Earthen Vessel 1891:
Mr. P. B. Woodgate, Late Of Otley, Suffolk
Our brother Woodgate was born in the city of Norwich, and was blessed with a praying mother, who was a member at Princes-street Chapel and under the ministry of Mr. John Alexander. At the age of seven years he was led to feel his lost and ruined state by sin, and for seven years lived a rigid pharisee. He was, however, saved from its poisoning influence in a Baptist Chapel, in Kenninghall, Norfolk, where he was baptized and added to the Church. Afterward he removed to Deptford, Kent, and sat under the ministry of an aged servant of God, who preached in a chapel in Greenwich, formerly occupied by a company of French refugees. Our brother soon became established in the doctrines of grace and the sweet influences of the Eternal Spirit, which formed a delightful theme in his after ministry. Scarcely two years had passed away ere he was obliged to leave a business he too much loved and return to his father’s house in Norfolk. Again he entered into business in Lowestoft, where, by the grace of God, he was called to preach the glorious Gospel of Christ.
The following interesting account of the ministerial career of our brother Woodgate was given at Otley, on the occasion of his jubilee and resignation, as reported in our last issue. Brother Woodgate said:—
“The one who has passed through all this commenced his ministry at Lowestoft the latter part of 1841, under rather unfavourable circumstances. The people were somewhat divided respecting my predecessor; but feeling determined in the spring of the year to return to a business life in London, I thought it was a matter of small importance to struggle on through the winter; but practice increased strength, and love for the ministry, which, amidst many painful circumstances and much personal anxiety, continued for six years. During this period the distress of mind was great, arising from the fear that I had entered upon the ministry and God had never called me to the work. This burden became too heavy for me. I, therefore, resolved to give it up, and, thank God, with the help of a very good wife, we needed nothing of a worldly character. Thus I became free; till the fears and anxieties of the ministry were gone, but, alas! for only one Lord’s-day. The following week I was invited to speak in a neighbouring village and could not refuse. A short time after this an aged minister, J. Gowing, from Norwich, found me up and begged of me to go and preach in Southwold Chapel, to save it from being sold away from the people. I agreed to go. The first service evidently laid hold of the people, who would not be satisfied with an occasional service. They promised to renovate and clean up the chapel if I would but go. In this event I clearly saw the hand of God, and during a period of five years travelled twenty-six miles almost every Lord’s-day often preaching three times. During this period the Holy Spirit very much blessed the word. It was during this time the Lord blessed me with a conviction I have never lost that He had revealed His Son in me and sent me forth to preach His Gospel. Afflictions of a serious nature entered our peaceful and happy home. My dear wife was brought near to death’s door from typhus fever; then my eldest and second daughter. This event changed all our affairs at Lowestoft. In 1851 I received an invitation to preach at Carleton Rode, Norfolk, and here my first pastorate began. Being rather of an independent turn of mind, I had hitherto felt unwilling to undertake such an important step without being wholly supported by a people, so that my time might be given up to them. I had no objection to minister to poorer Churches and work at the same time with my own hands, but to fulfil the pastoral office according to apostolic exhortation seemed to me impossible. My ordination took place in 1852. Mr. George Wright, of Beccles, gave a very clear and definite description of a Gospel Church and the solid grounds of Nonconformist principles. This, with the questions to be answered, occupied the morning service. We had to be well drilled into the pastoral office in those times. In the afternoon the charge was given to the pastor, which has not been forgotten. Mr. Howell, of Kenninghall, occupied the evening service in giving some wholesome advice to the Church. After this I went to work, preaching three times on the Lord’s-day; twice during the week, walking many miles, and visiting the people. The Lord gave many seals to my ministry. Between 60 and 70 souls were added to the Church; many remarkable cases of conversion took place; some are living now to praise God for my labours among them, while many are among the glorified spirits in heaven. Here I laboured for nearly nine years, and considered my work done. Afterwards I thought I took a false step in going, where I was strongly recommended, to Mildenhall. It “Was here I suffered much persecution from men of corrupt minds, and passed through fiery trials.
