The Stoke Newington Seventh Day Adventist Church situated at 15-17 Yoakley Road, North London celebrated its fortieth year in August 2005. Stokey (as it is affectionately called) can trace its roots from its humble beginnings in the home of former members Brother and Sister Noel Ashley at Mildenhall Road, Lower Clapton. It was there that Bible Studies and Prayer Meetings took place attended by around 12 people.
This fledging group, drawn from the Holloway Church and the former New Gallery Centre soon grew large enough to seek alternative accommodation. The group stepped out in faith to a rented building – The Friends Meeting Hall (its present site) – with a graveyard at the rear of the building. Children of those days played amongst the headstones and their friends teased them about their church having a graveyard. This hall was so small and awkwardly constructed that it posed a problem for the rostrum. It was repositioned in three different areas before suitably placed. Members can remember that it was an empty hall and chairs had to be borrowed to sit on. As time went on a request was made to the South England Conference for a pastor and this group was placed under the pastoral care of Pastor Nicholson who later died suddenly.
By the 1st January 1966 the membership grew to about 60 and The Stoke Newington group was organized into a church. The first ordained elder was Brother Noel Ashley who was assisted by Brothers Robertson and Gumms. Other pioneers of this early house group were Brother & Sister Bishop, Brother and Sister Bruce, Brother and Sister Morrison, Brother & Sister Russell, Sister Foreman, Brother Gomez, Sister Alleynne and Sister Thompson. Membership continued to grow under the new ministries of Pastors D C Clothier (1966-1968) and S H Parkins (1968-1969) who took over from Pastor Nicholson.
There was the possibility of purchasing the building and part of the land in 1966 but as money and other factors prevented this venture, the plan was changed from purchasing to continued tenancy. As the church became known this side of London overcrowding in the hall on Sabbath mornings was a problem. In those days worshippers made a point of duty to get to church early just to get a seat. Pastor Desmond Murtagh took over from Pastor Parkins in 1970. As the new decade stepped in many changes were considered.
One of the main items on the agenda was expansion. Before this could take place, the building and part of the land had to be owned by the church. A renewed approach to purchasing this was made and by 1973 by God’s help this was achieved.
The building and land was purchased for £40,000. By then the church was in a better financial position to go through with this under the leadership of Pastor Theodore McCleary who took over the reins from Pastor Murtagh in 1973. Under Pastor McCleary’s leadership the church experienced its largest growth. The Youth Hall (known as the prefab) at the rear of the church building was constructed to facilitate youth activities in the church.
Pastor McCleary’s ministry continued until 1975 when he was called to serve as Personal Ministries Director at the South England Conference. Pastor Cieslar succeeded him.
As worship continued to become unbearably crowded at Sabbath morning services some members decided to branch out into new territories. In 1977 the Hackney company was formed and is now an organized church.
The new decade saw Pastor Hugo Kennedy took over the ministry from Pastor Cieslar. Pastor Kennedy did his internship under Pastor Cieslar and holds the record as the longest serving pastor so far.
During Pastor Kennedy’s pastoral care, the Youth Hall was transformed into a youth church because of the number of youths around at the time. His burden for the youth was to develop their talents and train them for greater service to the church which proved a heaven sent inspiration.
Many of the young people at Stokey and surrounding churches received preaching training and practice and have developed into the leaders of today’s church such as Stokey’s own son, Pastor Stephen Mckenzie and others such as Pastor Gifford Rhamie, Pastor Eddie Hypolite, Pastor Colin Stewart, Pastor Sam Davies, Dr Richard De Lisser, Dr Fitzroy Graham, and Brother Stephen Weekes, first elder of the Leytonstone Church, to name just a few. The construction of the prefab building was not all plain sailing because there were many stops and starts at some stages because of red tape at the local council but there was a sigh of relief when it was finally completed. Many members can remember helping to dig the foundation for this hall and the unity and enthusiasm there was in doing so.
As evangelism has always been the major aim and thrust of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, public tent meeting evangelistic campaigns started up in London with such preachers as Dick Baron, and this resulted in new members added to the various churches in London including Stokey. These new additional members continued the problem of overcrowding and the Clapton and Leytonstone churches eventually formed out of Stokey.
