Cliff College

An article advocating the need for the PM Connexion to have an equivalent of Cliff College.

Transcription of Article in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by The Editor (Rev. Joseph Ritson)

To see Cliff College and hear the Governor unfold the story of its work is to be filled with enthusiastic admiration of the institution and of the man who guides and controls the whole. It is such a wonderful illustration of the adaptation of simple means to high ends that you marvel that Methodism has been so long in discovering the value of such an institution. And now that we have the thing before our eyes it will be a greater marvel still if so up-to-date and go-ahead a Church as Primitive Methodism fails to see what immense service a place of the kind would render to our local ministry.

Our local preachers are a part, and the larger part, of our ministry, and for their better equipment we need a Cliff College. Once the need is fully realised and we seriously set ourselves to meet it, God will open the way. Meanwhile for those who cannot have the privilege of seeing Cliff College the story of its origin and work should be of value.

Turning to the beautiful and inspiring “Life Story of Thomas Champness,” by his wife, just issued by the Wesleyan Publishing House, we find the germ of Cliff College in the following passage:

“I have referred to our custom of beginning the day – sometimes very early in the morning – with a cup of tea together, and a brief season of prayer. I can recall many occasions when this became a sacrament to us both, and when my husband would say, ‘Whichever of us is taken first, the other will remember these morning hours.’ How wonderfully God blessed us at these times, giving us insight into His own will, and sending us forth to our work for Him, in the fullness of strength divinely given, only ourselves can know. ‘The influence of those hallowed seasons can never be forgotten, now that one of us is left to pray and the other is in the very presence of the Hearer of prayer. It was at one of these seasons that my husband lovingly unfolded his wish to do something more, and we decided to make a beginning by receiving one or two young men into our home for study and practice in evangelistic work.”

This was the beginning of Cliff College although the only connection with that institution that Thomas Champness had was to have a new wing called after him the “Thomas Champness” wing. That decision of Mr. Champness to take. into his home two young men who should study under his direction, and visit in the slums of the town and in the adjacent villages, preaching wherever and whenever opportunity offered, was a momentous one for Wesleyan Methodism. What that church would have been without the “Joyful News” Mission it is impossible to say, but it may safely be affirmed that without such a mission much of the rich harvest of the last twenty years could never have been reaped. As the work grew on his hands and the way opened the modest training of two evangelists in the minister’s house developed into the “Joyful News” Home for evangelists at Castleton Hall, Rochdale. Henceforth Mr. Champness specialised on the training and equipment of the local preacher, mainly on evangelistic lines: and thus the work at “Joyful News” Home became a prophecy of Cliff College, though nothing looked more unlikely at the time. It is evident that the idea of Cliff College was always in the mind of the founder of the Mission, and that he fully believed that Wesleyan Methodism would ultimately do something worthy of herself. Hence we find him writing in 1897:

“Our work among local preachers has been a great and growing blessing. We have had more than sixty men here during the year, and the more we do in this way the more need we see for the extension of the work. The future of Methodism in the villages must depend more and more upon the character of the local preachers, and while we are obliged to support agents in some circuits, we must do more to elevate the nature and increase the effectiveness of the unpaid preachers of Methodism.”

To know anything of village Primitive Methodism is to realise the truth of these words in relation to our own church. If we are to hold the villages – and it is of vital importance to the future of the nation that we should – we must make strenuous efforts to equip our local preachers for their work.

We have already in the “Local Preachers’ Training Institute” made an important beginning in this direction, but this needs to be supplemented by a Cliff College of our own. Let us see what such an institution would do for us. We have thousands of young men just coming on the plan or preparing for the work who need the guidance and inspiration which a very brief stay in a place like Cliff College would afford. They could not all be accommodated at once, but relays of them passing through the college would in a few years produce incalculable results. It is not merely the men who have enjoyed the advantages of the college who will be benefited; these young men will become centres of inspiration and guidance in their own circuits, and the whole tone of the work will be lifted. A young man thus trained will learn how to train others, and so we shall have miniature Cliff Colleges at work all over the Connexion. What the young local preacher wants in most cases is to learn what to study and how to study so as to equip himself for his work of soul-saving. Even a few weeks in the College will do much towards this end. There is the advantage not merely of actual and well-directed study, but the contact with other men, and the general widening of the horizon which comes from a glimpse of a larger world.

It is the business of Principal and tutors to do all they can to shape the habits and character of the students so as to add to their usefulness and effectiveness as local preachers. Some go for a few weeks, some for a few months, and others for a whole year. Each student is required to contribute as his means will allow. Some pay £1 a week, others ten shillings, others five shillings, and there are always some who cannot afford to pay anything. Of course a wealthy student will occasionally pay liberally, and thus help to provide for his less fortunate brethren. It is not to be supposed that such an institution can be self-supporting, but once the necessity for it is realised the money will be forthcoming. The Centenary Fund will doubtless be able to help a scheme of this kind, but if possible a beginning ought to be made long before 1911.

