Wantage Methodist Church
By Rev Keith Underhill (4 min 11)
The text is as follows:
Hello, and thank you for listening. My name is Keith Underhill and I am the superintendent minister at Wantage Methodist church. And I'd like to tell you something about the history of our building and the Methodist community here in Wantage.
We are aware for example, that John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement visited Wantage in July, 1741. Unfortunately, we don't know much about what happened and he made no comment except that he had tea here. What we do know, however, was that in the 1820s, so just over 200 years ago, Thomas Bush, who was a country gentleman from Lambourne, and also a Methodist stood on top of the White Horse Hill and looked out over the Vale of the White Horse. He wrote that he pondered on the spiritual poverty of the people down below. He saw the Vale as his parish and established Methodist meeting houses. First in Childrey, then in Wantage, and many other local villages. He's reported to have written to a friend that I feel Wantage and its neighborhood laid on my mind and had for some years. I've petitioned a quarterly meeting to send a missionary I believe Wantage and its neighborhood to be wicked in a general way.
Also in 1820, the Wantage Wesleyan Methodist circuit was set up. This included 17 surrounding towns and villages, and it had its own minister, John Willis. In 1845, having outgrown two meeting houses, the flourishing Methodist society built a new Wesleyan Methodist chapel on the present site in Newbury Street. The chapel was slightly smaller than the present one and had a caretaker's cottage at the back. Constructed of rag stone dressed with bath stone, the cost of the chapel was 1,271 pounds, 14 shillings and five pence. A significant part of which was born by Thomas Bush himself. Sadly, two years later, he died age 62. This man to whose vision and generosity Wantage Methodist church owes its existence is buried in the graveyard of Lambourne parish church.
Within a few years, a minister's house was built next to the chapel and a vestry in a school hall were added to accommodate a Sunday School, but also the Wesleyan day school. This day school existed from 1848 through to 1929. During the renovation of the church in 1881, pews, a pulpit, a singing gallery and gas lighting were all installed. An organ had been in place somewhere between 1866 and 1872. The front of the interior of the chapel was remodelled in 1923. This was all in order to accommodate the larger rebuilt organ and also a redesigned pulpit. Built to a lower standard than the chapel, the old school hall had become uneconomic to retain, so it was demolished. And in 1992, the new Methodist hall was built and dedicated to church and community use.
The chapel remained much the same until further major refurbishment was undertaken in 2015, creating a much more inviting and flexible space for church and community use in the 21st Century. Today, Wantage Methodist Church seeks, as it always has, to be relevant and contemporary to the present age as together we explore what it means to be disciples of Jesus in the 21st Century.
To quote from the hymn writer, Marty Horgan, let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wooden stone to heal and strengthen, serve, and teach and love the word they've known. Hear the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God's face. Let us bring an end to fear and danger. All are welcome. All are welcome. All are welcome in this place. Indeed, everyone is most welcome. So do feel free to call in and say 'hello'.