Devon Travels

By John Ellis

My great grandfather has been travelling around with me lately, although the Treasurer is pleased it has been at no cost to the United Reformed Church.

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Dawlish URC

At Dawlish, exactly 144 years after the present building was opened and approximately 200 years after the fellowship covenanted to form a Congregational church, I had the privilege of leading worship standing on the spot where he would have stood when married in that chapel in 1881. The Ferris family, into which he married, were early supporters of the new Congregational church and remained active in it for the next 150 years.

Not long after, George Ellis and his bride settled in Exmouth and became members at Glenorchy Congregational Church. His special focus was the Sunday School and a physical link is the desk chair he was given by them when he left Exmouth to move his business to Exeter in 1902. There he built the house that I grew up in, and where I stayed overnight on my Devon visits.

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New entrance at Glenorchy with secretary Jenny Newman and minister Robert Jennings

Both at Glenorchy and Dawlish I saw evidence of hard work to adapt to the 21st century. At Glenorchy the huge Sunday School buildings in which my great grandfather taught disappeared in a redevelopment deal that has given the church a splendid and well-equipped hall. The sense of welcome extends to a door that opens automatically as one approaches it.

At Dawlish the buildings are also very extensive and in an even more prime site in the centre of the town. As in a number of our churches, their outreach and community potential outstrips the available human resources from the church’s membership. It was encouraging to find imaginative ecumenical solutions emerging, not least through United Christian Action in Dawlish and District (UCADD) with an impressive Board of Directors and active participation from four of the town’s main churches. This allows the most appropriate building, regardless of denomination, to be used for each of the churches’ activities. I am sure my great grandfather would have appreciated UCADD’s entrepreneurial spirit.

While thinking entrepreneurially, perhaps our Retired Ministers Housing Society would like to set up a branch office in South Devon. There seems to be plenty of business there. I heard some good ministerial stories in Dawlish and my visit to Glenorchy included an entertaining lunch with a group of ministers who seemed retired only in name, including the Revds Peter Brain and Michael Diffey, whose ministries have included years of service in denominational roles. It was a reminder of the vast debt the United Reformed Church owes to active, cheerful, retired ministers.

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Great grandfather’s Glenorchy chair

To which great grandfather wants to add that his minister brother was in pastoral charge until the day he died aged 87, a few hours after preaching enthusiastically about heaven.

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