“Launching out into the deep”, must surely have been the principle on which a small group of believers gathered around a young minister, the Rev. F.B. Meyer. They were determined that he should remain in Leicester, after resigning the pastorate of Victoria Road Baptist Church. God in His providence kept F.B. Meyer in Leicester, and so began “the movement” which culminated in the formation of Melbourne Hall Evangelical Free Church.
After two years at Liverpool, F.B. Meyer had accepted a call to Priory Street Baptist Chapel, York. During the two years that followed at York there came an experience which affected his whole ministry. Dwight L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey arrived at Liverpool on their first evangelistic mission to Great Britain. They had been invited to this country by a Rev. W. Pennefather and Mr. C. Bainbridge, but both men had recently died. D. L. Moody remembered a visitor to the U.S.A., a Mr. Bennet of York, who had told Moody to visit him when he came to England. At once Moody telegraphed Mr. Bennett, who then contacted F.B. Meyer. The two evangelists arrived in York without preliminary announcement. A series of meetings was arranged. In the mornings a group gathered for prayer and afterwards memorable meetings were held in Priory Street Chapel. A life-long friendship thus developed between Meyer and Moody. F.B. Meyer never forgot what he had learned from D.L. Moody, that he must be himself. He was lifted from merely parochial or denominational ideas of Christ’s work; in fact F.B. Meyer became an evangelist himself. Later he wrote in his book, The Bells of Is, “Then I caught a glimpse of a wider, larger life, in which mere denominationalism could have no place, and in which there was but one standard by which to measure men, namely, their devotion to, and knowledge of, the Son of God.”
F.B. Meyer then accepted a call to Victoria Road Baptist Church, Leicester, commencing his ministry there in September 1874. Meyer entered the work with high hopes, his soul had been stirred by contact with the evangelistic ardour of those three weeks in York, during the visit of Moody and Sankey. No longer could he be content only for those within the influence of his Church, while crowds outside surged past its doors. The deacons agreed to a down-town mission, but the Church must follow its accustomed routine. F.B. Meyer could not moderate his zeal, and felt the best thing would be to withdraw. A small group of believers gathered around the Rev. F.B. Meyer. These few people, impressed by his enthusiasm, determined to stand by him, if only he could be persuaded to stay in Leicester. On Saturday evening, 11th May 1878, the group all met for prayer, the first Sunday service having been arranged to take place in the Museum Building.
The work grew and prospered; the room where the mission that had begun when Mr. Meyer was at Victoria Road, was lent to him by Mr. J. E. Pickard. The Paradise Place Mission Room in Oxford Street, near Infirmary Square, proved to be a great gain as an outlet for evangelistic work. Open-air meetings were held three times a week in different areas, the ringing of a bell gathered a crowd and the gospel message went forth.
After five months the assembly of believers formed itself into a Church. On Friday September 23rd 1878, at a memorable meeting, seventy-seven members signed a simple declaration. Their object was set out as part of the declaration:-
“AND SINCE ONE MAIN OBJECT OF OUR UNION IS TO SEEK TO EVANGELISE THE GREAT MASSES OF OUR POPULATION, WHICH LIE OUTSIDE THE ORDINARY CHRISTIAN AGENCIES, WE DESIRE THAT EACH MEMBER SHOULD BE, AS FAR AS POSSIBLE, ENGAGED IN SOME BRANCH OF CHRISTIAN WORK.”
Extracts from comments by Dennis Clift in the Melbourne Hall magazine of September 1978