Chapter 6 – Building of Cadishead Church – Pastor Lawrie Cottam: Farmer, Sailor, Preacher
One day, the Pastor came to me and said that the church secretary had had to go and live down South, because of ill health. He wanted me to take his place. Well my concept of a church secretary was a bald-headed man wearing horn-rimmed glasses, with a top pocket full of pens and the ‘gift of the gab’. (Apologies to all church secretaries.)
I soon found out this was not the case. I, like Moses, made an excuse that I’m not educated enough for that job. The pastor said he would help me with any paper work and my spelling and writing too. Also he intended to assist in building a new church. I asked him exactly what the job would entail and he told me, “Well, we are going to form a work team. Your brother, John, will be the brick layer. I’ll be the carpenter. You will be in charge of buying all the materials and building a Sunday school on the spare ground alongside the old church. Of course, being a sailor, you will be also in charge of the rigging lifting the girders etc. All the rest of the men will find their own ministries and we shall all be labourers for one another. You will also be responsible for the scaffolding your brother will need.”
Friends, I could write a book on the four years it took to build Cadishead Church, but I’m only going to explain in detail one aspect of the work that involved Nancy and me; especially Nancy’s willingness to sacrifice in order to forward the work of the Lord. You see Nancy and I had left the old farm and we were now living in a small cottage situated on Liverpool Road, only a matter of 200 yards from the old mission. With the help of my brothers we had refurbished it and it really was nice and comfortable. Well, the church held a council meeting about starting work.
Before the church project could start, we had a problem to sort out. Right in front of the proposed new Sunday school and church was an old double-fronted barber’s shop, in which lived a couple who did not attend the church. Now the church project could not start until they vacated this property. You see, the level of the drains would have to be established and a manhole built and the pipes laid through this house, because when the new church was built there would only be 4 feet between the back of the house and the front of the church. It would be impossible to even open the church.
Houses were scarce and this couple had no chance of being re-housed. Because they were already living in what the council described as ‘suitable housing’, there was no chance of the building project starting. It could have taken many years before this problem was solved. Then an amazing thing took place. On the Sunday afternoon following the meeting, Nancy and I had just finished tea, when she quietly said to me, “We can solve the church problem, Lawrie. Let’s swap houses with the couple who live in the barbers shop.” I looked at Nancy and asked if she would really be willing to leave the nice little cottage and go and live in the tumbled down old shop.
Would she really have a trench dug through the kitchen and sewerage pipes laid down? Nancy said, “Yes and the old shop can be the store house for all the building material, such as cement, glass, paint and damp course. We can be resident watchmen and receive all the materials that are delivered to the church during the construction of the whole project.” I was lost for words, but Nancy thought it was a marvellous idea. So I went to the couple in the barbers shop and put the proposition to them.
They thought Nancy and I had gone mad, but jumped at the swap, so I obtained a civil lorry and we exchanged furniture. Nancy and I moved into the old barbers shop. On Bank holiday Saturday, John and I dug out a manhole and laid the concrete foundations and sewerage pipes in it. Then on August Bank holiday Monday, John and I built a manhole and broke through the wall into the kitchen of what was now our house. We dug a trench through the back kitchen and out of the back of the house and we laid sewerage pipes. In the meantime, Nancy had to walk across the trench on two planks, to get to the sink and cooker; to prepare meals and do washing up etc. She never grumbled once.
We did become resident watchmen. Nancy received all the deliveries of materials and supervised the storage of the same in the old barbers shop. Consequently, nothing was ever stolen from the building project and nothing ever spoiled. Odd ones in the congregation criticised what Nancy and I had done, but we just took no notice. We furthered the work of God in no uncertain manner, but this was just the beginning of the many times our family sacrificed, in order to further the work of God in various places. We had completed the Sunday school, pulled the old mission down and had started on the main church building.
A few weeks before Christmas, on the Saturday morning of the Sunday school party (which we were about to hold in a rented church hall) a knock came on the front door. What a shock I got, for standing there was my old ship mate Jack Wiggins, the radio operator of old 180. Grinning like a Cheshire cat, he looked at his watch and said, “The pub’s open Lawrie. Let’s go and have a drink for old time’s sake.” He stood nonplussed when Nancy confirmed what I told him about me being a Christian and not having been to the pub for about 10 years.
“I just don’t believe it. I’ve put you to bed dead drunk scores of times. You were never sober for three years.”
