Memories of St John's
‘During the early 1990’s, I belonged to the Banner Making group. The banners were masterminded by Joan Philemore who hosted us in her attic room. My favourite part was rummaging through the bags of fabric pieces to select the colour schemes for each banner.’
‘My favourite memories are of the Worship Dance Group taking part regularly in St John’s services from 1970s-1990s. It all started with ‘Celebration Services’ following a visit of The Fisherfolk who introduced various ‘arts’ into our services. This was a watershed moment in the charismatic renewal at St John’s. All sorts of artistic expression developed, banners which adorned the walls of the church, plays written by our own members, new songs were written and a music group with guitars and other instruments formed, and of course the worship dance. Later worship dance was incorporated in our gatherings on a regular basis and I had the privilege of leading the group for more than 15 years. All these things seem ‘normal’ today, but they were very innovative then and far from what usually happened in church services.’
‘Worship dance was not always acceptable in churches, and our group also had the privilege of ‘performing’ elsewhere in the midlands area, and leading workshops to help others develop this new way of worshipping. This is a photo from the early days dancing in the city centre during a visit of the then Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Robert Runcie, left, pictured with the Bishop of Birmingham Revd Hugh Montefiore.’
When John Hughes said that he would like the Worship space more adaptable that meant getting rid of the pews, but to be replaced with what? Sample chairs were brought in for the congregation to try over a period of weeks. The task was initially left with Kenneth who whilst on holiday saw “stackable chairs” that could go 40 high! Enquiries made, the firm supplying the current wooden chairs with their trolley were found to have supplied both St Paul’s and Salisbury Cathedral, so if they were good enough for them, perhaps St John’s could to.
In the past the 64th Birmingham Boys Brigade operated out of St John’s with the hall utilised for the Annual Display where badges were awarded and entertainment provided before the Guests. One of the last displays in the 1980’s, with Birmingham’s Lord Mayor as Guest of Honour, saw a small tent pitched on the stage, and the boys disappearing into it with the question of how many boys can you get in the tent. What many didn’t realise is that there is a trapdoor in the stage room, and they were disappearing into the space below! The forfeit for failing to guess the number of boys saw the vicar’s wife, Molly Walker dancing the Lambada with the BB Captain, Frank Gregory. – Even more of a surprise was that they must have been practising!
If the church walls could speak, they have seen exciting, fun, sombre, Spirit-filled activity as people of the community have engaged. I remember the exact pew seat I sat upon, at the first service I attended back in 1970 where being guided through the 1662 Common Prayer Book, God spoke clearly to affirm the commitment I made to Him a couple of hours earlier. The Prayer Book didn’t put me off, because I was welcomed by these “ancient people” – or so they seemed to a wayward teenager, and that was more important than the bricks and mortar that witnessed it.
If my memory serves me correctly the official title is ‘The Church of St John the Baptist, Harborne Heath’. Although the parish was carved out of St. Peter’s it was not a daughter church nor a church plant from there.
My memories (though only from photographs and family chit chat) begin in 1939- 80 years ago when my parents got married at the old church before Hitler dropped a time bomb on it on Good Friday 1941 which then exploded on Easter Sunday. Undaunted (no health and safety) my Uncle and several others got out as much stuff as they could. From then on services were held in the Memorial Hall which had been converted/ rebuilt from the old St John’s school in 1921, which is where I was christened though I have no memory of this event either!
Move forward about 15 years and plans were afoot to rebuild but where? On the old site in St John’s Road, on the present site, or somewhere else- Does it all sound familiar? All sorts of fundraising activities took place. I made toffee; my grandmother aged eighty+ knitted dishcloths. And then we moved out! Where? To Moor Pool Hall where St John’s used to have a Sunday school before WW2. Youth club on Saturdays was in the lower hall and Sunday services were in the main hall. Now Cameo will be meeting there.
And then we moved back. New, clean and bright. Yes, there were a few problems. When you sat in the gallery you could only see the head of the preacher and the effect was also marred by the candelabra lights. This also proved a problem in the hall as they were easily broken by enthusiastic footballs. Soon remedied- gallery slope altered, and strip lighting installed. Heating, well probably the least said about that the better-under floor under seats, blowers- here’s hoping...
There are good memories of weddings, mine and many others including my daughter Rachel. But there are also the sadder ones of funerals, my parents, my aunt and uncle, my Grandmother, my husband Tim and many, many friends.
