On the 6th June 1886 a frustrated man, living in Beulah Road, reached the point of decision. Auctioneer Joseph Wicks had made a career move from Torquay but was beginning to regret it as there was no easy access to a good church. He and his young family found the four mile round walk to Upper Norwood too much. He had tried the local Methodist church but could not accept their practice of infant sprinkling and constant references to the Holy Spirit as an “it.” He was not alone. Other families joined with him at his home to worship and pray.
As he prayed, talked and looked around a plan began to unfold. There was a vacant plot of land in Beulah Crescent. He made inquiries and found it was available for sale. It was too big for his immediate purposes, but if a schoolroom could be built at the rear of the plot, then in time a new church could be erected at the front. He and his friends collected £50 but they needed help and support if they were to complete the plan. This was a time of opportunity, a time to act. No one was going to urge him to act. Except God no one was expecting him to act. Would Joseph make anything of the opportunity that lay before him?
Vision turned to action
Early May 1886 Joseph Wicks sat down to write a letter to the great preacher C H Spurgeon. In that letter he asked for assistance in getting a church started in this area. Spurgeon was amazed. He had lived just up the hill at Westwood for six years and had watched the area begin to grow and develop. Recently he had been moved in prayer regarding Thornton Heath and sent a friend to survey the land and see what could be done. When the letter from Joseph Wicks arrived he knew he was going to be involved.
A meeting was arranged and on Friday June 11th 1886. Joseph had drawn up a rough plan the day before and the two men met to discuss the possibilities. The outcome was wholehearted support for the planting of a new church. The two men met again at the end of July and full plans were drawn up for the chapel to be built on Beulah Crescent.
Spurgeon was already struggling against ill health but got right behind the process. He and others prayed regularly. A small notice was put in his magazine, The Sword and Trowel. Donations could be sent to him. The money began to arrive. Joseph himself put in £10. Joseph was a family man with a heart for children. His desire was to start with a Sunday School that could grow into a church. He prayed and worked to see his vision become a reality. Without his dream and the push to get things moving, nothing would have happened. But happen it did and the land was bought in full and the new schoolroom erected debt free three days short of one year from the day he put pen to paper.
Tuesday May 3rd 1887 was an important date for Spurgeon. It was his mother’s birthday, and also the anniversary of his own baptism. On that day exactly 37 years before, the young convert, just 15 years old, rose early for a couple of hours’ prayer and then had walked eight miles from his home to be baptised in the river Lark at Isleham. He recalled that it was not a warm day, but he was third in the line to be baptised that morning. Now 37 years later he rose early to pray again: this time to commit the new schoolroom to God and to commence its work. There were over 150 people present as he made his way to the front of the chapel. “Let us sing,” he said bursting forth unaccompanied into one of his own hymns. He preached on Isaiah 53 and stirred the people greatly regarding the work in Thornton Heath. In the afternoon Spurgeon preached again and a tea was served from the builders’ sheds while many people gathered around on the grass.
The future was to bring many challenges as well as rich blessings. Joseph Harrald, Spurgeon’s private secretary became the first pastor. Joseph Wicks led the Sunday School and starting with just a handful of children saw the numbers rise to 360 pupils with 31 teachers in two years. The Church began with 88 members and this rose to 112 in the same period. A building fund was opened and money collected towards the building of the church. This was completed some 22 years later in 1909. The cost of the building was to have been £3,500, but was reduced by £500 to £3,000, as the galleries were not built!
Over the years both buildings fell into disrepair. In 2002 the church began to seek God about restoring the old chapel which was by now in very poor condition. But it soon became very apparent to us that something new was needed. God spoke very clearly to us that we should build something new and that he would provide, that was January 2004. By the summer we had begun plans and the money began to come in. The original schoolroom was demolished in 2006 to make way for the new Joseph Centre. In July 2007 the Joseph Centre was opened at a cost of £1.4M. The main church celebrated it’s centenary in July 2009.