Chapter 7 – Influenced by Fire – Pastor Lawrie Cottam: Farmer, Sailor, Preacher
When the building project finished, all the men had lots more time on their hands, so Pastor Morgan started to teach us and to give each man an opportunity to practice preaching on a Saturday night in our home church. My first effort was the subject of the tongue. ‘The tongue is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.’
After the service, Pastor Morgan came to me and smiled and said, “You are going to preach again next Saturday night.” I looked surprised and thought, ‘am I that good?’ He continued, “Next week, you are going to preach on the exact same text, but this time you are going to give us the positive, beneficial ministry of the tongue. Tonight you were 100% negative. It’s a wonder they don’t all go home and cut their tongues out. Fortunately, they have great sympathy with a novice.” Faithful are the wounds of a friend and he was indeed my very best friend.
One day Pastor Morgan got a phone call from Jim Holland, the senior elder of the Pentecostal Assembly in Widnes. Apparently their pastor had moved to Yorkshire. They held their meetings in a small Boy Scout’s type of hut made of tinder dry wood, with tarred felt on the roof. Over the years, the whole building had received many coats of tar. They held a meeting on bonfire night. The last hymn sung was, ‘Send the Fire.’ They closed the door and went to their various homes.
Someone put flammable materials, or maybe paraffin or petrol through the letter box and the building went up like a tinder box. With it being bonfire night, all the fire brigades were busy, so there was some delay in responding to the call. Consequently, when the fire brigade did arrive, it was a flaming inferno, so they just stood by and let it burn out completely. When the church elders came the next morning, all that remained of the assembly building was an oblong block of foundation concrete, covered with grey ash. So Jim Holland’s request to pastor Morgan was that he send a man over to help them and lead the church. Pastor Morgan told me to drop everything I was doing in the church and go to Widnes to help them, until they got another pastor. So it was that I became the caretaker of Widnes church, for approximately two years, during which time we moved from place to place. First the community centre, then the first aid centre, then the Methodist church. Each service was in a different venue. The church secretary carried the hymn books and the communion things in a small case.
We just went in early, swept up the cigarette ends, arranged the chairs and held a communion service. The members of Widnes church were brilliant. No caretaker pastor had an easier time. Every meeting the church members would bring in unsaved. People got saved. The church grew. They bought a piece of land in Coronation Drive. I went to the local brick works and selected the bricks and then advised the men to build the church higher, so in future days they could tuck the roofs of additional rooms under the eves of the church. I really enjoyed my time at Widnes. They have been and still are very good friends, especially the Holland family.
They built a new church and the time came for them to have a regular resident pastor. I was their obvious first choice, but strange as it may seem, I did not feel called to take Widnes church on as a permanent situation. At this time, within a matter of weeks, I received an invitation to be the pastor of Goulburn church and an invitation to go to Buxton on a six month trial. If suitable, I would then become the pastor.
This put me in a dilemma, so I phoned Raymond Westbrook, who was at that time the pastor of Bromley church, in Kent. I told him my situation and he advised me to wait on the Lord and give the Lord time to work, rather than make a mistake, so this is what I planned to do.
At this time I was working as a heavy goods driver, for Tarmac Roadstone Holdings, delivering tarmac to the various motorways. The Lord told Nehemiah He could lift a nation up or pull a nation down, but I just didn’t realise how fast the Lord can actually work. This is exactly what transpired.
One morning I went to work at 6 o’clock. In came the manager. I asked, “What’s the matter Alan, can’t you sleep?” He said, “I’ve come to have a talk with you Lawrie. Come out on to the car park.” There he told me that the plant was stopping production in six weeks time. It was going to be a convenience transport depot, with only twelve wagons servicing the area; running out of Ashton, Whit Lane in Salford and Buxton.
