Our first Sunday was a wee bit nerve-wracking. John had already had three years of practice, but I was going in at the deep end. I had had letters from Secretaries asking me to be President of two women’s meetings before we were even married! I could hardly say no, but I had feelings of panic as they loomed nearer. Apart from Sunday School and Youth Club children the only people I’d ever ‘addressed’ were the twenty or so members of the Wesley Guild at Ardgowan. Anyway, as John pointed out, everybody in the Circuit wanted to get to know us and would soon be our friends.
The entrance door at Castle Hill Chapel was in the middle of the building so you had to make an entrance in full view, and I was escorted to a seat while John went to the vestry. He was nervous, but I knew he’d be fine once he started. He always prepared thoroughly for services, and hymns, readings and sermon were coordinated. After the service we stood at the door and the folk introduced themselves. We had to try to match people and their names, sort out their families, and who they were related to as quickly as possible. In the first few weeks we could ask people to remind us of their names, but if you asked after six months or so they might be quite offended. So we worked hard at that and did pretty well. Everybody seemed to like us and enjoy John’s services.
There were fourteen churches, seven for each minister, and John preached at them all in the first Quarter. Most Sundays he had three services, and then the Youth Club met in our Manse in the evening. I went with him, and usually we were invited for tea by a member of the afternoon church, then we’d go from there to the chapel where the evening service was. It was great to visit people in their homes and get to know them and it gave them the chance to question us! When we were at Park Village I was tickled when our hostess’s first question to me was ‘Are your parents still living?’ We found good friends in Park Village.
Early on, John was planned at Henshaw and we were invited to tea by Mrs Bertha Forster and her daughter Olive. They lived in a large stone house with a huge garden. Harry Birkett, one of our Castle Hill Congregation, took us in his car and joined the tea party. For the first time ever we were served a plate of fruit and cream first, then the sandwiches, scones and cakes. It was a surprise but we rather liked it. Olive was one of the youth club at our Manse.
At one of Mr Thynne’s churches we had tea with an older couple. Before we left for the Church she escorted us upstairs to ‘make ourselves comfortable’. Not to a bathroom, but to a bedroom. There was a basin and ewer on the dresser and in the cupboard underneath, the chamber pot! All three matched and were works of art which must have been very old. So we used all items and were quite glad not to have had to go down the garden path in the rain.
The Chapel at Eals, which was the most distant, had only seven members. (In those days most Methodist places of worship were called Chapels especially in the country circuits.) I can’t remember being at a service there but I did see where Mr Nixon lived, which was in a rather run down caravan. His wife had died before we came. He was an extremely well-educated man and had a library of books and papers held in cereal boxes in the crowded space. We asked him to come and spend Christmas Day with us in our first year and he came for part of the day and had dinner. He didn’t always come when invited but he had the option. He and John talked and I was the handmaid!
Melkridge was another nice wee stone chapel with a small, friendly community. I always enjoyed visiting the Teasdales at The Farm, which had no other name, next to the chapel. They were an elderly couple and always welcomed us warmly when John took the service there. Their daughter was married to the local squire and lived in a large house not far along the road, but set back. Behind, there was a wood which was square and always called the Book Wood for obvious reasons.
Lastly there were East Coanwood and West Coanwood. I remember West Coanwood as being quite rundown looking, and for the smelly oil heater they used. Also, instead of bread for Communion they used broken biscuits and I can’t remember what was different about their Communion Wine. I miss John for things like this, he would have remembered. My memory of both Coanwoods is faint, although I remember some of the people’s names like Ridley, Archer, Renwick and Swallow.
John started a Youth Choir soon after we arrived and the Youth Club joined up. The Choir was much in demand for Harvest Festivals, of which there would have been fourteen. I was in the Choir and first learned the alto melodies there. They were such a happy band and we loved the lot of them. Among the group there were three who stand out in my memory. When we first saw them in the Youth Club we thought they were ‘helpers’, but they were members so we just accepted them along with others. Jim was past his teens and probably his twenties also. He was a nice young man and obviously liked being in the company. Hilda and Florence were sisters whose older sister was the mother of the youngish woman next door to us and Granny to their three lovely daughters, the oldest about 10. So Florence and Hilda were the children’s Great-Aunties. They took part in everything, including the Choir, and we became very fond of them. As we did of the whole gang including Jim. Sunday evenings were very happy but when 9 pm came we were glad to sit down with a cup of tea. Sunday wasn’t always a day of rest!