06 December 2023
In the heart of the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury Methodist District, the Black Country History Museum is a window into the area’s past. Here, volunteers tell the story of the primitive Methodists and of Providence Chapel, while providing Christmas services for visitors.
Cobbled streets and terraced houses help recreate the past at the Black Country Living Museum. On a cold December day with frost on the trees, volunteers in costumes wander around the village, mingling with the warmly dressed visitors. Towards one end of the village, you find Providence Methodist Chapel, with light shining from the windows and the sound of carols enticing people in.
“Peter’s carol services are a highlight for many visitors to the village, giving them a sense of how the chapel was a part of the local community. It’s a fantastic experience that brings the village to life,” says Anna who works at the museum.
Like the other volunteers, those at Providence Methodist Chapel are dressed as historic characters. They tell the story of the chapel and answer visitor’s questions.
Peter Clarke is a retired minister who volunteers to preach at the chapel. Each December he performs the 30 minute Christmas services for visitors to the site, “It’s a great time and a great experience as we share the Christmas story and sing carols. We get the chapel full, the sound is wonderful and people go away so pleased to have been part of it.”
The chapel and Christmas carols are not the only activity the volunteers bring to visitors. In the summertime, they get out gospel car “No. 11 Ebenezer’ and share its story. “Many of these cars were on the road in the past. They were horse-drawn and allowed missionaries to meet people who were unlikely to go to any place of worship,” explains Mavis, one of the volunteers.
Gospel cars were used by Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists, as well as the Church Army, to reach out to people at the margins, such as travellers and those living in rural areas. Up to two people could live and travel together in the car, preaching and educating people that they met.
The specific gospel car on show, “No. 11. Ebenezer“ was once displayed at Englesey Brook Chapel & Museum before becoming an exhibition of the Black Country Living Museum. “It tells the story of Methodism meeting the needs of the poorest of poor. People who were working on the canals, or in other travelling jobs. The gospel car went there to help them with worship and with literacy”, concludes Peter.
The next service at Providence Methodist Chapel will be on Sunday 10 December.