After the birth of these daughters a major expansion programme was considered under Pastor Kennedy’s ministry to facilitate future additions of members. Plans were in hand but Pastor Kennedy’s ministry came to an end in 1983 and Pastor Hymers Wilson took over. Pastor Wilson continued to work on this plan and all the necessary wheels set in motion to start this expansion, but unfortunately he too was called to serve in the South England Conference as Stewardship Director before this expansion started.
Pastor Carl Thorpe took over from Pastor Wilson in 1986 ready for the expansion to begin. Before this could start it was realized that extra land was needed, so a piece of the graveyard was purchased from the owners, the Quakers Society, which meant exhuming some of the bodies and removing headstones. Application to the Home Office and the local council had to be submitted for approval to do so, and this approval took almost a year to come through. An undertaker was hired and screens were erected only around the area to keep out the prying eyes of neighbours. However, the undertaker hadn’t envisaged that neighbours in high overlooking buildings could see the proceedings and of course they probably thought it was a filming of the Body Snatchers movie because the police and the local council were informed of what was going on. However, with the exhumation completed, the church expansion started.
The existing hall was extended to include the lower and upper platforms; two wings were added on either side and the building of a baptismal pool. The pastor’s vestry extended, a baby and mother’s room added, an existing cupboard converted into a disabled toilet and a large hall at the side added. Members were encouraged to donate family chairs for the sanctuary and today many of the chairs were bought by individual families.
Members today can remember how cold it was in winter because all through the expansion, worship still took place in the hall rather than seeking alternate place to worship. At one area of the church a canvass was put up for the retaining wall. Many a paraffin heaters were the form of heating in those days. Today we have gas central heating, wall to wall carpet and a spacious building to worship in – a far cry from the old days. It is said that Stoke Newington is the only church that raised the dead.
The decade saw the arrival of Pastor Richard Holder who had taken over from Pastor Thorpe in 1991.
Under Pastor Holder’s ministry the finishing touches were added to the church such as wall to wall carpets with matching drapes. A door was erected to connect the Mother and Baby room to the Sanctuary. Permission was also granted by the Quakers Society to use the burial ground as a car park.
Two columns which held up the main partition wall of the entrance to the Sanctuary seemed problematic. To get into the Sanctuary one had to more or less dance around them. It was a great problem to get caskets through when there was a funeral service so Pastor Holder decided to get rid of these columns to provide easier access. A Rolls Steel Joist (RSJ) was erected along the full length of the existing beam as reinforcement. The two entrance doors to the Sanctuary at either end were removed and a double door placed in the centre, with glass panels added, we have the entrance constructed as it is today. By removing these columns they created more space in the Sanctuary.
There were also alterations to the foyer to extend it. Pastor Holder is also noted for the three angels wall to wall carpet design that are treaded on each week as well as licensing the church for wedding ceremonies.
The first wedding held was that of William and Iris Hand and it has ever since become a popular venue for weddings. Pastor Holder’s ministry at Stoke Newington ended in December 1996 and Pastor Wayne Odle succeeded him in January 1997.
Pastor Odle’s ministry at Stoke Newington will always be remembered for his determination to get the remaining mortgage on the church building paid off and have it dedicated.
The last mortgage repayment was made in September 1999 and dedication planned for the 1st January 2000 but unfortunately Pastor Odle’s ministry came to an end in 1999 before the dedication took place when he left to pursue further studies in the United States. However he was invited back to the dedication in 2000 which he accepted and with his family they joined in the celebration. Pastor Odle’s ministry also introduced us to the world of technology with the broadcasting of the Net 98 series conducted by Dwight Nelson. Nightly a sizeable crowd attended. Under his ministry the well awaited church library was opened where members could have the use of books from the well-stocked bookcase built by our elder Lascelles Mackenzie. Pastor Odle also co-ordinated the Area 6c Substance Abuse Rally. A march from the church to Downs Park took place under police escort, where Pastor Richard Willis, the British Union Conference Health and Temperance Director, addressed the public. Leaflets were handed out along the march route giving advice on coming off hard substances, which the public made full use of.