In December, 1860, I had an occasion to come to Bury Station to meet my second daughter coining from Braintree, and being one hour too soon, I called upon my long-tried friend, Mr. Elven. He came to the door, shook hands with me, and said, ‘You are just the man for Otley,’ a place I had never heard of. He referred to the sudden death of my predecessor, and my reply was, ‘This is all premature; it will require consideration.’ I did not mean to jump to Otley as I did to West Row. I would have a better understanding. Shortly after I had a note from Mr. Webb, of Ipswich, telling me, if I was invited to supply at Otley, to go as it would be a change for me to visit the people. Then came the letter of authority from one of the deacons (brother Wilson) to preach three times on the last Lord’s-day in January and the first in February, and twice during the week. I accordingly obeyed, and felt such an amount of spiritual, gloomy depression on the first Lord’s-day of my visit, that I wrote to my wife on Monday, stating I felt quite decided to accept of some business position, still lingering to help the poorer Churches and work with my own hands during the week. On the Tuesday evening I preached in the very room where Mr. Thompson, of Culpho, first brought the Gospel into this neighbourhood 91 years since. Here I felt more at home, and here I had the first seal to my ministry. The next Lord’s-day I felt somewhat better, but left on the Monday for home not very much elated. The people begun to pray for me, and in March I came again, and thought the people looked brighter, and promised, if there was not a dissenting voice, I would accept of an invitation for twelve months, during which period we should know more about each other, and on April 6th, 1861 (my birthday), I commenced my ministry, and very soon began to observe the Lord had sent me here—very many pleasing proofs of the Word being blessed by those who came forward to declare what God had done for their souls. Then came the desire for me to be settled as their pastor. At the end of eight months I wanted to work on until the twelve months, but on a Monday evening, never to be forgotten—200 men present, and eight brethren prayed—so that I was literally prayed into Otley—they were praying times. 17 men were added to the Church by baptism and letter in the first year, 14 in the second year, 12 in the third year, 12 in the fourth year, and scarcely a year has elapsed during the 30 years without additions either by baptism or dismission from other churches.
There is, however, another side to this history. Many old members began to pass away by the hand of death; the warm and hearty touch of the hand was to be felt no more—their earnest, fervent prayers to be heard no more: such men as Samuel Ramsey, Benjamin Seamen, George Wightman, Elisha Staff, William Catermole, Caleb Oxborrow, Thomas Manning, George Gray, Joseph Dunnet, and others. These were strong-minded men, who never thought of turning aside from the good old paths of Gospel truth and Gospel ordinances; and, thank God, since their days nothing of the changed which have taken place in other Churches have troubled us. It has been 30 years of much spiritual union and communion, and often have we felt when around the table of the Lord the presence of the Divine Master, who has drawn our souls heavenward; but this state of things has not exempted us from many fiery trials, much conflict, and bitter temptations. Church discipline, at times, had to be brought into exercise, convincing us, with all our pleasures, we were no perfect Church.
These events worked for good, and we are here to-day, not to mourn, but to thank our covenant God and to commemorate His goodness for the abundant blessings He has granted to us during these many years. And now, as my pastorate closes, a solemn feeling comes over one’s mind. What an amount of regret, what confessions of imperfections, fearfulness of being at all times faithful to the trust, nevertheless gratitude for help, and never confounded before the people. What a pleasure and joy to know that a number of souls have been brought to Christ by the Holy Spirit through my ministry. It is, however, all of grace, and when I die I shall be like that redeemed soul who has never opened his mouth in the ministry—a sinner saved by grace. Like the traveller, I have reached the end of my pastoral journey. Like the mariner, I have encountered many a storm, crossing its seas, and am about to enter the harbour. Like the soldier, I have fought the good fight, and am about to lay down my weapons at the feet of my great Sovereign and Commander, King Jesus. And I wish for you the blessings of our covenant God: may He send you a more successful minister. Brethren and sisters in Christ, be of one mind live in peace and the God of love and peace be with you.”