Trinity Church Methodist / United Reformed, Ashington
By David Wise, Elder
Can you tell us about your history?
Until the mid-nineteenth century, the land upon which modern Ashington was built was sparsely populated, rural in nature and formed part of the Bothal estate of the Dukes of Portland.
Christianity has a very long history in the area: the ancient church of St Andrew at Bothal has origins which can be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon period. Fragments of cross-shafts discovered during the restoration of St Andrew’s resemble those to be found on the Isle of Iona., suggesting that the Christian message came to the area as a consequence of the mission from Iona to Lindisfarne.
The modern history of Ashington commenced with the opening of local collieries from 1849 onwards. The Ashington Coal Company Limited was a highly successful and progressive concern and Ashington became known as ‘the largest mining village in the world’.
The population of Ashington and of nearby Hirst expanded rapidly as families were attracted to the area from other parts of Northumberland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. To meet their needs numerous churches and chapels were constructed. The newcomers included Presbyterians from Scotland and North Northumberland and Methodists from many parts of the country.
St George’s Presbyterian Church and the many Methodist places of worship in Ashington and Hirst became focal points in the local community and enjoyed long periods of expansion. The growth of Methodism culminated in the construction of a large Methodist Central Hall which was the finest hall of its type for miles around.
Trinity Church (Methodist / United Reformed) Ashington, is a Local Ecumenical Partnership formed in 1991 by the union of three local congregations.
St George’s Church (Methodist / United Reformed) Ashington, a Local Ecumenical Project formed in 1984 by St George’s United Reformed Church (until the formation of the United Reformed Church, St George’s Presbyterian Church) and Station Road Methodist Church (prior to Methodist Union, Ashington Primitive Methodist Church).
Second Avenue Methodist Church, Hirst, Ashington.
Thwaites’ Memorial Methodist Church, Seaton Hirst, Ashington.
The congregation conducts its life in accordance with a constitution which seeks to respect both Methodist Church and United Reformed church patterns of ministry and forms of church government.
The congregation worships in the former St George’s Presbyterian Church, which opened in 1899, close to the commercial centre of Ashington. The church was constructed of red brick with terracotta facings and lancet windows filled with delicately coloured glass arranged in geometrical patterns. The building originally comprised of a porch, vestibule, nave and transepts, surmounted by a spire. A hall adjoined the church and a manse was built on an adjacent site.
The organ is an instrument of high quality built by Nelson of Durham in 1923. We greatly miss having the services of a church organist, after many years of being served faithfully by excellent musicians.
Due to the expansion of the congregation, a gallery was erected over the northern end of the nave in 1926 and in the same year the original church hall was doubled in size, followed in 1928 by a new vestry.
Following the decision to retain St George’s as the place of worship for Trinity Church, an extensive renovation project took place. The church was rededicated in 1995 and since that date care has been taken to maintain, it, to make further improvements and to ensure that the building complies with modern standards.
Since 2004 the congregation has belonged to the South East Northumberland Ecumenical Area.
How would you describe your Theology and Worship style as a church?
In a diverse congregation such as ours, it is probably impossible to define the theology of our church. We have members, adherents and regular worshippers with family origins in the Church of Scotland, Presbyterian Church of England, the various branches of Methodism and other traditions from both Britain and overseas, including churches in India, Nigeria and The Philippines.
Our circular Communion Table (inspired by the hymn ‘The Church is like a table, a table that is round) is a symbol of what our church aspires to be in terms of meeting the varied needs of those whom we seek to serve. The entry of the Bible at the commencement of worship proclaims to all who are present the central place of Scripture in the life of our church.
Our style of worship follows that usually to be encountered within the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. Since we form part of a joint pastorate with two other congregations (at Newbiggin by the Sea and Stakeford) our minister, the Reverend Marie Attwood, is usually only able to conduct worship monthly. Other services are conducted by visiting ministers, lay preachers and member of our church worship group.
A monthly Communion service is held. Varying orders of service are followed and the elements are distributed at alternate services to the communicants in their seats or at the Communion rail.
The members of our Junior Church join the adult congregation for the first part of the service and their presence is greatly valued.
Three hymnaries are in regular use: ‘Hymns and Psalms’, ‘Rejoice and Sing’ and ‘Complete Mission Praise’. Scripture readings usually follow the lectionary and are read from the New International Version.