Dr Richard de Lisser took over from Pastor Odle in 1999 and preparation took place for the dedication of the church on 1st January 2000. Prior to the dedication some internal decorations took place such as replacing worn carpets in the Mother & Baby Room, the pastor’s vestry and the hall with laminated floors. Pastor Don McFarlane, the South England Conference president was the main speaker for the Divine Service. One of the highlights of the dedication weekend was the baptism of three precious souls, Sharon Hewitt, Marie Justin and Carlene Riley-Cane.
Dr de Lisser’s arrival also introduced a new type of evangelism. From 2001-2004 from January to March this involved the use of the Divine Service hour in presenting evangelistic orientated sermons which ended with a baptism. Since his arrival there has been a baptism every quarter. He also introduced the church to computer and internet facilities.
Under his ministry, we saw the building of a new porch to the front of the church by our elder Lascelles Mckenzie, to commemorate the church’s 40th anniversary.
Dr de Lisser’s ministry also saw the opening of a weekly day centre (The Open Door Drop-in Centre), an outreach project for the homeless and vulnerable people in the borough where they can meet to socialise, given hot nourishing meals, good quality clothing, any necessary help, advice and information, to help them settle back into the community.
While the soul winning emphasis continues, the social welfare of the church was not neglected and to keep the members active and happy over the years, there were programmes like the Best Saturday Night where people from all around the London churches attended, midnight hikes, AYS exchange programmes, outings to various parts of the country, both for the younger and older members, cookery classes, first aid classes, park visits, a vibrant Pathfinder group, Master Guide classes, Vacation Bible School, banquets, summer camps and the annual family camp meeting and meeting in each others houses on Friday nights for worship. Today some of these activities are still going on.
Special wedding anniversaries have been celebrated over the years. Brother and Sister Henderson, Brother and Sister Corea, Brother and Sister Stewart silver anniversaries, Brother and Sister Ebanks, Brother and Sister Edwards and Brother and Sister Foster, ruby anniversaries and Brother and Sister Valentine celebrated both golden and diamond anniversaries.
In days gone by the annual ingathering programme was a competitive activity that members looked forward to and always reached their assigned goal. Everyone taking part strived to be the champion collector. Members would go out in a van to Bletchley in Berkshire for the whole day and split up in pairs and worked their territories.
Some of the residents in these areas looked forward to seeing them each year and even saved monies in tins to give to the ingathering team. Unfortunately the competitive spirit of ingathering is not so now.
Our first media exposure was under the ministry of Pastor Richard Holder with the screening on national television of part of the divine service and over the years church events are published in the Jamaica Weekly Gleaner, the Voice and the Hackney Gazette. One of our young people Matthew Joseph featured in his local paper when he became the junior major of his borough, Waltham Forest.
In the 1980s some of the first pupils attended the John Loughborough School came from Stokey. Another way of support to this school under Dr Valley’s headship, was the donation of a computer from the Home School Department. Hyland House and Stanborough Park schools also had Stokey’s support and at one stage nearly 12 children from Stokey attended Hyland House School under Sister Thorpe’s headship.
The then Home and School Department of the church purchased a mini van and members can still remember Brother Bulgin transporting children in this van to the Hyland House and John Loughborough Schools. Today children from Stokey still attend all three church schools.
Our children of yesterday are all doing well in their respected fields of work and our present day young people and children are excelling in their studies but mention should be made of Cheryl Stewart. As an undergraduate at the time at the University of East London, she was awarded the Tallow Chandlers/Duncan Knight Scholarship for outstanding achievement in Life Science at the university. And in 2004, Leon Johnson obtained a mayoral award in his London borough for his high academic achievement in primary school.
In recent years a day nursery for children ages 1-5 was opened in the church hall by two of our members Michael and Debbie Wilson and some of our children benefited from this early education. Due to stiff competition from other nurseries in the area after a while this proved unproductive to continue operations and had to close.
In 2000 a Community School of Ministry opened in the church, offering pastoral care and counselling courses and two graduations held so far.