Crowle Circuit: from 1934
A time of trial
The Crowle circuit was the former Primitive Methodist circuit that straddled the Yorkshire/Lincolnshire border, based on the two principle towns of Crowle in Lincolnshire and Thorne in Yorkshire. It had at this time 12 chapels, and a membership of 300. In January 1934 it had two ministers based in the two centres, but this was reduced to one after 1934. Even though the plan was on one sheet of paper, printed on one side only, it included a pastoral letter from the superintendent (clearly the only preacher who had a telephone number – Crowle 53) which was direct in its style, addressing in unambiguous style the problems the circuit faced. It would have been a period of transition after Union in any case, but the circuit experienced ongoing problems, which had been there for a few years.
Superficially the plan with the list of preachers appears impressive. Twenty Sunday appointments, and in addition to the minister, who often led three services, 37 local preachers, two mission bands and 24 helpers. Of these helpers some were from outside the circuit boundary but were a source of regular help. The 1930’s charted decline in that the 34 preachers in 1935 had declined to 29 in 1937, and 23 in 1945. The pastoral letter drew attention to the pressing need of ‘young enthusiasts for the cause of Christ.’
The preachers themselves were not without fault. The November 1936 pastoral letter expressed it plainly: ‘Several of our chapels have had a succession of disappointments. Preachers have not come to take services. We cannot build anything on this- Our people deserve the best service we can give them, let us therefore see that they get it.’
The chapels themselves were the usual combination of strong and weak. Crowle had 65 and Thorne 85 members, with most of the remaining between 15 and 28 members. Amcotts was already closed with one member, and Derrythorpe with 8 members was to close in October 1936. Of these twelve chapels, there remains today a presence in Crowle, Beltoft, West Butterwick, Thorne, and Ealand. The others have closed – Low Levels, Luddington. Eastoft, Derrythorpe, Keadby, Belton and Medge Hall.
Continued existence as we know defies logic. Statistically the village chapel at Luddington had 19 members and closed in 1965, but Beltoft had only 8 members in 1934, and situated in a tiny hamlet remains open in 2014 with ten members.
Unsurprisingly finance was the major problem. The income for the circuit had three sources. Plan income (two pence per plan), Class monies, and collections and special services- but times were changing! The shortfall was an ongoing problem. It was only the collections at church services that were for the purpose of that church’s expense fund.
One superintendent Rev. Ezra Ramm wrote how he was ‘constantly arranging efforts for circuit deficiency,” and how this was to the detriment of his other activities. He stated that members should take their responsibility seriously and not ‘throw in’ what happened to be spare! The circuit assessment, as we know it, was instituted in this circuit in 1935, for “the Quarterly meeting—has resolved that each society in the circuit shall be equitably assessed so that the quarterly income shall meet the quarterly expenditure. Let it be fully understood that this is not a move to extract more money from the societies for what is called the circuit fund.’ In a spirt of unreal expectation the superintendent hoped that he would be able to trust the circuit with this matter and that ‘no further discussion shall take place upon the matter.’ Unreal because the next year the pastoral letter reported that only four out of the twelve societies had paid their allocation, and that there were numerous deficits in plan, class and allocation monies. Sanctions had to be taken and therefore only those four were to be allowed to retain their harvest festival income – with the inference that the remainder was to be appropriated by the circuit. Quarterly meetings were probably lively.
Although it is not referred to in the plan, the understanding of one member at that time was that such was the financial difficulty that the junior minister could not receive the full stipend. It is said he left to get married with the circuit owing him part of the stipend.
It appears too that the LPMA collections were not being dealt with properly in the eyes of the superintendent for ‘it seems strange that the collections throughout the circuit should be deflected from the Circuit Steward, who needs them to balance the budget, rather than the churches, whose pulpits are filled all the year round with these brethren, making a contribution from their own inflated funds.’ A warning was given that the plentiful income from Christian Endeavour rallies would need to be reconsidered as a source for circuit funds. The importance of collecting mission boxes early was also emphasised. The general lack of finances across the Connexion had already caused overseas missionaries to be recalled.
Additionally The Commemoration Fund was a national appeal. For following Union, its purpose was to place a number of ministers in areas of new and thickest population, so as to initiate a grand evangelistic campaign. Members were reminded that they could make a donation to this fund in instalments if this was helpful. There is little subsequent mention of this fund, so perhaps in the difficult 1930’s it failed to gain ground.
Underneath there was clearly a slackening of spiritual fervour, typical phrases were such as ‘allowing no small thing to keep us from God’s house’, and that increased congregations remained the greatest need to the Methodist Church at that time. Quarterly meetings also that were ‘badly attended.’
The preaching plans indicate that only one Camp meeting (a former stronghold of evangelistic witness) was held in this decade, and that was at Luddington in August 1934 with three services on the particular Sunday. Ministers’ letters drew attention to the advantage of winter evenings which should allow members to support week night services, ‘now that we are free we must put all our energy into the weeknight activities of the church.’ Some issues were more familiar. Sunday School anniversaries where fathers and mothers were seen only rarely on their own, and the need to emphasise the Bright Hour or Christian Endeavour.
Communion was only celebrated once a quarter in the chapels. This was a continuation of the Primitive Methodist pattern.
It was not all gloom though. There appeared to be still strong family loyalty in certain areas. The letter proclaimed “happy fathers who have sons who are willing to give themselves to the work they loved, and to which they once gave themselves with such abandon! Privileged sons who have fathers who taught them to love Christ and serve him through His Church!’ The description of former service as ‘with abandon’ perhaps suggests that times had changed. There was the plea in 1935 to ‘be on the alert to place in office of some kind any young man or woman of promise.’
These were difficult years. The ministers stationed at Crowle clearly found life testing. There were some encouragements, eleven new members at Thorne were notably received into membership, but money and a disregard of the circuit authority were continual problems for the harassed minister.