The discipline of a college of this kind is of great importance. At Cliff one of the first lessons a student must learn is that of implicit and unquestioning obedience, a lesson that will be of immense value to him in after years. He who would command must first learn to obey. Discipline is one of the difficulties and weaknesses of Nonconformist colleges. It may be due perhaps in some measure to the fact that the students do not stay long, but at Cliff College there is absolutely no trouble in regard to discipline. Everything about this big home moves with the utmost smoothness, and all bend themselves to their appointed tasks with loyalty and heartiness.

A student of course pledges himself before entering the college to obey its rules, but where love and law seem synonymous this becomes an easy matter. A healthy, wholesome discipline, constant but varied employment in which the interests of body and mind are alike considered, inspired throughout by a lofty ideal of life and service, ensure the harmonious working of the whole. One admirable part of the arrangements is that the students themselves do a large part of the daily work of the institution. A wealthy young fellow often finds this part of the new regime the most beneficial; it teaches him what we all need to learn – how to work.

“What do you pay these young men?”’ asked a visitor who observed a student on his knees washing the floor of the Observatory. “That one pays £3 a week for the privilege,” was the prompt reply. Snobbishness is impossible in such an atmosphere.

If a young man has already made himself master of some handicraft the likelihood is he will be allowed to pursue it for the advantage of the college. Two hours every afternoon are devoted to manual work.

To those having acquaintance only with the ordinary college all this may seem incredible. Let them visit Cliff College and they will no longer be unbelieving. It is a fact that insubordination, for example, is unknown. Once a young man broke the rule which absolutely prohibits a habit sadly too common in these days. The offender was called in, and frankly admitted the offence. “Very well,” said the Governor, “which shall it be, obedience or home?” ‘‘Obedience, sir,” was the instant reply, and obedience it has been ever since. Here is an indispensable condition of success if young men are to fit themselves to be leaders of men and authoritative preachers of the Word. “You have made a man of me,” said a well-to-do youth on leaving the college for the University of Oxford.

Of course in an institution of this kind to have the right man at the head is of vital consequence. In this regard the Wesleyans have been singularly fortunate first in having been provided by Providence with a man of the rare qualities of Thomas Champness, and second in having a man of such ideal fitness for the management of Cliff College as Rev. Thomas Cook. The first essential in the Principal of a college is personality. He must be capable of inspiring his students with lofty ideals of life and service. Evangelical fervour wedded to the truest culture of mind and heart, combined if possible with a fine physique – a sound mind and a large sound heart in a sound body, go to make up the kind of personality here demanded. Of course a passion for, and large experience of, evangelism there must also be. Our own church has had at its disposal at least one man uniting these qualities, and it has been one of our gravest misfortunes that we did not know how to use him. Whether such a man is available now remains to be seen. But if the hour has arrived the man will be forthcoming. Let us pray that we may know how to take occasion by the hand, and so make the bounds of our church’s usefulness wider yet.

Cliff College is situated near the village of Calver a few miles from Bakewell, Derbyshire. Originally built by Mr. Hulme, a Manchester Congregationalist, it was made the centre of much quiet but effective service for the Master. On the owner’s death the mansion with its twenty-two acres of land came into the hands of the widow, Mrs. Hulme, who was enjoined to devote it to the training of mission preachers.

Subsequently, with this end in view, it was transferred to Dr. Gratten Guinness, who spent some £15,000 in enlargement and laying out the grounds. From here hundreds of ministers were sent into the foreign field under the auspices of “The Regions Beyond Missionary Union.” Some four years ago when the Wesleyans proceeded to federate the work which had been initiated and developed in so wonderful a way by Thomas Champness, Cliff College was secured for the nominal sum of £7,500, and Rev. Thomas Cook was placed in charge. It is not too much to say that it is now one of the most popular institutions of Wesleyan Methodism.

Under the direction of the Home Mission Committee, it is serving splendidly the highest interests of the Wesleyan Church. Rev. S. Chadwick, one of the most effective mission preachers the Wesleyan Church possesses, is to become a tutor at Cliff, the lecturers hitherto being associated with ordinary circuit work. Here young local preachers may gain fitness for their work, or find equipment for the work of evangelists, or, if they reveal the necessary gifts and graces and fruit, prepare themselves for entering the regular colleges for the ministry. Students from Cliff, Dr. Moulton has declared, save the tutors at the regular colleges a year’s preliminary work. Fifty men have thus been prepared for the ministry, and not the least valuable feature of this kind of preparation is that the unfit can here be resolutely weeded out and saved the misfortune of advancing to a sphere for which they are manifestly unsuited. It only remains to add that the young men are engaged in preaching every Sunday, and that by means of the useful bike they speed over the country with ease and swiftness on their errands of evangelism.

It is significant that three hundred applicants are waiting for admission, and since we have only some three thousand fewer local preachers than the Wesleyans there must be plenty of the right material to be moulded in such an institution. May God give us a Cliff College with the modifications suiting it to the genius and work and resources of our Church.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1907/619

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