On faith across the pond
Before he was a full-time minister, Trevor Williams held the title of bread baker and flour confectioner when he and his wife, Pauline, married in 1968. Now, in addition to his pulpit duties, he serves as editor of The Christian Worker, an online news service for Churches of Christ among the British Isles. He succeeded Graham Fisher, who served the publication for 30-plus years.
Williams, who grew up in a Church of Christ in Birmingham, England, studied under Leon Crouch at the Wembley Church of Christ in London. He later studied at the North Ireland Bible School in Belfast.
They have served churches in Harrogate, Brandon, Northampton, Winchester and Bristol. Williams received an advanced diploma in Christian ministries from Birmingham Christian College and a bachelor’s (with honours, as the British spell it) in missiology from the University of Birmingham.
A father of three and grandfather of six, he preaches weekly and serves as a governor of the British Bible School in Corby, England.
And he still cooks, serving with his wife as chef for Bible camps sponsored by British congregations.
Describe the current state of Christianity in the U.K.
Like the rest of Europe, the U.K. has changed from being nominally Christian to being multi-faith.
The Queen is supreme governor of the Church of England, which means that at least lip service is paid to the Christian faith.
There are, however, as many Muslims in the U.K. as there are members of the Church of England.
Tell us about the church where you grew up.
In November 1865, a group of Christians moved into a 500-seat new chapel in Summer Lane, Birmingham. This was the second Church of Christ in this vast, industrial city, England’s second city.
In 1940 the chapel received a direct hit by German bombs and was completely destroyed. That same night my parents were also bombed out of their home. Moving to live with relatives, my mother came into contact with the church.
In time the rubble of the chapel was removed and a wooden hut put on the site for meetings. I started Sunday school there at about 4 years of age in 1952-53. Although my family were not members of the church, they allowed me to be immersed in April 1959, a few months before my 11th birthday.
In 1962, a new chapel was erected on the same site and is still used by our brethren today.
Now, 53 years later, what is the state of Churches of Christ?
I would like to say that our churches are holding their own — with about 70 churches and 2,500 members. However, numbers have been boosted over recent years with an influx of African brethren. A number of our older churches are hanging on by a thread. Our African churches and brethren have brought a faithfulness with them that is appreciated.
The U.K. churches are very generous with regard to overseas difficulties and will collectively gather funds for special appeals, especially in Africa and India. Recently, U.K. churches raised the equivalent of $15,000 after the disaster in Vanuatu.
We try to do our best to work together as much as possible.
What, in your opinion, has contributed to the decline in some British churches?
This may sound negative, but I believe that our churches have been weakened by British brethren moving to the States to preach. I am sure they have done a good job, but if they were going to go anywhere I would have liked them to go to poorer countries.
Europe is getting larger all the time and we need European churches — not American churches.
I know that sounds incredibly ungrateful, but sometimes when Americans plant a church it often leads to negative thinking in society — and often the church has to be supported continually even for the day-to-day running of itself.
Describe the relationship between U.K. and U.S. churches.
For many years the U.K. and USA churches have held a common bond. We have lots of “mixed marriages,” with some couples living here and some living over there.
Our American brethren have been very kind in financially helping many of our full-time preachers. (I am no longer supported, but I preach somewhere every week.) Our churches try to do what they can, but raising funds for a full-time wage is a huge burden on small congregations.
What are some characteristics of Churches of Christ in the U.K.?
One of the surprises I have when visiting Churches of Christ in the U.S. is how quickly everyone leaves the chapel after the end of worship. Some even go during the singing of the closing hymn. This is unknown here. After the closing prayer we will often sit again and talk. Sometimes the talking goes on a long time. Some of our congregations serve coffee to allow people time to talk.
Communion here is also a little different, usually with what is a mini-sermon given beforehand. In visiting stateside churches I have often found this part of worship rushed through instead of being the climax of our time together.
Perhaps because of the smallness of our churches there is a family atmosphere. This brings about a realization that we are the church and do not “go to church.”
Tell us about some of the stronger congregations and key leaders among Churches of Christ in Britain.
We only have a few churches that hover around the 100-member mark, including Northampton, Bristol, Wembley and Edmonton. Frank Worgan has been preaching for about 75 years and is our oldest and most notable preacher — a man who has inspired and motivated our churches and even now has a clear mind and a voice as strong as in his youth.
A note must also be said about the work of the British Bible School under the directorship of Patrick Boyns. The school is under the direction of the Corby Church of Christ and is led by brethren from various places in the U.K. I am one of them. We can no longer host a residential school but offer a variety of courses to brethren on an individual and congregational basis.
What challenges do Christians face in evangelizing the U.K.?
In my early days as a preacher I could visit people at their doors and they would have a basic knowledge of Bible stories. That is no longer the case. The Bible has been sidelined as irrelevant.
Also, because of pedophilia and the like in other, larger church groups, the church — any church — can no longer be thought of as a safe place. Legal restrictions have been put in place that can cause difficulties. However we all want everyone to be safe.
We rarely can have a discussion about Bible doctrine with anyone now because so few people know any Bible. Our church movement is very Bible-based. We enjoy searching the Scriptures. But in evangelism we have to now start at the very beginning. Fewer and fewer people believe in God, so that is where we have to start.