Thy mercy will not fail us nor leave Thy work undone
Following the Reverend Sparrow’s departure at the end of 1924, the West group was without a pastor for over a year. During that time the Cambridge Village Preachers Association held discussions with the individual churches about whether they wished the ministerial scheme to continue. Baton, Comberton and Cot on were in favour of continuing, but Grantchester had no way of meeting their share and while continuing to be served by preachers from the CVPA, they, for the moment, withdrew. Although Girton had appreciated Edwin Sparrow’s ministry, the cost of the scheme was a major problem and they were not really in favour. However they expressed a willingness to join in with the majority of the churches in the group. A few prospective ministers were considered during 1925 (one of them a Reverend Starling!), but without anyone being called. Early in 1926 William Mildred came to preach with a view at Girton. The members thoroughly appreciated his message and warmed to the man, but again doubted if they could afford their share of the stipend. However they were willing to abide by the majority and William Mildred was called to the pastorate in February 1926.
William Mildred was born in Norwich in 1867, and the four churches of the West group represented his first pastorate. Before that he had served as a Spurgeon’s colporteur at Hors-forth, near Leeds, for two years and then returned to Norwich as a member of the staff of the City Mission, later becoming superintendent of the Oak Street mission of St. Mary’s Baptist Church. He had a friendly, happy disposition, was a naturally gifted speaker and brought with him a readiness to face all the stiff demands of a scattered pastorate. Under his leadership the membership of Girton Baptist Church grew to thirty-one and the Sunday School, although never quite as large as in the War, peaked at fifty-five. The following item from the minute book describes the process of entry into membership.
Feb. 22nd, following a weeknight service the reports by Mrs. Cole and Mrs. Pettit was given on behalf of Miss Nellie Nightingale and also on Miss Mary Evans of becoming members of the Church. The reports were received in a very encouraging manner to which all present agreed to accept same. Mr. Mildred and one or two members then expressed their pleasure and greatly rejoiced at same. That both be accepted was carried unanimously.
The CVPA quarterly report on Girt on mentioned the two additions to the membership and also rejoiced that, “Several of our friends are requesting to be baptised”. Girton did not have a baptistery then and baptismal services were usually held at Zion, Cambridge, where, before a bigger congregation, it was a testimony, “For friends from other churches to take this all-important step and confess Christ in baptism”.
Something that was to be a problem throughout the next few years was the question of finance. When the ministerial scheme started in 1918, a large percentage of the cost had been met by direct subscriptions to the CVPA, but that source of supply was now dwindling and expenses were rising. William Mildred’s stipend was £85 and the cost of the Manse in Chedworth Street, Newnham, £44 3s 4d. To ease the burden the CVPA applied for a grant to the Baptist Union’s Sustentation Fund, the forerunner of the present Home Mission grant scheme. It was approved in 1928 on condition that the West group churches managed to raise £100 themselves. Girton held a special church meeting and resolved to do their best, but without making any guarantee financially. The financial report for that year shows that Girt on was able to contribute £21 3s 6d, Barton £11, Comberton £40 and Coton £20. To balance the books the CVPA was still having to contribute more than it could really afford.
Although much had been done in recent years, the members at Girton were still keen to carry on improving the church building and the next planned innovation was “The Electric Light”. As always it was necessary to hold some fund raising activities and a report of the main one, a sale of work, is preserved in the minute book:-
On Thursday December 16, A Sale of Work was held in aid of the Electric Light Fund in our School room, very tastefully decorated by the ladies who were in charge of the various stalls. After the singing of a Hymn, Prayer was offered by Rev W. Mildred who then introduced Mr. J.D. Thrussell a relative of Mrs. Upton and acting on her behalf (as her advanced years made it impossible for her to come) presented the Church with a Pulpit Bible as a momento of her long association with Girton and also to commemorate the fact of her conversion through the preaching of the late Mr Stephen Olivers. Mr. F. Cole, the senior deacon, in accepting same, expressed the thanks of all members. The Pastor then welcomed Mrs. John Chivers who in a gracious speech tenderly referred to the time when as a girl in this same chapel she listened to the preaching of Mr. William Chivers and the lasting impression made on her life. Mrs. Chivers then wished the Church God speed and declared the sale open. The Sale of Work and previous Concerts amounting to over 16 guineas.
