From what started as a small group of passionate people came something vibrant and uncontainable. The mid-1970s marked the foundation of the church and the beginning of an incredible journey with God.
In the early 1970s, there was an incredible movement of God in Southampton, particularly among certain groups in denominational churches and the students at the city’s university. Those who knew God, wanted to know Him more. And those who hadn’t experienced the Holy Spirit, wanted to receive everything He was able to give.
Those students began to meet for a meal before their Christian Union on a Saturday night. It was a chance to get to know each other, worship and pray together, and they soon established themselves as a group called ‘Agape’. Yet, unknown to those students at the time, God was going to use their time together to fulfil something very exciting.
As Agape grew in faith and numbers, they gained connections with Christians in Millbrook Pentecostal Church and a group in Bitterne Park, who had similar passions for pursuing God. After some time of meeting together, the groups were established as a non-denominational church called Southampton Christian Fellowship, holding their first meeting in the Centre for the Blind on The Avenue on 2nd March 1975.
Though the leaders were generally young in age and faith, speakers like Ian McCullough and Bryn Jones (from a church in Bradford) supported them with guidance and sound Biblical teaching. Together, they created a launch pad that gave authority to their leadership and established their foundations in what God wanted to do.
There was a strong emphasis on discipleship in the early days, and home groups were quickly established, becoming an important tool in the church’s growth. Church members shared their spiritual and personal lives together in their desire to grow in their relationship with God. Home groups also created a sense of community that would become part of the church’s very identity.
While this style of church life pushed the boundaries of denominational churches at the time, the leadership team found there were alternative and more fruitful ways of doing things. With no denominational structure to fall back on, they had to approach everything by going back to the Bible and finding out what God was saying about each situation they faced.
As a result, they were joined by people – not only from other denominations, but also those with no church background at all. Despite the cynicism of other church leaders in the city at the time, the church was encountering real growth. It seemed God was laying the foundations of something very significant.
Although only in his mid-twenties, Tony Morton quickly emerged as the key leader of the church and served in that capacity, together with his wife, Hannah, for 25 years.
1975 – The church had its first meeting at The Centre for the Blind on The Avenue on 2nd March 1975, with a group of 65 people.
1977 – The fledgling church merged with West End Evangelical Church and became Southampton Community Church.
1977 – A worship group from the church recorded their first cassette-tape album, ‘God Reigns’, at West End. The following year, they recorded an LP album called ‘Selah’ at a recording studio in Eastbourne.
1978 – The church received the motivating and exciting prophetic words: “The glory of this house will be greater than the former glory,” which revealed God’s plan for restoring His church.
1979 – Connections from East Africa visited the church, and ministry works started in Africa and India.
“It wasn’t an overnight thing. It took a long time to get the church started. But I remember Bryn Jones – who had set up a church in Bradford in 1972 – prophesying, and God said, ‘I will build my church here and it will be strong. I will add many people to you, that you do not yet know, and many others who are not yet in my Kingdom. Be diligent, be prayerful and be patient – and I will build my church,’” Roy Pearson, Central Congregation.
“I remember we were incredibly enthusiastic and really wanted to be involved with church more than anything else. It was exciting, but I think we were probably naive too. And we weren’t particularly welcome in the Christian Union at that time, because we were all seen as a bit too whacky!” Sue Hutchison, Central Congregation.
“It became a really important part of our week. It started as a fellowship thing that established something quite special,” Chris Thomas, Central Congregation.
“It was very vibrant and chaotic. I’d come from a very traditional church background, so it was just like going from black and white to full colour,” Lizzie Cox, Eastleigh Congregation.
“There was an openness to God’s Spirit. He had captured our hearts and we wanted to do anything we could to serve Him. God was so exciting, people were just giving their lives wholeheartedly to meeting with Him, meeting with each other and just seeing what happened,” John Deagle, Central Congregation.
“We didn’t know where it was going or what it was leading to, it was just another way of meeting. There was a rich inheritance in God but it was like the Spirit coming upon us and bringing us alive. That’s what we were all heady with – and possibly over the top with, looking back,” Phil Orchard, Central Congregation.
“We started having Bible Weeks fairly early on. And when they moved to the South West, they became known as the ‘South and Wet’ weeks. Colin Henderson was the one that made them work. He thought anything was possible administratively to make it happen. They were absolutely manic times of fun and hard work,” Alan Cox, Eastleigh Congregation.
“We ended up running our own in the New Forest. They were a great time of solidifying relationships; meeting with others and realising we were part of something that was bigger than just ourselves,” Phil Orchard, Central Congregation.
“It always rained at Bible Weeks! I had one friend who turned up in stilettos and that was all she had for the week, so she had to go off and get wellies. And I remember being in a tent full of girls and getting told off for making too much racket,” Sue Hutchinson, Central Congregation.
“The presence of God in the first church meeting was breathtaking. The worship just went through the roof. There were some anointed musicians there and the whole thing took off,” Roy Pearson, Central Congregation.
“We wrote a lot of our own songs in those days. We wrote from our hearts and out of what we were experiencing,” Sue Hutchinson, Central Congregation.