Nancy announced that dinner was ready and Jack was invited to eat with us, which he did. After dinner I asked John how he was fixed for giving me a lift with the children. I’d drive the bus and he could be the conductor! Jack asked, “What kids are these?”
I explained that it was the Sunday school Christmas party and to cut a long story short, Jack helped me with the children. He watched me playing party games and then he came back to our house for some supper. I then walked to the station and put him on the train, to go back to Woodhouse, Leeds. As we stood waiting for the train, Jack turned, took my hand and said, “I’d have laid 100:1 against you becoming a Christian. You are not the same man that I lived with for all those years on landing craft 180, but you are a far better man Lawrie. You’ve got a wonderful wife and family.” That’s the last I ever saw of my old shipmate.
About this time, just before the building project was completed, my faith was really tested. One morning I was working on no.2 tip, loading coal. I was the table man on the hoist. It was winter time and the canal was in full flood. A young deck hand had been across the canal to Cadishead for a few basic groceries, which he was carrying in a cardboard box. He belonged to an Everhard ship, called the Angularity. As he climbed up the ladder, balancing this awkward cardboard box, he lost his balance. He tried to save the groceries, fell off the ladder, banged his head against the side of the ship and fell down in between the ship and the quay.
I spotted him fall, jumped off the hoist and ran as fast as possible down the quay, shouting to my pal (Fred Yates), as I went. “Hey, Yatey, throw me a rope!” He did and I took hold of it and dropped down alongside the drowning sailor. It was too thick to put a bowline round him, so I put a timber hitch under his arms and shouted to Fred to pull him up. Assisted by Terry and George (two more of my mates), Fred started to pull the young sailor up from between the ship and quay. As they were doing this, I thought that if the ship came in, my only hope would be to go down into the water and get under the quay. Fortunately it didn’t. The men dropped the rope down and pulled me out.
Now, the reason I’m telling you this is because of what transpired after this incident. You see, I was about 45 minutes wet through, in freezing cold water. I had to cross the canal and then ride home on my bicycle before I could get thawed out in a bath of warm water. Fortunately, it was Monday morning-wash day, so Nancy had plenty of hot water available, but I started after this incident with asthma. I had it very bad for a number of years; more than seven.
The doctors tried everything; inhalers, tablets containing creosote and even breathing the fumes of crystals in hot water. Nothing seemed to work, so the doctor suggested I move to live in a pine forest in Wales. I applied to the forest commissioners and had an interview for a job. They were impressed that I had farming experience with both horse and tractor. I had been a sailor, so could handle ropes, blocks and tackle. I didn’t smoke or drink and they told me I was just the man they wanted. When could I start?
I returned home and informed my Sunday school class that I was going to leave them and go to Wales, because I could not breathe. One boy spoke out saying, “What about divine healing? You have been teaching us these past years.” I had no answer, so after talking it over with Nancy, I decided to turn the forest job down, even though there was a newly built cottage, in idyllic surroundings, with the job. A few weeks after this, a man came to our church, from Belfast. He called himself a back street preacher. His name was George Montgomery. He was to preach two nights, Saturday and Sunday. He was so good that Pastor decided to have an extra meeting on Monday night. As I sat in the meeting, George preached on faith and he used a very unusual illustration. He pulled a shilling out of his pocket and said, “This is faith. If any of you believe I will give him this shilling, come out and take it from me. No one moved, but as I sat there, something started to move within my chest, just as if something alive was inside. I jumped up, ran to the front and took the shilling off George.
He whispered, “Give it back afterwards, that’s all I’ve got!” Then he anointed me with oil, laid hands on me and prayed. I was instantly healed of asthma. I was so thrilled to be healed; I went knocking on house doors and got an extra 50 children to come to the church the next Sunday. The primary class teacher, my niece, said, “Uncle Lawrie, it’s all your fault. What on earth am I going to do with all these children?”
Pastor Morgan said, “Lawrie, tomorrow I want you to take a sledge hammer and knock this wall down and make these two rooms into one big classroom. That will solve the problem.” So Nancy and I did exactly that. I did not wear a face mask as I knocked the wall down. Nancy carried the debris outside. When we had finished, I turned to Nancy, who had black hair and said, “Love, you will look beautiful when you are old.” Nancy’s hair was white with plaster dust! During a full days work I had no difficulty in breathing. Praise the Lord!