on Bethel Church, Church Warsop
By Tony Naylor
February 1998 members past and present of Bethel Pentecostal Church, Church Warsop came together to celebrate Fifty Years of being in its present building. It had been a Salvation Army hall originally but had closed due to the war. It reopened in February 1948 under its new owners.
Every Sunday Mr Joe Tonks, his sister Cath and wife Marie made their way to Empire Street Church, Mansfield to teach in the Sunday School. It didn't make sense to leave the village where they lived, where boys and girls were running wild with nowhere to go, so they decided to do something.
Sandwiched between the Air raid shelter and the Warsop Vale Co-op was a wooden shop that had been a hairdressers, but was now unused. They made enquiries from the owners, the Co-op, who agreed to a rent of 10 shillings a week. A meeting was called at Empire Street Church and Mr Tonks told them of his plan.
The place needed decorating and blackouts put up because of the war, Mr & Mrs Tonks drew all their money out of the bank, £4, and with the help of Mr and Mrs Stringfellow, the local chimney sweep, who had been in the Salvation Army, and others they started to clean.
Children soon came to see what was going on, "is it going to be a Fish & Chip shop, Mrs" they wanted to know.
One November Wednesday night in 1942 they held their first meeting, but would the children come on Sunday. That Sunday ninety children jammed into the 19' x 11' hut now called Bethel. Still more came, so four meetings were arranged. Two in the morning and two in the afternoons. Before Sunday School they had to take feathers out of the girl's hair, and given back afterwards so they could continue their game of cowboys and Indians.
As the war ended a story started going round the village. Joe Tonks was trying to buy the Salvation Army hall, but they won't let him have it. Well it was true, but due to the persistence of Pastor William Davis of Empire Street Church, Mansfield, a price of £800 freehold was agreed and the keys handed over.
The building was a wreck, not a pane of glass, rubbish everywhere. Work started, glass replaced, a boiler to replace the stove, painted throughout, the work progressed.
One Sunday German P.O.W.'s from Norton camp stood outside listening to the children singing, they wanted to know what was going on. Mr Tonks went out to talk to them and took them to see the new building. He pointed to the wall behind the platform and said, "I would like a scroll with, "Oh, give thanks to the Lord" written on it". "He does that sort of thing", said one, pointing to his friend. The next day he started work and hand painted a beautiful scroll which was a feature for many years in the main hall.
The building neared completion, but there were no seats in the main hall. Mrs Cath Collins and her friend, Miss Kit Colborne went on a day trip to Matlock, they noticed a chapel that was closed down, they looked through the windows and saw it was full of pews, they found the trustees of the building, who said if they wanted them they could come and get them, so with help they did. The side pews were fixed to the wall so they had to use crow bars to get them out. They were just right for the new building which opened in February 1948.
One feature of the Sunday School was the much looked forward to Sunday School day out. Trumans buses were booked, sometimes as many as five coaches filled with children, bottles of pop, crisps and a tea urn in the boot. The first trip was to Langold Lakes, after which they went further afield, Mablethorpe, Cleethorpes, Skegness, Bridlington, New Brighton (through the Mersey tunnel), and Wickstead Park, Kettering. It was the only outing some of the children went on.
The move to the new Church meant the children were together, but the place was still full, so a Nissen hut was bought and used as a School for the under fives.
Sunday School anniversaries where the children invited their parents to come along were all well attended. Children sang together, in groups and solo's, even the boys were pressed into singing and recitations. Special speakers were booked and the anniversary platform from Empire Street Church was borrowed, till in 1953, Coronation year, a platform was made just for Bethel.
Missionaries came to speak to the children, stories from Congo, Egypt and Tibet. They taught the children songs from the lands in which they served. Speakers from the Bible society and other Christian organizations came to speak to the children. One group started to tell the children not to have bonfires because of the connection with the Roman Catholic Church.. Mr Tanks was heard to say, "they are wasting their time down here". Bonfire night was one of the highlights of village life.
Looking at photographs of church outings etc., some of the children became Sunday School teachers themselves. Some in other churches. The present Pastor was a child who started coming in the wooden hut. His sister Betty's eldest and youngest sons are Pastor's of churches, one in Liverpool, the other in Rugby. Land army girls, soldiers, even P.O.W.'s have gone on to serve in other countries all because JOE TONKS saw a need and did something about it.
A man should not only have credit for what he does, but what he inspires in others to do!