The contents of this chapter are drawn from a booklet entitled "When the windows of Heaven opened" by Rev Dr Roger Standing, who has kindly given permission to quote from his booklet.
One of the important ministries that sprang from the Moody/Sankey Crusade was the Liverpool Methodist Mission, led by Rev. Charles Garrett. The many thousands that came to Christ during the crusade was indeed something to rejoice in, but one thing that did become clear, however, was that the majority of converts were either church goers, or from the middle classes. The vast majority of the masses in Liverpool were largely unreached, and this was something that became of great concern to Charles Garrett. To what extent Moody realised this problem was not clear, but he did hold a conference at the end of the crusade during which one of the subjects discussed was "How to reach the masses." During this debate Garrett addressed the conference and said that it was vital that they found a way to reach the people and that if they remained enthroned and entrenched in their churches, however much they tried to get people to come in, they would never succeed. He referred to the poverty, vice, drunkenness, and defiant criminality of their city, and in particular to the large groups of young people who were roaming the city and terrorising it, who neither feared God or regarded men, and were the despair of the police.
One of the main contributors to the social ills of the city was, he said, the drink-shops that abounded in the city, which was a particular source of temptation and ruin to many of the working men in the city, and as a consequence of this to their poor families. He challenged the Christians of Liverpool that if they were serious about grappling with this horrendous problem that they would give serious consideration to a means of counteracting this by a proposal that he put to them. What he suggested was that a company be formed with the view to purchase a number of attractive properties in the dockside vicinity where wholesome refreshment could be purchased at a reasonable rate, and where the families of the dock labourers could wait with the dinners without insult, and without the constant temptation to drink. He said that they should attempt to make it easy for them and thus help them to resist temptation. Whilst Garrett was speaking Moody made his way to speak to Alexander Balfour to discuss this with him, and Balfour immediately agreed to give his support to this, by purchasing shares in the proposed new company. Many others followed and thus was formed the "British Workmen House Company Ltd."
The work of this company soon spread quickly throughout Liverpool and before long it had established some eighty houses (known as cocoa houses) in the city, serving upwards of 30,000 peoples a day. This was soon followed by other cities and it became one of the most successful pieces of temperance work ever undertaken. In the houses a large cup of tea or coffee was supplied for 1d, and as the work developed the company began to supply 1d tokens for Christians to give to the poor rather than money, which would invariably be used for drink. The 1d token would enable the recipient to go to one of the houses and receive 1d’s worth of provisions.
Dire state of Liverpool
At the time the Methodist Mission commenced its work in Liverpool the situation was somewhat dire. In 1876 for instance there were 23,756 convictions for drunkenness and 3,438 convictions for prostitution, with 818 known brothels, and it was becoming an escalating problem. The Mission became actively engaged in house to house visitation, and what they found was a deplorable state of squalor and overcrowding. One of the missionaries found one house with seven families, numbering 42 people. Of these, six had fever, two had been confined, and three were drunk. Another of them visited a court of ten houses, and the following is a record of his visit: -
No.1 – a woman was dead, and two others were drunk.
No.2 – a brothel with five young girls.
No.3 - contained an old woman who had not moved from her chair in twelve months, the house being filled with dirt and disease.
No.5 – a family with four starving children, two almost naked, both parents were drunk.
No.7 – another brothel, two men and two women hopelessly drunk.
One of the key figures in the Mission was Charles Garrett, but in the September following the Moody/Sankey crusade, he was informed that he was going to be moved to Bradford. Realising that he was too important a person to lose at this stage of the Mission’s work, Alexander Balfour visited Garrett and said that it was vital for him to remain in Liverpool, and that if he didn’t he would be unable to maintain his support for the new venture. This was supported by many of the Methodists in Liverpool and a petition was submitted to the Wesleyan Conference to ask that he may stay. Much prayer was made for this, and eventually their request was agreed to, this being something that rarely happened, and his three-year term was extended indefinitely.
The "Riverside Mission" was thus established in Pitt Street Chapel, this being the centre of their activities. Working with Charles Garrett were five lay missionaries who were allocated to their particular districts, and they applied themselves with great earnestness to the mission. In addition to this their wives also worked just as hard as they did, in house to house visitation, leading class meetings and generally caring in the community. Some time later they did in fact employ a full-time woman missionary, who reached out to the young women with drink problems, and also to the prostitutes, many of whom came to know Christ. The number of lay missionaries eventually rose to eleven, in addition to three ordained ministers who worked with Garrett.
During the first year of the mission Garrett suffered a long continued illness that prevented him from doing a lot of what he had wanted, but nevertheless after twelve months a total of 18,000 tracts were distributed, over 10,000 homes were visited, and 126 converts were meeting in fellowship/Bible classes. It became noticeable after the first year that people were becoming more open to the gospel, and more and more were coming to Christ. In the first five years of the mission, 600 people were converted and placed into class meetings. Over 60,000 tracts were distributed every year, and 200 open-air meetings held. Many of the chapels had to be enlarged or replaced by newer, bigger ones to accommodate the numbers attending worship. God so blessed the work of the mission, that after twenty years there were fifteen full-time missionaries or ministers, 3,000 attending worship at the eight centres on any Sunday evening, 2,000 children in the Sunday Schools and 1,000 people meeting in class meetings. In addition to this six homes for young men and boys were opened, and two for young women and girls. Furthermore, during a period of recuperation in the first year at Alexander Balfour’s country home, he had the idea of establishing rest homes for ministers, and two of these came into being during his term of presidency of the Wesleyan Conference in 1882.
