Friday, 7 October 2016

Since my mother now 91 years old, moved out of her home of 62 years and into a care home, I have stored in my spare room a large collection of paper work, written over many years by my mother and father. They were both involved in the Methodist Church since childhood, Dad being a Local Preacher and Mam leading a weekly Women's Group at "The Chapel" at Whitburn for around forty or more years. 

Whitburn Then and Now by J Gordon Holmes

When we look at these writings - readings, anecdotes, poetry and stories - with Mam, she remembers things sometimes and has forgotten them completely at other times, but she is always amazed that she wrote them and pleased that we can share them and the memories, together. One about people who collect things which we read the other day was particularly apt. It is a slow process as she finds it difficult to concentrate - as do I most  days. 

My Dad, who died in 1989, was a writer, musician, artist, local historian and aeroplane information collector, (I have written about this elsewhere) and was meticulous in his presentation of any aspect of his work. He grew up in an age where handwritten documents were the norm and like my grandfathers collections of information were made into "scrap books", a tradition that was passed on to us children. Many hours were spent cutting out pictures and articles from newspapers and magazines and pasting them onto sheets of paper, which were then labelled and made into "books" on our preferred subject. Needless to say, I remember many of my scrap books were entitled Animals and Nature, while my brother's were Aeroplanes and Space.

The scrap books and collections of other hobby type things are of course no value to anyone but us. Anyone today who has a plane hobby or an interest in the Lake District will I am sure get all they need from the internet - though I believe there is still an interest in Real Books for many people.

The boxes of my dad's papers labelled Local Preachers are of particular interest to me. 

As I have said, his life, my mothers and our family was to an extent, centred around Whitburn Methodist Church and incorporated many groups, meetings and clubs throughout our childhood and into our teens. 
Though our family was loving and caring, and I remember my childhood vividly as one of contentment, we were not very open in our thoughts and feelings. Perhaps this was a sign of the times, just our family's way, or a combination of both. I attended chapel and Sunday School every week and listened to hundreds of sermons over the years, some I understood, many I didn't. But I only heard and saw my father preach and hear his sermon on one occasion at Whitburn that I can recall. This was no doubt because we children left the service at sermon time and went into the "school room" for our Sunday lesson and also that the ministers and local preachers worked on a "circuit" of churches of around 12 in the area. If my dad wasn't preaching at one of these churches then he would be playing the organ at one of them.

One small brown envelope contains "Emergency Sermons" carefully numbered and referenced which was kept in the Vestry of the chapel, for those colleagues who had to take a service at short notice or for some reason had not prepared their own.


Reading through the documents over the last few months has given me a different perspective of my dad's thinking and beliefs. The Connexional Examination for Local Preachers on Trial, which my dad passed in 1952 aged twenty six is particularly poignant as it is based on the text - When I consider Thy Heavens which was the title of one his books years later. I will never know if the emergency sermons have ever been preached but the sentiments have been written down and so seem to me to have a permanency about them.

I have thought that one day I will publish the writings of J Gordon Holmes that were not published when he was alive. As the link above shows, I have begun with Whitburn - Then and Now and will do more in the future but for now I am content to peruse the thoughts and memories of my parents, from the writing on the pages.

Publications of J Gordon Holmes (1925 -1989)

In Every Age the Same
Whitburn-Then and Now
The Barbary Coast 
Churches of Sunderland North Circuit
A Winged Lion. Salient - The Story of 607 Squadron - series Sunderland Echo 1971