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Read the story of how a disused WW2 airfield became a thriving residential community.
Just to the west of Wolverhampton, in the county of Staffordshire, England, there used to be a World War II airfield. After the war very little was left of it except for a Control Tower (damp and smelly) a few old buildings and a runway. The people from Tettenhall Wood and the surrounding area came to fly model planes, walk their dogs and learn to drive on the old runway. To their horror they heard rumours that developers wanted to build houses there. The know-alls tapped their noses and said, "The only houses they will build will be boathouses. It's nothing but a swampy morass, under water for half the year."
The developers, as always, had an answer to that. They dug a great hole in the middle of the area set for development in which to dump the water, and to make sure, they dug a smaller hole on the outskirts. (Through these, now pools, flow the source of the river Penk.)
Then the building started. Over the border in Tettenhall Wood the locals said, " If we can't stop them we will cut them off, no traffic shall pass between the two." Fortunately, the Christians of Tettenhall Wood saw things differently. "We must welcome these strangers on our doorstep," they said.
From Christ Church Parish Church, Anglican, and Tettenhall Wood United Reformed Church intrepid missionaries set out to welcome the first arrivals. To their surprise and delight they soon found some Christians and among the first, a small colony of Baptists. Well you would expect that, wouldn't you, with all that water about! There were also small contingents of United Reformed Church members, Anglicans and Methodists. Linked by the missionaries from Tettenhall Wood, they soon began to worship together. At first in each other's homes, until there were too many of them to fit into these houses. Then they put on their Wellington boots and went off to worship in the old Control Tower, damp, musty and smelly.
A Deaconess, Sheila Finn, was appointed to guide the new and growing community. There in the Upper Room (the top floor of the Control Tower) worship was very real and crowds came until it was too small to hold them all. From there they moved into the recently erected Community Centre, (a pre-fabricated building). But they knew from the beginning that they must build a church.
What kind of Church should it be?.... Of one thing they were very sure. Over the years of their pilgrimage together they had come to know, love and respect each other and their different forms of worship. "We must stay together," they said, "One Church At Perton. More than that, we must continue to worship together, no matter what we have been used to in the past."
So they built a multi-purpose Church, within the parish of Tettenhall Wood, in which to worship God and to serve the community together, with a Font for infant Baptisms and a Baptistery for the Believer's Baptisms.
Bishops, Moderators, Priests and Ministers, Lay and Ordained, came from Anglicans, Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Churches to lead worship according to their own traditions. Then Sheila departed to pastures new, and a U.R.C. Minister, Gilbert Tate, was appointed and he was later joined by an Anglican District Minister, Brian Prentice. All during this time the developers continued to build and more and more people moved into the area.
Brian and Gilbert together led the worship, and shared the pastoral and administrative care of the Church. Both felt enriched, as did the congregation, by the formality of the Anglican services as well as the less structured flow of the U.R.C. services. All the worshipers found their common love for the Lord and for each other enabled them to rise above purely prejudicial leanings towards past traditions. They were blessed by their experiences. New friends coming to the church find it strange at first, but, finding a warm and welcoming fellowship, they persevere and go on to find something of the richness of diversity.
Since those early days both Brian and Gilbert have moved on as the Spirit has taken them, and we still enjoy their occasional visits. We were then joined by an Anglican Minister, Margaret Smallman, and a U.R.C. Minister Brian Clarke. Both of who continued to lead us further along the road with our Lord. They too shared in the pastoral and administration duties, working together to bring growth to the fellowship of the church. Brian Clarke moved on, and Margaret was ordained as a priest. The duties of the U.R.C. Minister have been taken over for the time being by an Interim Moderator, Charles Price who is the U.R.C. Minister at Finchfield in Wolverhampton. Both Margaret and Charles lead us towards the realm of becoming a Parish in our own right, instead of being part of the Tettenhall Wood Parish, with all the legal requirements that this entails.
Margaret has also moved on to pastures new in West Bromwich and the duties of the Anglican Minister were taken over by Rev Colin Gough Rector of Tettenhall Wood. He together with Charles led us further towards becoming a parish. So well in fact that on 1st January 2000 the Parish of Perton came into existence in joint Benefice with the new parish of Tettenhall Wood.
In September of 2000 URC minister Anthony Howells and his young family came and joined our fellowship. Over the next 10 years, his vision and enthusiasm lead us further along the path that God had prepared us for. Sadly the time came for Anthony and his rather older family to move on to pastures new.
We have been very fortunate and the Lord our God has smiled on our little part of England and we had only a period of 17 months of interregnum. In January 2012 our new Anglican Vicar, Julia Taylor arrived, and as we continue to get to know each other, we are together exploring where God may lead us in this new chapter.
There is a delight in the surprise of coming to church not quite knowing whether or not the worship will be Anglican or Free Church in style, although everyone knows when the service will include the sacrament. It may well be that those whose dependence upon their traditional form of worship does not allow them to depart from it, go to churches of their own tradition outside of the village of Perton.
We know that despite the pains and problems of growing together, God blesses us and is leading us on. We have not found the complete answer to Ecumenical worship and life, but we believe that God is leading us along His Pilgrim Way and in the words of a phrase that has been used before "NOT STRANGERS BUT PILGRIMS" in the work and worship of our Lord here in The Church At Perton.
May the Lord lead us his people in this His church and may we bring all the people of Perton into the light of His son Jesus Christ.