The Beginnings at Hallgarth

In Sunderland I am working with two mission halls that began as outreaches from Bethesda Free Church. One of them is called Hallgarth and has an amazing history that stretches back over 100 years. Both of the halls have become greatly reduced in number in recent years, but I know the Lord is going to bless.

Bethesda has had several pastors who are known world wide. I am not sure of the exact order in which they came but I believe it is F.E. Marsh, Graham Scroggie and Sidlow Baxter. The little book I am reading right now, printed in the 1920’s, has a forwarded written by Graham Scroggie.

The book is called "Mended Crockery" and relates the beginnings of Hallgarth Mission. It started initially as a meeting for children, but after the occasion I will copy below the work began to expand to all ages and over the years hundreds have come to the Lord. Incidentally, the other mission at which I work was started out of Hallgarth. I will relate that story another day.

Now, this was written around 90 years ago and so some of it may seem a little unusual, but I am sure you enjoy it as much as I did.

Having related how violent and degraded the area had become, filled with gangs and poverty, the author goes on to relate,

“At that time Hallgarth was a mission for children only and it was in the course of a Sunday evening service with these that a number of gangsters decided to have a good time in the meeting. It is extremely doubtful if they knew anything of the nature of the Gospel service, but that mattered little.

“They entered the Hall and at once commenced operations. Shouting, ribaldry, heroics, and mimicry were grandly hurled about, to the huge enjoyment of the boys and the half-fearful apprehension of the girls, and of course the meeting, as such, became a farce.

“Towards the end, however, the leader took matters into his own hands, and assumed the aggressive. First of all locking all the doors, he addressed the would-be gallants.

‘You chaps have had a good innings, but now we are about to close in prayer, which means that we are going to talk to God (amused murmurs). Now, talking to men is one thing, and talking to God is another. Prayer demands reverence, and in case you do not know what that means, let put it in this way – that for one minute – mark this well – for one minute only, you will remain quiet and still while the Lord is spoken to.

“After your evening’s entertainment this is quite a small thing to ask and very reasonable. Now I want you to keep quiet for just one minute. To make it quite clear that I am most serious in this, I wish to emphasise thus: that if one of you breaks the one minute silence that is demanded, he shall be brought to the platform and with this cane which I have here he shall be thrashed before you all. And now Miss Wilson will close in prayer.’

“For a few moments all was quiet while the prayer was being said, then, “Hoy! Whoohoo! Ha! Ha! Ha!” broke the stillness with startling effect. Of course the prayer was at once out of the question. Laughter and noise were preeminent.

“But the noise was as nothing to that which broke out when the hand of the leader twisted itself into the neckerchief of the delinquent and in spite of his unquestionable reluctance and most vigorous resistance, persuaded him to come to the platform.

“Then it was, indeed, that Bedlam broke loos and pandemonium reigned supreme. Standing on her seat the lady organist was wringing her hands and crying out,

“Don’t! don’t! oh don’t.” Girls were crying, boys howling, the gang vociferously expostulating, while amid it all, with the cane doing about one hundred oscillations per minute, its victim was mingling his tears with the dust of the floor.

“Dear, dear, a sad exposition, surely, of the accepted principles of Christianity. Was this the way of the meek and lowly Jesus? What sort of fruit could be expected from this kind of seed?

“Well, now, would you believe it, the fruit of this little episode was that these same men were won for the Lord Jesus before very long and became valiant workers in His service. Not all of them (although they all came back to the Mission), but those who stood aloof were more than balanced by the number of others who came with them and who in turn accepted the common salvation.

“And how did it come about? Well just this way. The caning having ceased, several members of the gang rushed forward with wrathful ire.

"Said the foremost, “What d’ye mean be setting about ‘im? It wasn’t ‘im what made the noise.” That’s all right, old son, you’re next. Come hither” and by a swift grab he found himself in chancery with the cane swishing threateningly through the air.

“But it got no further. The mocking words of the archenemy when reviling the patient Job proved to be only too true of these his loyal subjects. “Skin for skin, all that a man hath will he give for his life.” And so they capitulated.

“Very well, then, let us try again. Back to your seats, every one of you.”

In a few minutes order was restored, and although sullen vindictiveness was apparent, the situation was mastered, and soon all became quiet and still. Short sharp came the order,

“Every eye closed.
“And so unanimous was the response that the click of the eyelids might have been heard outside, and then, amidst the silence that could almost be felt, the Lord was appealed to, to look down upon that gathering and in His mercy put the wrong things right and the crooked straight.

"If ever a prayer was answered, it was answered the night, for having dismissed the children and, though with some difficulty having prevented the scapegraces from escaping outside for the avowed purpose of wreaking vengeance, the leader gathered them together for a straight man-to-man talk. By degrees the revengeful sullenness became mollified, and finally,
“Look here, you fellows, just why did you come in here tonight?”

They replied, “Why, isn’t chapels for folk to come into?”

“’Quite so, but do you want to sit amongst the bairns, big fellows like you?’

"Well, no, they didn’t want that.

‘Well, then, here’s an offer. The room at the back is not being used at present, and next Sunday night there will be a good fire on, the gas lighted, and the door left open. If you care to come in you can have the room to yourselves. There will be no stipulated time and no one in charge. You can choose your own recreation until the children’s service is over, when I will come in and see you. This is certainly a better proposition than standing about the street corners. So there it is for you if you want it.”

And so with a handshake all round and a word of conciliation they were sent out. Did they come back? Certainly they came back and brought others with them so that the little room was quite full when the Sunday night come round again.

"That Sunday night was the beginning of the men’s work at Hallgarth.”

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