NEW MILLS is a manufacturing village, of some 6,000 inhabitants, situate upon the borders of Derbyshire and Cheshire. It is surrounded by bare, bleak, almost treeless hills. And until recently the spiritual outlook was almost as unpromising as the physical. For a long time this district has been considered by Christian workers as very unproductive soil, and many of them have gladly exchanged it for more promising fields of labour. But at last God has, in answer to earnest prayer, given us a rich and copious shower of blessing and the desert begins to blossom as the rose.
A month ago several ministers met together at the house of one of their number to consider the possibility of uniting in some special effort to reach the masses. There was but one thought in every mind. All agreed that the largest room in the neighbourhood - the Public Hall - ought to be taken, and a series of special united evangelistic meetings held during the first week in the New Year. At a subsequent meeting of ministers and laymen, the proposal was approved and many details arranged. Mr Sankey's hymn book was adopted for use at the meetings, and a voluntary choir to lead the singing was arranged for.
On Sunday the 3rd there was a general exchange of pulpits among ministers. On the evening of that day, after the conclusion of the usual services, the first meeting was held in Mount Pleasant Chapel. It was a meeting for Christian workers only and was attended by 150 persons. A marked spirit of devotion and an earnest longing for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit characterized the proceedings. We all left feeling that it had been good to be there.
On the succeeding evenings from Monday to Saturday the evangelistic meetings were held in the Public Hall, which was lent, for a nominal charge, On Monday the promoters went to the building prepared to see but a small gathering. To their astonishment and joy it was comfortably filled, from four to five hundred persons being present. On each of the succeeding evenings the hall was crowded to excess, every available inch of sitting or standing room being occupied; and on some night scores had to go away, unable to get either into the hall or even near the door. The number attending the meetings has been variously estimated at from 800 to 1000 souls. Two addresses - very plain and simple, but very earnest - of about ten minutes long were given each night, the rest of the hour being occupied with singing and prayer. Never were audiences more orderly, more reverent, or more attentive. There were present many from the senior classes in our Sunday schools, many regular attendants on the means of grace, and there were also present not a few who had long neglected the house of prayer and been for years entire strangers to the sound of the gospel. But all listened to the hymns and addresses with profound and often breathless attention, and on many countenances were seen the signs of deep emotion.
At the close of each meeting an inquiry room was thrown open. For the first two nights we had no inquirers. On Wednesday we had eleven. Each night the number increased, until before the week closed we had fifty. They were most of them young people. All but two had been scholars in some Sunday school. The older people seem to be shy of the inquiry room. But the Spirit is working among them and in other ways they are seeking information, and coming forward and confessing themselves the disciples of Jesus.
On Sunday, the 10th inst we had three special meetings. One at 1.30 for Sunday schools. Four schools were present, and, notwithstanding the early hour, upwards of a thousand young people were present, and seemed - intensely interested. Our second meeting was a united communion in the Wesleyan Chapel at 2.45, which was attended by 380 members of the various churches in the neighbourhood. It was a glorious sight to see so many of Christ's people commemorating side by side the death of their one Lord and Master. We seemed to realise that "one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren." Such a service has never previously been held in the village since it had an existence. Our third meeting was held in the Public Hall at 7.45 and was for professed converts and for those who wished to become Christians. About 250 assembled, and a few earnest words of caution and direction and comfort were addressed to them.
So great has been the success that God has given these meetings, that they are being continued for a second week. Of the work of that week we must speak at some other time. Before concluding, we desire for the encouragement of others in other villages to call attention to one or two peculiarities of our movement.
1. We have never sought any foreign help. All the work of speaking has been done by ministers resident in the village. And there has never been the slightest difficulty or misunderstanding of any kind.
2. We have never advertised the name of a single speaker. No name has appeared on any of our placards, or on the handbills carried from house to house.
3. We have never solicited a subscription from anyone and yet all the money needed - some £25 - has been forthcoming.
"Times of Blessing," Jan 28th, 1875.
At the time of writing it is a shell after a fire thirty years ago and is about to be developed.