Making Smiles in Romania
As many of our friends in the church will be aware, August was the month of the visit to Romania by a group of ten based at Wigton Methodist Church. Travelling and staying together in Cihei, in North West Romania, taking part in a Mission Trip for The Smiles Foundation, were Betty Jagger, Margaret Ferriby, Adeline Fearon, Ellie Kerr-Logan, Simon Titcombe, Lisa, Dale and James Fitt and Christine and Sarah Mattinson who was our group leader, having made this trip herself two years earlier.
Only Sarah had some idea of what to expect on this Mission Trip. For the rest of us, at the start of the week, there was only a vague understanding of the extent of the work undertaken by Smiles, only a notion of the impact this work has on the hundreds, if not thousands, of Romanians who benefit so much from donations and sponsorships.
Some idea of the progress made by Smiles in this very poor area was gained on Sunday when we first visited the Tileagd Community Complex, the flagship of the charity's work. We saw a beautiful school, with 8 classrooms, showers, a dining room and a playroom for pre-school children. Linked to this, and currently mid-way through the building stage, is the Tileagd Community Church. Many Wigton people have contributed to this through donations and their support of Smiles fundraising events. When completed, the church will be welcome 300 local people and Smiles visitors in an area which is rediscovering its Christian faith after Communism and where many Gypsy families are becoming aware of God's word for the first time. When completed, the complex will also feature a medical centre and community gymnasium, addressing the needs of a disadvantaged community far away from the capital Bucharest.
During the week, members of the group took part in a wide range of activities: construction, gardening, Holiday Bible Club, family visits, childcare, befriending the homeless in the city of Oradea, tending to the elderly, packing food parcels, crafts, visiting a hospital for young people with severe learning difficulties, serving lunch to pensioners.... Each of these was a challenge - the word 'poverty' doesn't begin to describe the conditions many people in Romania still suffer - and demanded emotional resilience.
In spite of extreme need, the work of Smiles is not about pity. Families aren't given unconditional handouts and are expected to remain as independent as possible. Not all the recipients of aid are Christians, but they are all aware that Smiles is a Christian charity and that God's love is the source of the help they are receiving. Some will come to Christianity through the work of Smiles; all appreciate the work of Christians on their behalf. The Smiles Foundation workforce celebrate their faith openly and thankfully - it is the bedrock of the organisation and make it much more than 'just a charity'. Real love and friendship are offered within the support package, forming a chain that extends from Romania to Wigton, to the United States, and around the world.
Many thanks to all those who helped in fundraising - we felt that we were ambassadors for many friends from the Wigton area. A display of photos will be held in the Church soon.
For further information on the Smiles Foundation please see the following website: www.theSmilesFoundation.org
John Wesley's first recorded visit to Wigton was on May 30th 1757. He wrote "I rode to Wigton, a neat, well built town on the edge of Cumberland. I preached in the Market place at 12. The congregation was large and heavily attentive."
Wigton lay on Wesley's route between Whitehaven and Dumfries, a journey he undertook many times, crossing the Solway Firth at low tide.
He visited Wigton again on May 21st 1759 and on April 27th 1761 when he tells us more about his Wigton congregation.
"I preached at eight in the Market place at Wigton. The congregation when I began consisted of one woman, two boys and three or four little girls, but in a quarter of an hour we had most of the town. I was a good deal moved at the exquisite self-sufficiency which was visible in the countenance, air and whole deportment of a considerable part of them. This constrained me to use a very uncommon plainness of speech. They bore it well. Who knows but some may profit?"
His last recorded visit was on Monday May 6th 1776 when he preached at Cockermouth and Wigton before going on to Carlisle where he "preached to a very serious congregation"
It is probable that by the beginning of the 19th century a Methodist Society was well established in Wigton and probably met in the homes of its members but increasing numbers soon made it necessary to find a larger meeting place. Such a building was found, in 1819, in Strong's Lane (or Tickell's Lane) near to where the new council centre stands (on the old bus station site). The tenancy was short lived and larger premises were found in Meeting House Lane - a building that had been used and was to be used by several other denominations.
In 1828 "a neat and commodious chapel, galleried on three sides" was opened in George Street. "Beneath the chapel is a schoolroom and three small cottages. It is hoped that the chapel will prove a blessing to the thousands." It was built at a cost of £600 and was in use until 1883 after which it was converted into houses.
The Rev. Thomas Thomas arrived in Wigton in 1881 and it was not long until he decided that "the present chapel is in a very dilapidated condition, uncomfortable, situated in a back street, with no vestries, and the Sunday School is set in a dark and damp cellar." Consequently he began looking for a site for the building of a new chapel. He found what he thought was an ideal site - part of the garden and orchard of Westmorland House (now the Thomlinson Junior School). This belonged to Mr. Isaac Pattinson but he was prevailed upon to sell the plot of land for £243 10s. The estimated cost of the new chapel was £2000 and work began in May 1882 and the new chapel was opened on Wednesday May 2nd 1883. At the start of the day £98 7s 6d was still needed to clear the debt but by the end of the day £99 0s 10d had been contributed - 13s 4d more than was needed to clear the debt.
Throughout the following 89 years many changes were made to the building but by 1972 the interior of the church had deteriorated into a rather dilapidated state and it was decided to redesign the whole area. Two small side vestries and a central raised stage area (accessible from both the main church and also from the schoolroom) were created and a false ceiling was installed. The main entrance was enlarged across the full width of the church, new windows installed, a new pulpit was placed at one end of the communion area with the organ and choir seats being placed at the other end. The cost of these improvements was £4000.
By the end of the 20th century it became evident that certain major repairs (particularly to the roof) were urgently needed and also access and toilet accommodation for the disabled is inadequate and must be provided by the 2004.
An ambitious scheme has been drawn up to transform all areas of the church. The pews will be removed to be replaced by chairs, the floors levelled throughout, the false ceiling removed, the storm damaged roof repaired, a new heating system installed, a new main entrance to be created at the side of the church, extra toilets provided, the kitchen refurbished, two new rooms created upstairs and a new PA and audio visual system installed. This scheme will cost £405,000 and work will begin on March 24th 2003.
We hope that all this work will help us fulfil our vision for the future to:-
- call people to faith and discipleship in Jesus by word and by Christian living.
- build up people in their faith through worship, fellowship, Bible teaching and prayer.
- enable people to use their gifts in ministry within the church and in service in the community.