Arson-hit Sunderland church helped by world-wide appeal

The interior of St Timothy's in 1966.
The interior of St Timothy's in 1966.
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An arson-hit Wearside church is to re-open this weekend - after a world-wide appeal raised £150,000 for repairs.

St Timothy’s, on Queen Alexandra Road, was left fire and smoke-damaged following the attack earlier this year.

The Swedish Seamen's Mission.

The Swedish Seamen's Mission.

But after months of refurbishment, the Lutheran church is once again ready to throw open its doors.

“St Timothy’s has been a focal point of the community for decades,” said local historian Sharon Vincent.

“The church is to have a re-dedication service this Saturday, based on the original dedication back in 1966.”

The Lutherans have had a presence in Sunderland since 1954, when a visiting American Lutheran choir performed at Seaburn Hall.

Repair costs have been covered mostly by insurance, as well as very generous donations from Lutheran churches and people across America, Canada and Britain.

Local historian Sharon Vincent.

“One confirmed member of the Lutheran church was living nearby, and this was the reason the choir chose to visit,” said Sharon.

“A chorister, Pastor Robert Wedergren, then stayed behind after the choir left to find suitable premises to establish a church.

“He bought a building in James William Street – the former Swedish Seamen’s Mission – and founded his new church.”

Robert remained as a curate until the first pastor, Arnold Kromphardt, was installed and in 1956 the name of St Timothy was adopted.

“One of the first events at the church was a Christian Film Festival, which proved very popular,” said Sharon.

“In fact, it attracted so much interest that the Sunderland Echo reported the police had to be brought in to control the crowds.”

Within a year, the congregation of St Timothy’s had grown to 50 – but brutal slum clearance programmes soon saw members dwindle away.

“The church had no option but to follow the people, setting up Sunday Schools at Grindon and Farringdon,” said Sharon.

“In 1958, the new Sunday School at Grindon, situated on Chester Road, led to a second Lutheran church being established in the town.”

A wave of new building in the early 1960s, including tower blocks in Hendon, provided a chance to expand the congregation still further.

But by 1960 it was apparent the historic church was itself standing in the way of redevelopment, and would soon have to be demolished.

“A hunt was launched in 1961 to find a new site to build a church that was accessible from both Grindon and the East End,” said Sharon.

“Land was bought on Queen Alexandra Road, a budget of £20,000 was agreed and architects drew up plans. Some financial assistance was offered by Lutheran churches in America, and donations were noted in the minutes of church council meetings.”

Well-wishers from across America also sent Bibles and other religious literature, to help out both the clergy and congregation of St Timothy’s.

Work on the building finally began in 1964, when the ground was broken in an official ceremony. Just over a year later, the new church was complete.

“It was built to look like the prow of a ship; an acknowledgement of Sunderland’s shipbuilding heritage,” said Sharon. “The church referred to it as a ‘ship of faith’.”

The design also incorporated a large community room, offices and kitchen, with the main body of the church occupying the first floor. Film shows remained very much a part of the church’s agenda and, to this day, there is a hole in the wall where the film projector would have been situated.

“Since those early days, St Timothy’s has continued to function at the heart of its community,” said Sharon.

“Rather than letting the communal area stand empty, in recent years it has been utilised as a children’s nursery and latterly as a café.”

The arson attack on January 17 destroyed the parish hall, while the rest of the church – including the sanctuary– was left covered in a sooty, oily residue.

“Repair costs were covered by insurance, as well as very generous donations from Lutheran churches and people across America, Canada and Britain,” said Sharon.

l The church will host a re-dedication service this Saturday at 2pm. All welcome.