My name is Frank Whitford, I am more than seventy years old and by God’s Grace, reasonably fit and healthy. I attended the Sunday School at Peel St from being an infant in 1936 to a boy in 1949. Then at the age of thirteen I turned my back on the church and on God, never in my mind to return. I wanted nothing more to do with this religious stuff. But it seems that God had other plans both for the church and for me. I know now that many prayers were offered up to God on my behalf. They were effective!
In 1961 I was twenty five. My two main interests in life were always motorbikes and football and I was very involved with both. I was single and not very interested in girls, well that is until I met the wonderful girl God had been saving for me. Now, I have to tell you she was really something quite special. Her name was Muriel, and she just happened to be a Sunday School teacher and a regular attender at Peel Street Church. Now isn’t that strange? (God works in a mysterious way His wonders to perform) Well as they say the rest is history. We both fell deeply in love and it was my love for Muriel and her love for me which brought me back (by God’s Grace) to Peel St Church. But it was God’s love for me and my love for Jesus which has kept me here for the past fifty years I have had the privilege to serve God in this church. Well that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about God.
In the 1960’s the church was quite busy but it was Pastor-less, as were most churches in those years. It was the liberal sixties and the churches were in decline all over the north of England. Peel St was no exception. The old Victorian building was now a hundred years old and was starting to show it’s age and crumble. We had a church which was not really evangelistic, with little or no outreach, and a virtually non effective leadership. We were being faithfully served by visiting ministers each week who came and went and did a good containing job.
Muriel and I were baptized and came into membership in 1968. The membership at that time was about ten. It started to shrink, and in 1970 the church did not even have a deacon. It was to my great surprise when the other members asked me to take on the job of church deacon. I was thirty four years old then, and by far the youngest member of the church both in years, and in service and experience. This was something which really scared me and I thought “Why has God asked me to do this?” The membership was now eight and not many other people were attending. The situation was becoming critical. We had very little money, an old crumbling building, not many gifts in the church, and in addition, a very inexperienced and un-gifted deacon. It didn’t look optimistic. But we had a secret weapon! We had a loving heavenly Father who had many great and wonderful plans for Peel St. He truly is ‘A God for whom nothing is too hard’.
We started to pray for his leading in calling a pastor, we all knew it was either that or die as a church. But how we were going to choose him or support a Pastor? We had no idea! We just knew if God didn’t help us we were history. We prayed for seven years and we worked hard as a small team to improve the building, we had so much help from visiting ministers and advise from other pastors. Men came and went without any conviction that they were going to be the man God wanted for Peel St.
Then in 1977 God sent a young man by the name of Malcolm MacGregor. He didn’t come as a prospective pastor. He had no formal Bible college training, he had no experience of leading a church, he had only just recently been sent out to preach by his home church in Middlesbrough. But we all knew without a shadow of a doubt this was the man we had been waiting for, the man God was sending to us, with his young family.
We did not know how we would be able to support him and his family, but we decided it was a full time job and required full time support. We asked him to come and be our pastor and clearly Malcolm had the same certainty in his heart, this was what God wanted him to do. He had been saved and taken out of the world of darkness and in into the light of salvation, yes just seven years previously at the same time we as a church decided to ask God to help us and send a Pastor. (God knows exactly what He is doing) It was a huge step of faith. But even if we wondered about this, how could we deny this was God’s will and therefore God would supply our needs?
Malcolm became the Pastor and remained for twenty two years. There followed amazing blessing by God, He certainly supplied all our needs, and do you know, from that time to the present he has continued to do so, so richly.
Within a relatively short time God brought several gifted and mature Christian couples into the church, the church grew and flourished. People were saved under the Gospel of Grace, the membership grew from eight to almost a hundred, the church was alive and vibrant, God was being glorified, souls saved, and also three major building projects costing an impossible amount of money were completed. How did we do it? Well actually, we didn’t, but God did! He provided the church with gifts, talent, vision, resources, and love. “Great is Thy Faithfulness Oh God my Father” What a fantastic experience it has been for me and others who lived and served God through these times.
Thirteen years ago God took my beloved Muriel to be with Him in Glory. She played a huge part in all the things I have related. Her love and dedication to God and the church was a vital inspiration to so many believers. Her support and strength and love for me was always my joy and wonder, and I know those who knew her and are reading this will fully endorse this truth. In the years since her passing, my life has been very different, but God has been ‘my strength and shield, a very present help in times of trouble,’ as the Psalmist states.
What of the future? Well we know, ‘All our days are in his hands, every one of them is planned, so why should we fear when we know that He is near, and our days are in His hands’ If you have felt a blessing reading this account then Praise be to God the giver of all good things.