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Aston Villa heads back to its church roots

CELEBRATIONS: Bishop Derek Webley with Ravinder Masih, of Aston Villa Football Club (right)

IT’S PROBABLY the only time staunch Birmingham City supporter Bishop Derek Webley will ever be seen smiling as he holds an Aston Villa shirt – but the special occasion called for sporting differences to be laid aside.

For the District Bishop’s church, the New Testament Church of God (NTCG) in Handsworth, which celebrates its diamond anniversary, is also the birthplace of Aston Villa Football Club, which was founded on the site where the church stands on Lozells Road back in 1874 when it was a Wesleyan chapel.

These landmark events were remembered during a gala dinner and awards ceremony, sponsored by Bristol Street Motors, to mark the NTCG’s historic milestone. It was part of a weekend of celebrations which included special services at the church’s new £4 million building, built on the same site and opened in 2009.

As he handed over a specially made shirt, Ravinder Masih, Aston Villa’s community relations manager, said the links between the church and Villa remained very strong.

He commented on how, when the final service was held in the old church building in September 2007, Villa beat Chelsea 2-0 at Villa Park. And on the day the new church opened in December 2009, Villa beat Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford.

PRAYERS

“And today, Villa beat Norwich 1-0,” said Masih. “It’s obvious that the Lord listens to the prayers of the team. I would encourage them to continue praying!”

Masih said there were many parallels between the church and the club, particularly when it came to the strong community links both organisations enjoyed. He praised the church’s Villa Cross Project, launched when the new church opened.

NTCG has remained one of the stalwarts of its generation, producing hundreds of clergy and community activists over the decades, who have gone on to serve in the UK and all over the world.

Focusing on the church’s past ten years, Senior Pastor Bishop Webley, said: “The birth, growth and continued development of our church represents a triumph of conviction and determination over obstacles of adversity, hostility and outright oppression and discrimination – all characteristics which the pioneers and founders of the church had to contend with. As we look forward, building on solid ground, we must respect the past and build on our heritage, but should never be held hostage to it.”

While Bishop Ruben King, assistant senior Pastor recalled how worshipping in a school hall for two years while the new church was being built gave the congregation a real sense of the pioneering spirit of the church’s founders.

Bishop Eric Brown, administrative bishop for NTCG of England & Wales and his wife were among the guests of honour. He officially opened the new church in 2009.

Presenters at the gala dinner at the Centennial Centre, Cynthia Spence and Iona Wright, gave out more than 20 awards to church staff and supporters, while also thanking staff from Bristol Street Motors.

Those awarded included: Phyllis Gayle, Bishop Spencer Anderson, Rev Janet Corlis, Rev Michael Stephenson, Rev Jacqueline Newsome, Bishop Ruben King, Rev Hermilyn James, Rev Barrington Mullins, Rev Marcel Simpson, Rev Annette Reid, Rev Marvalee McLean, Rev Gary Hayles, and Rev Dave Brown.

Ancillary award: Vernon Spence; Ministry award: Phyllis Gayle, and Exemplary award: Errol Wilson.

Church members who had received honours during the past ten years were also acknowledged: Ulite Malcolm, MBE; Sharon Bailey, MBE; Bishop Derek Webley, MBE, DL; and Beverly Lindsay, OBE, OD.

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