On 2 June, 1979 the Palace Gate Centre was formally opened by Mr Peter Mills. MP, the Chair of the House of Commons Christian Fellowship.
The abandoned and dusty old Kennaways Wine Warehouse established in the 18th Century and next door to South Street Baptist Church, through much love, money and labour had been turned into a wonderful new meeting place for the city.
The church moved its lunch club over to the new centre which also soon became the home of the jigsaw library and local deaf club. Many volunteers worked hard to provide a place for people to come and know they were valued. With the appointment of a community development worker, the emerging Palace Gate Project formed partnerships that still have an impact on the city to this day, for instance, with the development of work for the homeless and affordable counselling.
Through 2019, we will be celebrating the opening of the Centre and forty years of serving the city. We are collecting memories of people’s involvement with the Centre and pictures so please do get in touch if you have something to share.
On Sunday 24th March, we welcome to our 11 am service at South St Baptist Church the Revd Brian Haymes and the Revd John Stroud. Brian was the minister at the church when it was considering its future vision and purpose – a process that led to the idea of the Palace Gate Centre being born. John was the minister who saw the Centre opened and worked with many others to establish it and see it develop. At the service, John will share his reflections on those early years and Brian will preach on “Being God’s People”, a theme he helped the church explore more than forty years ago, but still a very relevant question.
All are very welcome to join us for this celebration, which will include singing the hymns that were used at the opening of the Centre.
Current minister of South St Baptist Church and chaplain to the Centre, Simon Taylor, wrote the following article to mark the beginning of celebrating the Centre’s fortieth year:
“Over forty years ago our church posed the question, “What does it mean to be the people of God in the city centre?” Much debate, discussion and prayer then followed that led to the church giving up its purpose-built hall to take on the challenge of converting the dirty and derelict warehouse next door into useable space. When I sit down and enjoy a cup of tea in what is now the Lower Hall, I am truly in awe at the courage, commitment and sheer hard work of these visionaries. We owe them a vast debt of gratitude yet we know that graciously and faithfully they gave of themselves in love.
These wonderful sisters and brothers poured their hearts into the Palace Gate Centre and Project in service to their Lord; for them it was an expression of their worship of God and of their longing to express the love of this God to as many as possible. They were inspired by the God who in Jesus stopped with us at the point of our need and in sacrificial love sought to bring to us healing and peace.
This month we look forward to welcoming back many of the good friends involved in this process as we begin to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Palace Gate Centre. I am excited to hear their stories, learn from their wisdom and let them see how the story has continued. We will also remember and give thanks for those involved in the Centre and Project who are no longer with us but who left us with this fantastic legacy.
In the life of the Christian church today it can seem that we are often preoccupied with initiatives, strategies and schemes; we search for the next programme or idea that we hope might reverse the declining influence of the Church. The commitment made by South Street Baptist Church forty years ago and shared by so many others was a commitment to put people at the heart of what we do, not programmes. It was borne out of an awareness of people’s needs and aimed simply to get alongside local people.
The mural painted by our church member Joan Wolkers, shown above, illustrates this passion for people beautifully. It shows within the Palace Gate Centre people of every age and ability sharing in a wide range of activities. The motivation for this people-centred approach is to put agendas aside and simply love people in all their need and brokenness. At the centre of this outreach is the love that was broken for us, mediated by the Spirit of the Risen Jesus – a love that through its own vulnerability and availability offers wholeness and hope.
I know that I am truly honoured to follow in the footsteps of those who began this work and to play a part in its ongoing story. It is a privilege to be among you today as in the name and way of Jesus we strive to continue to simply love those who come in through our doors and pray for their wellbeing. As our city centre continues to change we will need to go on asking that question “What does it mean to be the people of God here?” and pray that as the Dove of the Spirit guided us in the past, so God will guide us still in the years to come”.