.
The new worship events occur on neutral territory, such as the Olympiad or Neeld Hall and attract well over 100 young people regularly.
The team of young people who form the mainspring of "Vision" are keen that Chippenham Churches Together as a whole should "own" this activity.
Alpha Courses have been another example of the benefits of joint church activity.
Several were held in succession in recent years in the Town Hall with leaders and participants coming from a number of churches.
With attendances normally being between 50 and 100, and the usual high proportion of participants completing the course and coming into closer fellowship in churches as the result, there is no doubt these courses are making a difference to the church life of the town.
Other examples can be cited of an initiative coming from one of two churches can be "adopted" by CCT and carried on in their name.
One such is the recent annual distribution of mince pies at Christmas in the High Street, under the name of "Christmas Cheer", begun and mostly carried on by Dayspring with some help from others.
The Open Forums have attracted wider audiences than was the case with the old Council.
Topics featured have included Parenting, a Community Affairs Brain-storming with a County Council official, Youth Church, Christians serving the Community, Transformations - Prayer for the Community, Christian witness and service in the Workplace, the Christian attitude to the Environment, Care for the Family, Helping children make the move to their Secondary School, The Use of the CCT Web Site, and a review of ecumenical progress in general. The appearance of a good number of visitors to these Forums shows that Christians are not only concerned with their own local and "churchy" affairs but are open to the challenges and opportunities of the wider world.
Recent and Current Events and Plans, 1998 - 2003
The "Chronicle" ceased publication in 1999 with the retirement of the editor, but its place is taken by a Web Site (www.chippenhamchurches.org.uk).
It is being developed by its Web Master and potentially it can reach a far wider readership than the old newssheet.
It could be seen as a development of the old idea of a Welcome Pack, as it contains information about all the member churches in CCT.
The arrival of the Millennium Year, 2000, was marked by the CCT in a memorable public celebration at the Buttercross, as well as by some more private and meditative prayers hung on three "trees" in St. Andrew's church.
The actual start of the third Millennium in January 2001 was the occasion of the dedication of the Millennium Mural on the wall of the Revelation Christian Resource Centre, a semi-permanent reminder of the Lord of the Millennia and Who He is to us.
A Celebration and Worship event at the close of the North Wiltshire Festival in 2002 was led by the Christian Rock artist, Noel Richards, and attended by some 2,000 people.
The Chippenham Society of Friends (Quakers) and St. Michael and All Angels Church, Kington St. Michael joined, but Chippenham Christian Fellowship (Elim) dropped out, bringing the total number of churches to fifteen.
To mark the Diamond Jubilee on 2nd Nov. 2003, there is to be a celebratory and thanksgiving service in St. Andrew's Church at 6.30 pm.
And the Future?
We believe that the Holy Spirit has been and is continuing to move us to demonstrate the love of God to the world in closer and closer unity together.
Our ancient history of denominational divisions has been a barrier that has to come down if we are to fulfil Christ's desire and prayer that we may be one, visibly united, so that the world will recognise Him as the One Lord, integral to the Three-in-One God.
We too may be a Many-in-One Church, but One we must be, and seen to be.
But the Holy Sprit is not only powerful, He is gentle, and He enables us to move at His pace.
We have to watch and keep in step with Him, and so keep in step with our fellow Christians. That way we really make progress.
THE PILGRIM PRAYER
The next stage must be one of Commitment to each other. This involves recognising our differences and sorting out which of them truly impose divisions.
It can be a slow and painful process, but must be gone through before any organic unity can work without constant bickering and the danger of schism again.
One of the principal hurdles is the mutual recognition of each others' ministries.
Further on still is the goal of full Communion.
He left us to consider a tough but, by God's grace, a realisable target: to form a Local Ecumenical Project comprising all the churches in Chippenham whose national bodies will permit mutual recognition of leaders' ministries, and to do it in the next decade.
Will it happen? Watch this space! Meanwhile we would do well often to pray the Pilgrim Prayer:
Lord God, we thank you For calling us into the company Of those who trust in Christ
And seek to obey his will.
May your Spirit guide and strengthen us
In mission and service to your world
For we are strangers no longer
But pilgrims together on the way to your Kingdom.