Can you tell us about your people?
Some of our members have belonged to the predecessors of our present congregation throughout their lives. Others moved to the area as adults and joined our church by transfer or joined us without having previously been church members. Some of our folk have always lived locally but decided that it was right to seek church membership later in their lives.
In common with many other congregations in our locality, the majority of our members belong to older age groups. Such is the nature of our community that, for decades, many of our young people have left the area to obtain employment. When we celebrated the centenary of our church building in 1999 we had a roll of 135 members: it now stands at 39. This reduction is a matter of deep concern to us.
It must be emphasised that we have, as a congregation, a great deal to be thankful for. Virtually all our members attend public worship each week, if at all possible. WE have a regular adult attendance of slightly less than 30.
We have an active, enthusiastic and faithfully led Junior Church, which is often attended by ten and sometime more children. They are much missed when the Junior church is in recess. Our office-bearers, elders and pastoral visitors take their responsibilities seriously.
Fundraising in order to meet our local and national obligations and to support good causes is generously supported.
It is probably true to say that, as our numbers have declined, our sense of unity has deepened and our focus upon what is essential has sharpened.
Can you tell us about your community and its needs?
While the coal industry prospered, Ashington was a thriving and vigorous community and became known nationally, sometimes in unexpected ways: being the home of The Ashington Art Group is just one example. A large technical college and a new grammar school brought many educational opportunities. The Ashington Industrial Co-operative Society dominated the local retails sector and combined with many smaller high-quality businesses, made Ashington the shopping centre for a large part of Northumberland.
The population of Ashington began to fall during the post-war period and now stands at approximately 27.000. The coal industry declined and then vanished and there are now no large-scale heavy industries. Great efforts have been made to attract new employers to Ashington and to improve the quality of the local environment by such projects as the redevelopment of the site of the vast colliery spoil heap into the Queen Elizabeth II Park. The conversion of Woodhorn Colliery into a museum has also attracted many visitors to the area.
Unemployment remains above the national average and there are many in the community for whom making ends meet is a daily challenge.
Large housing estates have been constructed around Ashington’s boundaries, which have brought new families to the locality: encouraging these families to become associated with the church is another challenge which lies before us.
Can you tell us about the activities your church is involved in, internally, locally and globally?
The number of activities directly offered by our churches has diminished as the congregation has reduced in size. In addition to our Junior Church, our current activities are as follows:
On Monday mornings a ‘Coffee and Chat’ morning is held in the vestibule. This activity forms part of a wider initiative promoted by Ashington Churches Together, each member church is encouraged to provide a warm and welcoming place with free refreshments once per week.
Once a fortnight, there is a meeting of ‘The Friendship Group’. The meetings usually include a talk by a visiting speaker and are open to anyone who wishes to attend.
A Flower Group meets regularly to learn more about floral art and their work enhances the church throughout most of the year.
The Church Hall is home to the meetings of a number of local groups and the congregation has recently tried to develop closer links between the church and those who attend meetings in the building.
Social and fund-raising events take place almost every month and include fayres, coffee mornings and a Christmas dinner. Refreshments are served following morning worship each week.
In recent months a new series of Bible study meetings has commenced, which has been held jointly with the other two congregations which form part of our minister’s charge.
Our congregations is a founder-member church of Ashington Churches Together. In 1995 the member churches entered into a covenant and pledged to ‘do nothing separately which we might more appropriately do together’.
The congregation has supported the Wansbeck Valley Food Bank from its foundation. Contributions of foodstuffs are received at the Harvest Thanksgiving service and regular donations are made by members during the year.
The congregation has a long history of supporting Christian Aid, Action for Children, Junior Mission for All and a charity which offers particular help to children in the Holy Land: Practical Compassion for Destitute Children. Denominational and charitable appeals are also supported.
Can you tell us about your dreams for your church?
Earlier this year, with help from visitors from the South East Northumberland Ecumenical Area Vision Group, the congregation was encouraged to look ahead to the next five years.
The hopes expressed included a determination for the church to continue as a place of worship, teaching and service, to maintain our strong sense of unity, to deepen our links with the local community and to make more use of our church building.
Perhaps the words of one member best express our hopes for the next five years:
‘we want to be where God wants us to be’.