The Sunday School continued to flourish during this period and several photographs exist of summer outings. When first organised in the early years of the century the treat had taken place in the meadow next to the chapel or in fields belonging to non-conformists in other villages, but now the outings went further afield. Royston Heath was a popular destination for a number of years and then in the 1930s the treats started visiting the seaside. During this period the Sunday school continued to meet both morning and afternoon with the children who were, “Regular in their attendance” being taught by, “A splendid staff of earnest workers”. It was also noted that five of the teachers were members of the CVPA, preaching the gospel in other villages. In 1930 a Christian Endeavour group started under the secretary-ship of Miss Nightingale and was much appreciated by the older children. A good number of them were also sitting the scripture examination.
Also begun in 1930 was a weekly Women’s Own meeting on a Wednesday afternoon. The first meeting of the new group seems to have been entirely devoted to various appointments. Along with the obvious ones, president – Mrs. Pettit, secretary – Mrs. Garner, treasurer -Mrs. Cole, the meeting went on to formally propose that each member should pay Id per week for a cup of tea and that Mrs. Foster should be responsible for preparing it. At the second meeting a Mrs. Smith from Cambridge spoke on the work of the Baptist Women’s League and the meeting decided to join at an annual subscription of 5/-. This was the second time that Girton had been involved with the BWL, As already recorded a branch had started nearly twenty years earlier, but its temporary suspension during the war years had become permanent. William Mildred had originally been appointed on a fixed term contract and in 1931 this came due for renewal. Something of the respect and affection for the minister is shown by the unanimous call that the church gave him to continue as pastor, without a time limit and that call was affirmed by the other churches and the CVPA, although finance was still a problem. To offset its own burden the CVPA now started passing some things directly to the churches and Girton became responsible for its own insurance premium (premises 18/7, workman’s compensation 4/1, public liability 3/5), superannuation contribution (about £1 Is 4d) and Baptist Union Subscription (10/-). However the finances at Girton were not healthy, a proposed renovation of the chapel in 1929 had been held over owing to financial position, and several times in the minutes the treasurer, Mr. Cole notes that the collections have been smaller of late. The usual solution when funds were low was to arrange a concert or a sale of work, but in 1930 the pastor suggested an envelope scheme so that the members could contribute regularly and twenty-two of the twenty-seven members took up the scheme.
At the centenary of the Cambridgeshire Village Preachers Association in 1931, the members could look back to the original aims of the founders and see that many of their prayers had been answered. The gospel was being preached in the villages around the city and of the various preaching stations that had existed, nine had developed into independent churches sharing the services of two ministers. The greatest change though was in finances of the Association, for whereas in the early days they were supported by some wealthy individuals,
who funded much of the building and running of the nine chapels, now they were struggling to support two ministers.
It isn’t immediately obvious from the various minute books as to who instituted the discussion, but from 1932 onwards, Girton (and the other churches), the CVPA and the Cambridgeshire Baptist Association are all discussing ways to support the ministerial scheme. A CBA committee minute from October 1932 records an application from the churches of the East and West groups asking the County Association to take over the oversight at present given to the churches by the CVPA. The committee understood that the CVPA supported this suggestion, which would not involve any severance of relations between them and the Churches in the matter of the supply of lay preachers. The negotiations continued for another year with the area superintendent minister, the Reverend W.H. Tebbit talking to all the interested parties and putting together a draft scheme for approval. The main provisions were that, with the assistance of the CBA, Barton, Comberton, Coton, Grantchester and Girton would take full responsibility for the calling and support of their own minister and to help finance the scheme the CBA offered a yearly grant of £30, diminishing after the first year by fifty shillings. The scheme was eventually passed in March 1934 and the CBA took over the financial responsibility for the ministerial scheme.
Although the Cambridge Village Preachers association would continue to produce a preaching plan for a number of years and still today supplies preachers for the churches of south Cambridgeshire, their direct financial responsibility for the churches they had planted came to an end in 1934. A comment in the CVPA annual report records that, “The CVPA is now relieved of such financial responsibility as the scheme involved. The relief afforded will, we trust, be a benefit to the association, enabling concentration upon the important work devolving to such a preaching body”.
Would a non-conformist chapel have been started in Girton without the Cambridge Village Preachers Association? It might have, though without the support of the C VPA it is doubtful if it would ever have survived the difficult years at the end of the nineteenth century or the closure in 1902. In the New Testament letter to the Hebrews, the writer tells us to run the race, conscious of a great crowd of witnesses from history who are cheering us on. We who form the current church at Girton have as our witnesses, those who belonged here in the past and those who laboured here as members of the Cambridge Village Preachers Association.