There are memories of so many changes. As the numbers grew the vestibule under the gallery was needed for seats so the end wall was blocked up and the door to the hall became the main entrance causing the bottle neck which we know today. Many other extensions and alterations could be mentioned; of an upper room; of pews to chairs and carpets; from the electric organ and the choir facing each other to a pipe organ and a new choir upstairs in the gallery with the introduction of a multitude of musical instruments; of moving back down into the transept and much more of a band; of hymn books and prayer books; of new alternative service sheets; of choruses and acetates and overhead projectors. And computers! But one thing has remained and that is to have a Bible that I can hold in my hand.
And then there are all the social activities and special events. The most notable of which was the week long celebration for the 150th anniversary in 2008, but there are also wedding receptions and funeral parties.
Other events are Guiding events- for those not just from St John’s but from Edgbaston and Quinton too. On one occasion we took over the church from 5 -9 and looking back I can see similarities between that and Pause. One of these events raised the question for me ‘what do we do with all these written prayers? We can’t just throw them away’. The answer was to burn them as an offering to God and this is what the intercessory group do today with any prayers that come our way be it for Pause, carnival or church services.
And there was the Saturday evening just as everyone had gone home after packing the camp equipment away that a lorry crashed through the hall windows and repairs completely altered the look.
As you can probably gather St John’s has a very special place in my life and I am glad that only the halls are going to be pulled down and rebuilt.
I arrived at St. John’s in September 1962 as a new graduate to begin a research degree in Physics and quickly found my way to the church with the help of a new friend in the Christian Union. After the first sermon I heard Rev. Bill Leathem preach, I decided that this was where I wanted to make my spiritual home and promptly offered to help – at that time there was a staff of two - vicar and curate - and that was it! I soon was appointed a technician in the broom department. The new church building was swept and lovingly garnished weekly by 3 or 4 teams of men in rotation. In fairly quick succession, I had noticed the 17 year old daughter of the clergy family and made a mental note to keep an eye on her (from a polite distance since she was still at school!) for future reference! Four or five years later I was established in my career as a Physics teacher at KES, she had completed a master’s degree at Cambridge and we were married by the Rev. Dr. J.I. Packer!
The vicar must have been impressed with his new son-in-law because he asked me to set up a branch of a new organisation for young people called “Pathfinders”. Tom Walker instigated The Parish Visiting Campaign which Gill and I ran for 18 years – a highly organised evangelistic exercise in which every house in the parish was visited three times by a pair of volunteers in an attempt to engage them in a conversation about spiritual matters. While there was some curious interest in this in surrounding churches, but little involvement, the main benefit was probably the spiritual growth in the team members and one outcome was the setting up of the playgroup, where the evangelism continued for 34 years until the group closed down.
The choir morphed into a developing music group (singers, guitarists, pianist and organist) located in the left hand side of the gallery and soon I became the first and only tambourine playing church warden St John’s has ever had (so far!) The choir and musicians travelled to Scandinavia several times with our vicar, Tom Walker, to minister to churches in Sweden and Denmark and made several tapes of worship songs under Connie Sharp, the choir leader (actually choir-mistress would be a much more appropriate title!) Connie’s husband, John and I sat at the back among the tenors and were frequently the recipients of the choir mistress’s acid rebukes for unruly behaviour during rehearsals. Connie by then had recruited numerous children of church families into a children’s choir (The Keynotes). Both music groups made several audio tapes of worship songs which sold like hot cakes. Stella Jennings, Alison Fuggle and several church ladies formed a worship dance group and so the era of modern worship had begun!
Graham and Margaret Hopkinson
Graham writes: ‘This is the Bishop’s Procession down the High Street following the consecration ceremony of our present building. Believe it or not the churchwarden on the left, leading the procession. Is a younger version of me! '
Margaret writes: ‘It was a Christmas morning family service in the 1970’s. Tom Walker was preaching. His visual aid that morning was a giant Christmas cracker which filled the full width of the sanctuary area. He had obtained this from a window display in a city department store a year previously. Children came forward to open the cracker by having a team to pull from each end. There was someone hidden to fire a starting pistol to start the process. Tom’s daughter Rachel was hidden inside the cracker.
All was fine until the pulling started at which point the children fell backwards and knocked over the two vases of flowers behind them at both ends. Chaos ensued as good ladies leapt from their seats to clear up the mess while Tom calmly carried on speaking. It was all great fun. Christmas morning services were always special, but I remember this one especially.’