1949 – 1962
The coming of the Rev. R. S. Capel a year after Mr Simpson's departure, marked important and far-reaching changes in the neighbourhood of Harlow. In actual fact, they had begun in 1947 with the appointment of the Harlow development Corporation, which was charged with the building of a New Town. It was not until 1949, however, that Harlow saw the vast changes beginning to take shape. The New Town was first to rear its head in the Old Town; new houses arising behind the Post Once – an area now known as Chippingfield. Since that modest start, the New Town has risen in breathtaking proportions, going on like a great typhoon, absorbing miles of once open country – including delightful and much-loved villages – and transforming the whole neighbourhood to a degree almost unbelievable. Realising that people must have somewhere to live, gradually the older inhabitants of Harlow became reconciled to the changes. Harlow was no longer a quiet country town, It was now a place of national importance, It appeared on radio and television, in the daily Press; was spoken of in Parliament and, indeed, throughout different parts of the world. Important people, including Royalty, came to visit the scene of this transformation. Harlow had become a big name.
Such changes could not fail to affect the church. Mr Capel. therefore, was soon faced with a difficult and challenging task. He had to meet not only the needs of his own church in this new set of circumstances, but the church at Potter Street also demanded his time and counsel until in the end they were able, with Baptist Union help, to settle a minister of their own – the first for many years to take full pastoral charge there. Swift changes were taking place all round The major Christian denominations were moving into newly-built premises, while the Baptists kept to their old buildings, being the only denomination, apart from the Anglicans, to have buildings already on the spot to cater for the spiritual needs of the rapidly rising town. In those days of pioneer work and adaptation to new conditions, cooperation among Christians was essential, and in all this Mr Capel played a leading and important part. “A doyen of Free Church ministers" was how one brother minister, who shared with him some of these experiences, described him.
Visitation of the new houses as people moved in was organised on a wide scale the area round the church was “combed”, but, in common with other churches the Baptists did not find the newcomers all that ready to become interested in church activities. There was much disappointment in response to hard and faithful work. One united effort, however, in which our church took a leading part, did for a while prove popular. Called ‘Saturday Rendezvous”, it took the form of a series of monthly evangelistic services, inspired by Billy Graham’s Greater London Crusade of 1954,
One thing was certain. Harlow was teeming with young people, And there lay the real challenge of the new situation. Mr Capel soon became aware of the fact that the question of additional premises must be faced. Boys’ Brigade and Girl Campaigners were growing in numbers, and the existing church hall was totally inadequate to accommodate them A new hall was therefore an increasingly pressing need. The church possessed the necessary land. All that was required was the fabric and equipment. On Mr Capel fell the responsibility of leading the church in this great undertaking.
It is impossible even to summarise the amount of hard work, the thinking and planning, the multifarious enquiries and meetings, the anxieties, the hopes and longings the occasional disappointments that surrounded pastor and people. But with praiseworthy courage they continued with the project, raising money in eager anticipation and encouraged by gradually seeing the dream of a new hall coming true. The hall was to cost, with equipment, £7,000. Through Mr Capel’s initiative and enterprise, a grant for about half that amount was obtained from the appropriate Government authority. Obviously, certain conditions were attached to the grant, but none was too irksome for the church to accept For the rest, loans were acquired. Meanwhile, Yuletide Fayres began to be held to provide desperately needed funds for the scheme. At present in this tercentenary year, 1962 – the church owes £l.800 in loans, and is committed to repay this money at the rate of £200 each year.
Although Mr Capel was to stay for nine years, yet it was not quite long enough for him to enjoy with the church the amenities of the new hall, which was opened in September, 1960, about a year after he had left Harlow to undertake the pastorate at Fareharn Baptist Church. He had around him a loyal team of workers, and today the church can look upon the new building with legitimate pride. It is true that many of us regret the spoiling of the lovely approach to the church and the disappearance of the dignified oak gates, but all agree that the sacrifice of these two things was unavoidable. To have retained them at the expense of not having a hall would have been inexcusable folly.
The periods of waiting for another pastor saw the advent of a new organisation in the church called the Young Wives and Business Women’s Club. Its object, apart from gathering younger women together, was to study the Word of God in an informal atmosphere. At the close of 1961 its members decided to change the name to the Ladies’ Contact Club.
For sixteen months the church continued without a minister. At length, however, in January, l961, a new leader was provided; none other than the man whom the church, as already recorded, sent to Spurgeon’s College nineteen years before. Having left College and Harlow the Rev. John Barker had served the Baptist churches at Southfields (Wandsworth), Welling and Sittingbourne. Now he answered the call of his home church to become its minister. As Mr Wallace characteristically puts it: “We regard him as our bread cast upon the waters, which we have found after many days”.
The story of our beloved church is now briefly told So much for the past. What about the future? As we survey the scene before us, we realise God is calling us to a large task. What would have been William Woodward's reaction to this modern situation? We feel certain that he would have met the challenge with as much courage as he did his early difficulties. We, too, have our difficulties, but they are different from those with which Mr Woodward had to contend, His problems were created by lack of religious liberty. Our problems consist mainly in how to get at the ears and hearts of the masses of people around us. We believe God has watched over this Baptist cause for 300 years for a definite purpose, leading us on until this hour of extensive opportunity. One thing has not changed. We preach the same Gospel that William Woodward preached, which is “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever”.