"At Christmas 1977 we began to make the place live again by introducing a monthly family service and some special services for Harvest and Easter. Between Christmas '77 and June '79 we had 23 services at the Centre. Then on June 3, 1979 we began our first weekly services - and we have met each week since then; so we are just four months old!"
The article was written by David Veness, who had recently completed his first curacy at St. Stephen's and was re-appointed to lead the newly-established congregation at the Church Hall, which now became known as the Church Centre.
The re-starting of Sunday services was prompted by the realisation that the thriving children's Sunday School was bringing many adults into the hall to accompany their children. Encouraged by the success of the monthly services, the leadership and members of St. Stephen's made a costly and far-reaching decision: to establish the Church Centre as a separate congregation, with its own leadership and a degree of autonomy from the parent church.
A considerable investment of time, people and money was made to bring this about. A small army of volunteers - including Nigel Hand, who later became our Vicar - refurbished the hall and made it usable for its enhanced rôle. About 20-30 members of St. Stephen's moved down to the Church Centre as the nucleus of the new congregation. A curate's house was sold and two houses next to the Church Centre were bought, one for David to live in and another to provide small meeting rooms for the children's groups and many other activities.
At first the attendance was relatively small - about 50 - and the Centre was financially dependent on St. Stephen's. A decade later the congregation had doubled in size and the Church Centre was paying its way, not just financially but in spiritual terms to the area it served and to the rest of the parish.
The 1979 magazine listed the weekly acitvities taking place in the Church Centre. Although many of the groups mentioned now have different names (and, of course, leaders), the same needs are still being met today.
"Most desirable freehold property," proclaimed the advert. "Centrally heated throughout. Large multi-purpose main room with stage. Comfortable small meeting room. 2 downstairs toilets."
These mock estate agent's particulars, which appeared in St. Stephen's magazine, described the newly-restored Church Centre in glowing terms. The reference to the "well-equipped kitchen" was perhaps stretching credulity to the limit, but no-one could argue with the final claim: "Ideally situated for mission".
It is remarkable how much was achieved with so little expenditure. Nearly £3,000 was spent on a new boiler, but thanks to a huge volunteer effort the remaining repairs cost only another £4,000. The work undertaken included repairs to roofs and guttering, rewiring, repointing of brickwork, some structural repairs and redecoration.