“You have a wife and six children. You like working in Buxton. I can get you a very good job – a ‘money spinner’, working out of Waterswallow’s Quarry on piece work. You will get a shilling on top of your wages, for every mile your wagon carries a load. Do you want to work in Buxton?” I just stood for a while and silently thought, this is the Lord working, so I accepted Alan’s offer. He sent me to Buxton to have an interview with the manager and arrange my transfer to Waterswallow’s. This I did. That same day I bought a local Buxton newspaper and came back to Cadishead.
As Nancy was getting tea ready, I read the paper and there, in large print, was this advertisement.
Rent free 3 bedroom flat available to successful applicant
I turned to Marlene, who had just come into the house and said, “Would you like to be a manageress florist in Buxton?” She said she would, so I phoned Roseman’s, who said they would wait for us to come to Buxton straight away for an interview. Marlene and I shot off to Buxton and by 9 o’clock that night, Marlene, her sister Naomi and I all had a job in Buxton. Plus we had a rent free three bedroom flat.
Now can anyone doubt the Lord’s ability to work wonders in record time? Marlene and I moved within the week. The family followed a few weeks later. Sylvia got a job in a corset factory and Rhoda started school. Can anyone doubt the ability of the lord to move like lightning? All this took place in one day.
So we settled into Buxton church. The condition being that if I was suitable, at the end of six months, I would take over as pastor. I don’t want to go into the details of what transpired at Buxton, simply to say that after about ten months there was no prospect of me ever becoming the pastor of Buxton church. Our entire family worked so hard and we filled the church, but the harder we worked, the harder we were treated. I kept absolutely quiet and never grumbled. I never poisoned my four girls with complaints or criticism. One Sunday afternoon, just after tea, our four girls, Marlene, Naomi, Sylvia and little Rhoda, all lined up in front of the open fire. They stood in a row. Marlene was the spokeswoman. She said, “Dad, we don’t want to go to that church any more.” There was a moment of silence, only broken by Naomi’s fierce declaration, “We’ve all gone on strike!” (Naomi is the one with the temper!) I smiled at my four lovely, hard-working daughters and simply said loud and clear, “I’m joining you. I’ve gone on strike too!”
The girls just stood and laughed. Then I informed them of what was going to happen next. We were all going to go to the evening service, after which I was going to quietly tell the pastor that we were all going to leave the church and move to another one.
There were not going to be any arguments or harsh words or comments. We were simply going to leave – and that’s just exactly what we did. The pastor just gave a grunt and moved away. We returned home to the flat and during supper I said to Nancy and the girls, “When the student was cutting down trees to make a bible college in the Old Testament, one student lost his axe head in the water. The old prophet said, ‘show me where you lost your axe head.’ The student showed him and the axe head floated and he was able to continue cutting down trees. So, I’m not twisting scriptures, but I think it would be a good idea for us to return to Cadishead for a while and give the Lord time to direct us to where we should really be. We will pack sufficient food for ourselves and Granddad and Grandma Westbrook and stay each Sunday with them.
Then suddenly, a knock came on the door. I answered it. It was the Pastor. He said, “I want you out on the yard.” We stood together on the cobble-stoned service yard, at the rear of Roseman’s store. There he continued to tell us that he would not let us leave the Church, because we were the best workers they’d ever had. I simply told him that he and his family had no intention of turning the church over to me or to anyone else. We had made up our minds to go back to where the axe head had fallen in the water, but that if we were making a terrible mistake, we would return and take up where we left off.
I promised him that we would do that and we shook hands before we left Buxton. I found out later that several couples had been used in the very same way, as we had been used, some before and some after we left. Now to put the record straight, much to the credit of the pastor and his wife, they came to us and apologised when we were at the Minehead conference. They admitted that they had not treated us right during our time at Buxton. Nancy and I shook hands with them and everything has been fine since. Now the reason I have described our Buxton experience is this: during our ten months at Buxton, we learned a very valuable lesson. John mentions the principle that it is difficult for us to decrease whilst others increase, because the old unregenerate man doesn’t like to give the pre-eminence to others. Now, at the age of 86, the lesson that Nancy and I have learned in Buxton has stood us in good stead, proving that all things work for good, to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.