Wearside Echoes: Welcoming worshippers for 80 years

Emmanuel Free Church in Hendon, Good Friday 1947
Emmanuel Free Church in Hendon, Good Friday 1947
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THIS week marks the 80th anniversary of a Wearside church – and former members are invited to join the celebrations.

Hudson Road-based Emmanuel Free Church was opened on March 18, 1931, by the Mayor of Sunderland, Alderman E.H. Brown, and has been welcoming worshippers ever since.

“We will be holding three services this weekend to mark the anniversary, and would love to see as many old friends as possible,” said Katy Gill, a member of the church for more than 50 years.

“Our Family Service on Sunday morning includes a chance to chat over tea or coffee afterwards, and we are hoping people will come along with their memories and old photos of the church.”

The Emmanuel Free Church can trace its roots to May 10, 1922, when a group of Wearsiders agreed to rent the Subscription Library Hall, in Fawcett Street, for services and bible classes.

The congregation of the Bright Gospel Services continued to meet at the library, and within people’s homes, for the next few years, until a building fund was set up to buy a permanent base.

“Gradually the desire for a church of their own grew and, in 1930, a warehouse in Hudson Road came up for sale. It was bought for a ‘knock-down’ price of £550,” said Katy.

The warehouse had originally been built as a church for the German Evangelical Church of Prussia – possibly only the second in England – and was opened by local German businessmen in 1873.

It went on to serve the flourishing German population of Wearside, as well as visiting German seamen, until the outbreak of World War One – when it was closed and turned into a warehouse.

“The building had to be completely re-fitted before it could open as the Emmanuel Free Church, as all internal furnishings had been removed when it became a warehouse,” said Katy.

“Extensive enquiries into the whereabouts of the original pews and pulpit proved to no avail. But members helped out with the work, and, within just a short time, the church was ready to open.”

The official opening ceremony was held at 3.15pm on March 18, 1931, and began with a procession of religious and civic dignitaries headed by Bright Gospel Pastor William Waller.

Dozens of Wearsiders packed the church to hear Mayor Brown preach the opening sermon, using text from Isaiah 40, 31: ‘They that wait upon the Lord Shall renew their strength.’

The first Emmanuel wedding took place almost a year later, between Edward Stoker and Ruth Robinson, and the first child dedicated was William Waller Walshaw – on March 29, 1931.

“My parents were originally members of Ayre’s Quay Mission at Deptford and, when it closed, they moved to Emmanuel,” said Katy. “My father, John Davison, became the pastor many years later.

“I can remember visiting Ayre’s Quay as a very young child, but I was still quite young when we made the move to Emmanuel. It has been my family church ever since.”

The former warehouse has seen several major changes over the years, including the installation of a pipe organ in the gallery and the creation of an ‘upper room’ for smaller services and gatherings.

Pews have also been upholstered, new carpets and heating installed, the old Deacon’s vestry turned into a kitchen and, much to the delight of winter worshippers, toilets brought inside.

Whatever the changes, however, the church remains a friendly welcoming base for its worshippers.

“Although now a small congregation, we all believe the church is well placed in Hendon and it continues to be ready to serve the people of that area,” Katy said.

“The 80th anniversary is a major milestone for us. We believe it is important to celebrate our church life within Hendon, as well as try to re-establish our links with the community too.”

Celebration services will be held tonight and tomorrow at the church, to mark the anniversary, with a warm welcome guaranteed for all – especially those with links to Emmanuel over the years.

“Traditionally, many of our congregation came from outside the Hendon area. But a great many local children attended our Sunday School, and local couples often married here too,” said Katy. “We are hoping to see as many of these people as possible over the weekend. It will be a wonderful chance to reminisce about the past, as well as look to the future.”

l Services will be held at 6.30pm tonight and 10.45am and 6.30pm tomorrow. All welcome.