Saturday, January 06, 2007

D. R. Davies XI: Southport

David Richard Davies' next Pastorate was at Hawkeshhead Street Church, Southport; '...a pleasing little building in the Gothic style, with a seating capactity of just over 400.' I had seen greater days, but there were very few churches in the 1920s of whom that could not be said. For this was the era in which the 'hearers' dropped away. There were one hundred members on the books at Hawkeshead Street Congregational Church, but the morning service averaged only thirty to forty. The evening meeting was in a healthier state, averaging eighty to a hundred. The Young People's Fellowship, held during the winter months, comprised between twenty-five and thirty, while the Sunday School; 'as is the rule in seaside towns [...] was less than the church membership." There was a single mid-week fellowship meeting and a Sunday afternoon Bible class. The church was, like that at Laodicea, neither not nor cold. Given the state of their new minister's heart, it could not be expected that he would improve matters.

But, while it is not possible to warm men's hearts by human actions alone, it is possible to create excitement, and by that excitement to move men's bodies. And D. R. Davies had determined to concentrate on the business of the church. He was to be the minister he had never been at Ravensthorpe. He began to read philosophy and theology properly. He also began to read contemporary literature, in order to be 'up-to-date.' While there were some complaints from older members of the congregation that their new minister's preaching was a bit 'Socialistic,' on the whole his ministry was accepted without murmur.

Davies also altered the mid-week meeting, which; '... was a miniature Sunday service, except that it was held in the schoolroom, and that one of the deacons used to take the prayer.' Davies changed the format into that of a popular lecture, his first series being "Prophets Ancient and Modern." This series was to start with Amos and end with George Bernard Shaw. The reader may draw their own conclusions from this. The series featured, among others, Paul, Augustine, Dante, Savonarola, Luther and St. Francis of Assisi; the modern prophets including Marx, the Welsh Atheist and Socialist Robert Owen, former Labour Party leader Keir Hardie, Dostoievsky, and the poet Francis Thompson. It was, as Davies later admitted 'a mixed lot.' He printed a syllabus and visited most of the congregation to encourage them to attend.

And it worked. Davies' enthusiasm and knowledge, coupled with his talents as a speaker pushed the attendance up from under fifteen to between sixty and seventy; something which added also to the sunday evening service. The little schoolroom was filled, a large number of young people being drawn in. In response to this, Davies: '...copied a practice of the famous Dr. R. F. Horton of Hampstead. On the last evening of each month, I delivered what I called a Monthly Lecture on a subject of topical interest.'

These things attracted the people Davies was looking to attract. While we may disagree with his choice of 'prophets,' it is not necessarily wrong to have a series of lectures which touch on historical as well as Biblicl themes. Nor is it wrong for a minister to deliver a talk on some topical matter, so long as he does not use the main Sunday meetings to do it. The problem with Davies was that the subjects in question showed a commitment to Socialism that ran far deeper than his commitment to Jesus Christ, a commitment that would be brought out by the turn of events just around the cormer. But before that, Davies was to be brought low. Just as he was about to start on his second series of mid-week lectures, "The Search for Eternal Life," when he was struck down with rheumatism. Davies spent most of the summer of 1925 on his back.

But far worse trouble was waiting round the corner.



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