Sunday School memories of Howdon Primitive Methodist chapel

Sheila Hamil reflects on her upbringing at the former Howdon Primitive Methodist chapel

Sheila Hamil as a child outside Howden Primitive Methodist chapel
Sheila Hamil
Howdon Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1908/217

This is an extract from the Rev Sheila Hamil’s book of memoirs.  The women in her family were staunch Primitive Methodists and although it was some time after Methodist Union, her memories of Sunday School show little had changed.

My very first thoughts concerning God were born in Sunday School in our local chapel at a very early age. My sister’s faith and mine were handed to us, served on a platter, by our family of staunch Methodist women, the ‘Primitive’ variety! I say women, because dad would only attend church on very special occasions, and granda, who was also a practising Methodist, was a quiet and reserved devotee, compared with our mother, our nana and our great grandmother.

So I was an innocent, trusting child, who believed in God implicitly; there was no questioning, no doubt whatsoever.

‘God was in his heaven and all was right with the world!’

I loved my Sunday School teacher, Mr Les Chisholm, who taught us wonderful Jesus’ stories, and was such a kind and gentle man. Sometimes at the close of a class he would allow me to pick out a made-up tune on the piano for everyone, as I was so keen to make music, even then.

The hymns we sang told of God the Father’s love for us, and of Jesus, his Son who was meek and mild, and who loved children. We sang songs such as ‘Jesus loves me this I know’, ‘Jesus wants me for a sunbeam’. ‘Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light.’

You never forget such words.

One lengthy hymn became a firm favourite of mine, because it made my heart soar, even though I was too young at the time to understand why, or what the words meant! But it told me that something glorious was on its way . . .

  • ‘There’s a light upon the mountains,
  • and the day is at the spring,
  • when our eyes shall see the beauty,
  • and the glory of the king!
  • Weary was my heart with waiting,
  • and the night-watch seem’d so long.
  • But the triumph day is breaking,
  • and we hail it with a song!

Another of my favourites was about a young boy named Samuel, who was called by God three times (‘four’ if we include the call he eventually responded to) as he slept in the temple, where he lived with the prophet Eli. It began:-

  • ‘Hushed was the evening hymn, The temple court was dark,
  • the lamp was burning dim, Before the sacred ark.
  • When suddenly a voice, divine, Rang through the silence of the shrine.

Looking back now, this threefold call of the boy Samuel by God, was rather like mine.  … … …

I didn’t have much clue what all the other hymns meant, but they were magnificent, and so full of depth and passion when sung by a full congregation, with chains falling off, and dungeon doors flying open; and with pilgrims treading the verge of Jordan!

Hymns were such a joy to sing, though not all, but I loved singing. Music has always been like that for me.

I enjoyed Sunday School anniversaries, where we all, as children, had to stand on our chairs, in front of the congregation, and perform! When it was our turn, we each recited poems, or sang songs, that we’d been asked to learn off by heart..

I still recall a song I sang on my own as a toddler:-

  • ‘Dainty wee daisy,
  • woke with the sun,
  • “Up,” said the skylark,
  • “Morning’s begun”

My husband, Bob, remembers the piece he said too, for his church anniversary”:

  • ‘I am a little soldier, I’m only three years old,
  • I mean to fight for Jesus, and wear a crown of gold!”

Jack, his family’s local baker, told him to put his fists up in the air, when he said the word ‘fight’, but being the shy boy Bob was then, I doubt he complied.

You can read the rest of Sheila’s life and faith story here:  .  Sheila’s website is here:

You can read more about Howdon Primitive Methodist chapel here.

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