A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHURCH OF GOD OF PROPHECY, ABERDEEN STREET
Aberdeen street church has a long and interesting history. It began in the 1950s with the arrival of migrants from the Caribbean following the aftermath of the Second World War. Many of these new arrivals were affiliated to or members of the Church of God of Prophecy as well as other denominations in the Caribbean. On arrival, they were keen to find the church they knew and loved from home, but since the church was not yet established they were unable to do so. As they learned of each other’s location they would meet for prayer and fellowship in homes, sometimes moving from house to house. Two of the homes that were significant at the time were, 20 Florence Road, Smethwick, the home occupied by the late Pastor E. L. Plummer and others, as well as 20 Endwood Court Road, Handsworth Wood, the home of Pastor Cynthia Brown and the late Deacon Joseph Brown. The Browns were one of the first families to purchase their own house.
After a while news of this gathering spread and the group became too large for a home, so they began to search for a suitable place of worship. In September 1957 they moved to Grove Lane School Hall in Handsworth. Although the church was not yet formally organised they commenced worship under the leadership of the late E. L. Plummer. The Church was formally organised in 1958 with 10 members when Bishop Charles Hawkins became National Overseer. They continued at Grove Lane for a period of six years until they were given the notice to leave after the neighbours complained to the City Council about the level of noise and other issues. This was a difficult time for the church, and despite their efforts, they were unable to find another place to worship before the notice expired. However, it turned out to be a significant turning point for the church locally, regionally and nationally. It was at that point that Pastor Plummer located and purchased a building at Peel Street, Winson Green with much of his own funds, and with the support of the congregation. Although it was by no means a Cathedral, the purchase of the Peel Street building meant that for the first time they had complete control of their own place of worship. In fact, it was not only a place of worship; it was their social club, their school and their political arena to name a few. This also enabled the Church of God of Prophecy to meet the criteria to be formally registered in the United Kingdom.
The congregation remained at Peel Street for approximately 16 years where, in addition to Pastor Plummer the church was led by Elder Crossfield and Bishop T.A. McCalla. During the 1970s the church experienced tremendous growth under the leadership of Bishop McCalla. This young, vibrant and growing congregation with a young, energetic and charismatic pastor had a massive vision. There were some exciting times of spontaneous outbreaks of Holy Ghost revivals resulting in many people being saved and regular water baptisms, sometimes involving over 20 candidates.
At the same time, the church continued to benefit from a steady flow of people from the Caribbean. For many of the new arrivals to Birmingham, whether or not they were Christians, they not only found a place of worship, but the church provided a readymade family and a social network into which they could quickly be assimilated. It was also where they found a sense of importance and self-esteem. Given the often hostile environment, many had to settle for menial low paid jobs often well beneath their capabilities. However, at church, they were well respected as ministers and leaders, brothers and sisters.
It was during this era that the Peel Street Youth Choir was first formed by Patricia Womack nee McCalla. This was to have a tremendous impact on the church locally and nationally. It gave a large number of young people the opportunity to be a part of something new, exciting and fulfilling. It was during the latter part of the Peel Street era that the concept of a Gospel concert was first introduced to the church by Bishop McCalla. Although initially resisted by many, concerts quickly became quite significant as it provided opportunities to raise funds. More importantly, however, it also provided a place of ministry for individuals, groups and choirs, as well as a kind of spiritual/social event for people to attend. Alongside the choir, other groups sprang up such as the Spiritual Rhythm and later an all-male group known as Jerry and the Peace Makers.
Not surprisingly, by the mid-1970’s the congregation had outgrown what was by then a somewhat dilapidated, rat-infested building in Peel Street. Bishop McCalla had a vision of a large building with modern facilities, as well as the capacity to accommodate District functions and local church growth for many years into the future. After a short search, a piece of land was identified and purchased in nearby Aberdeen Street. Bishop McCalla led the fundraising drive with tremendous passion and with the support of the members. Various methods were used to raise funds including street collections, partners, selling various foods and other items, and sacrificial giving by the members. The church held numerous fundraising programs that often incorporated fierce competition between various individuals and groups. This often led to some members making tremendous sacrifices in order to give more than they could afford. Today we owe them a great debt of gratitude. The building was completed in 1979 and was officially opened on 14th July of that year, a memorable day for the congregation.
The Aberdeen Street building created the capacity for the congregation to continue to grow. And so it did numerically, spiritually and socially. At times Sunday School attendance reached over 400. In the early 1980’s it is estimated that the majority of the congregation was under the age of 30, of which the major portion were teenagers or in their early to mid-twenties. This environment quickly became fertile ground for ministry development which started at Peel Street. The Youth Choir, now “Aberdeen St Fellowship Choir”, grew from strength to strength under the leadership of Patricia Womack nee McCalla, Caroline Oliver, Joy Watson, Sheila McCalla, Charmain Oliver and Clive Anderson, and continues today under the leadership of Charmain Oliver, Anthea Small and Audrey Small. Alongside the Youth/Fellowship choir some excellent musicians were emerging who were the envy of the world. They served the church and the choir faithfully and at great cost to themselves.
It must also be recognised that long before the Fellowship Choir was ever conceived, the church choir was ministering in the local church under the leadership of Pearlina Howe. As one of the few remaining members from Grove lane, Pearlina Howe has been involved with the choir for over 50 years.
It is also important to acknowledge that the development of the church at Aberdeen Street was achieved because of the commitment and sacrifices of many of its members and ministers past and present. We must also give special recognition to the role of our women. Although they did not form a significant part of the leadership, the fact is women have always formed the majority of the membership and did the majority of the work, be it evangelism, prayer, fundraising, or church attendance.
Bishop McCalla remained pastor of the congregation at Aberdeen Street for a total of 22 years until he was appointed National Overseer of the church in Nigeria and Ghana in 1991. Bishop Oswill Williams who was the National Overseer at the time, took on the role of pastor for a short period, after which he was succeeded by Bishop Wilton Powell who led the congregation for 9 years. He was followed by Pastor Wilma Folayan who was the first woman to pastor the church. Bishop Bill Richards followed and pastored for a total of 6 years before being succeeded by the current pastor Bishop Paul McCalla
Today Aberdeen Street church continues to build on the foundation laid by many faithful men and women, some who have been laid to rest. Some who were among those starting the journey at Grove Lane in the late 1950s are still on the journey; we salute them for their faithfulness and sacrifice.