Sunday 16th September was a special day for Terry and me. We drove off down the M23 to Haywards Heath to be with the Newfrontiers church there as they formally opened their new building. It is exciting to reflect that we have many churches now in Sussex meeting in magnificent new premises around the county: Lewes, East Grinstead, Hastings, Eastbourne and of course, Brighton , which now meets in three locations. All these churches grew from congregations which began as a handful of people and now are all crowds of several hundreds. Truly acorns which grew into mighty oak trees!
But Haywards Heath holds special memories for us as it was the very first church which was planted out from the original in Seaford where Terry and I lived. We didn’t know we were planting a church at the time. It was in 1973 that we met Nigel Ring who was working on developing prosthetic limbs for disabled children at Chailey Heritage. He invited Terry to come to his home where he had gathered a number of friends to hear Terry speak about the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Many of them received it that night and Nigel asked Terry to come regularly to teach and disciple them.
So Terry went on alternate weeks, always taking a carload with him from the Seaford church. Thus it became a two pronged training track, both groups observing, learning, and walking in their new experiences of God. As time went by, Nigel’s lounge became too small. People were crammed in, sitting on the floor and out in the hall and up the stairs. Nigel decided to enlarge the room and everyone contributed to the cost of pushing out the wall.
Eventually, it became obvious that what was happening could not be contained in a weekday house group. People were thrilled with the new things God was doing among them. They were being baptised in the Holy spirit which precipitated them into using the Gifts of the Spirit. This in turn had an effect on worship which was free and spontaneous. Prayer became vibrant, and as they began to get hold of the message of grace, their whole Christian lives were being transformed.
We had no experience of church planting, and didn’t even realise that this was an embryonic church at first. We wrestled with leaving existing churches and meeting in a new context, and eventually came to see that we could not go backwards into the old dead formality that had been the previous experience of church.
So a coffee lounge was hired in Clair Hall, the community centre right in the middle of town. I remember Terry and I driving with our growing family from Seaford to the first Sunday meeting when about 30 of us met there. Enviously we looked through the door at what seemed to be a vast hall next door…would we ever be big enough to fill it?
Terry continued to lead the Seaford church, but now oversaw the development of this new baby. Gradually, elders were appointed and the baby grew to adolescence. A full time pastor was needed. One of Terry’s most long standing friends, David Coak, was in the congregation. He was the director of a building firm; but God’s call was on his life, and he became the first leading elder, supported by the church.
The church went from strength to strength, and yes, they not only had to hire the next door hall, but filled it to over flowing. In recent years, they have had to resort to two meetings on a Sunday to accommodate everyone. David Coak left to start a new church in Cambridge and Matt Partridge became the next leading pastor. Many people from all over the UK and in other countries can look back now and say that this was their first Christian home. One of these is Adrian Warnock who has become well known through his blog and popular book on the Resurrection.
About 8 years ago, Matt partridge joined forces with David Coak again who had moved to Oxford to start yet another church. Matt’s brother, Jim, became the current leader who has been instrumental in the new building project, and bringing it through to completion.
So it is nearly 40 years since that little group met in Nigel and Janita’s lounge. We never dreamed of all that would follow; that not only would a beautiful church emerge there in Haywards Heath, but that it would be the fore-runner of literally hundreds of others around the world.
Many of the friends who gathered last Sunday are now grey-haired veterans of those early pioneering days! We thank God that that pioneering Spirit is still strong as the Haywards Heath Church rejoices in its new home.