One of the characteristics of the Mission was that they were prepared to do anything to try and reach people with the gospel. Many different forms of outreach were made, and I have listed some of them to show the extent of this: -
- There were between three and six open-air meetings held every week, in such places as railway sheds, dockyards, and open spaces. There were often between 500 – 1000 people listening to the preaching. Sometimes they endured great hostility, and at others times scores of them would be in tears, and asking what they must do to be saved.
- Special efforts were made to reach certain people, such as policemen, railway porters, and dock gatemen. These efforts were well rewarded. Within five years there were 400 of the Liverpool police meeting for prayer and worship. With the dock gatemen they had 80 men attending Bible Classes, with many more attending a service on Sunday afternoons. Two services each week were held for the railway porters.
- The society at Pitt Street having a large number of lodging houses around it started holding services on a Sunday in the houses themselves. When the Pitt Street Chapel closed in 1905 the work was continued at Central Hall, with over 2,000 people worshipping upstairs.
- Charles Garrett being concerned about the notorious group of young men known as the Logwood gang, invited them to come to tea one night at Wesley Hall on Soho Street. Eighty-seven of them turned up and listened to Garrett speak to them about Jesus, and many were converted and became members of the Wesley Hall Society.
- When Central Hall was opened in 1905 a Saturday evening concert was held with 2,200 people packing the hall every week. Though they were for mainly for entertainment the gospel was always proclaimed and many were converted during these meetings.
The efforts of the Mission were not just confined to preaching the gospel, but also to ministering to the social needs of the community. They realised that it was no use preaching the gospel to people who were, for instance, shivering with the cold, or whose children were crying with hunger. In the same way that they were prepared to do anything to reach people with the gospel, they also tried to care for people in anyway that they could. Here are just a few of the ways in which they ministered to people:-
- In one particularly cold spell funds were raised to serve food and soup. In one week alone they served 700 free breakfasts each day for children, and for a period of nine days they served 180 gallons of soup a day to whoever needed it.
- In one family who was suffering from Typhus Fever, whom their neighbours refused to enter, an agent went in, lit a fire, fed them and informed the authorities. In another house an agent visited a family in great distress. The man was dying and the woman had only been confined a few days, and there were four children, so he gave them food and a drink and looked after them.
- Visiting the sick was a priority, and there were many stories of people who wanted to hear the gospel in their distress.
- There were occasions when the agents would risk their lives, not only because of disease, but also through the possibility of physical attack. One such occasion was when a worker tried to rescue a young girl from a brothel, the keeper of the brothel threatened violence if she took her, having already lost three girls to the Mission. She still went ahead, and the girl got converted.
- The women from the Pitt Street Chapel started a means of caring. There was a great need for warm clothing within the Mission’s homes, as well as for the agents for distribute. They started a Dorcas meeting where they got together to make the much-needed clothing.
- The agents as well as being missionary/evangelists were also community workers. Often they would be called in as peacemakers in a fight or argument as people knew that they were fair and could be trusted.
- Finding that there were many homeless young boys, who were sleeping in empty houses (this being an offence), the Mission set about obtaining a house for the lads to sleep in. It became clear that the need was great, and this work developed rapidly, and eventually six such homes were acquired giving shelter to 200 lads each year, many of whom were helped to a better life. This was followed by the acquisition of two similar homes for girls.
- Pitt Street Chapel owned a house, which they rented to three old widows in exchange for the weekly cleaning of the chapel. This kept the three old widows from having to go into the workhouse.
To summarise, here are some of the wonderful results of the work of the Mission during its first twenty-five years in Liverpool: -
- In one of the annual reports of the mission it referred to the fact that the members of the Mission had become alive to their responsibility for the social and moral condition of the community. This certainly paid great dividends because during the first twenty years of the life of the Mission there was a startling reduction of the crime rate in Liverpool. The number of convictions for drunkenness fell from 19,280 to 5,657, and the number of known brothels fell from 830 to none at all.
- The Mission was held in great favour by almost everybody, from the highest dignitary to the lowest drunkard on the street. The people recognised that the motivating force behind the work was love.
- Many people came to Christ through the preaching of the gospel, both in open-airs, and during the chapel services. In one chapel they reported that from week to week at the Sunday evening services, strong men were leaving their seats, bowing before God with prayers and tears, followed by songs of praise. The conviction of sin was often very deep, and it sometimes took days for the assurance of forgiveness to be felt.
- Many of the people who were converted had their lives radically changed. Besides the large number of prostitutes who became Christians, there were also a goodly number of notable criminals too. As well as being consistent over a long period of time and very often dramatic, the change in a person’s life would also be immediately obvious.
In conclusion let me refer to what the Mission summed up as the changes in people’s lives as a result of their conversions: -
"Husbands have been restored to their wives; prodigals have been restored to their homes; outcasts have been rescued from paths leading to death; drunkards have been reclaimed; gamblers have become honest; backsliders have been recovered; and many who were lost have been sought and saved."
That is revival!