50 years ago this year BCM began when Edwin Orton started sharing the Christian message in the Bull Ring. This is how it happened…
Born and bred
Both Edwin and Dorothy Orton were Birmingham born and bred but they spent the early years of their marriage in Essex. They were passionate about sharing the gospel and were used by God to plant a church there. Edwin’s enthusiasm for evangelism brought him into contact with a London City Missionary, whom he often joined in his work among the seamen in Tilbury (many of them Asian). He tried to get Edwin to join LCM, but Edwin ‘wasn’t interested in city missions’! When the Missionary heard that Edwin & Dorothy were heading back to Birmingham in 1961, he told Edwin, “Start a city mission there, and look out for my men!” (Many of his Asian contacts had moved to Birmingham for work.) Someone else gave Edwin a ‘Birmingham City Mission’ letter before he left! …
From the beginning Edwin had been burdened for ‘the poor at home and abroad’. Soon after arriving in Birmingham he went to visit Miss Helmuth who had started a mission in the Balsall Heath area, where there were many Asians in the community. There were problems with this work and a few months later Miss Helmuth came to Edwin one day, presented him with a file and said, “This is the Birmingham City Mission. It’s your responsibility now!” Space prevents us from identifying and enlarging upon a handful of other people with the same ‘burden’ whom the Lord brought across Edwin’s path. The file and the burden were left unfulfilled for two years.
Finally, Edwin began writing to church ministers and leaders and although response was slow, God moved other burdened people into his orbit. They were concerned, like him, about the general lack of evangelism in Birmingham city centre. Edwin told me about one occasion when he happened to be in the Bull Ring. “It was packed with people and there were a number of open-air meetings in progress, but nothing evangelical whatsoever. I had a few tracts on me and I started to give them out. When the tracts were gone, I started preaching. Soon a man came and stood by me, praying for me, he said.”
Birth of BCM
The first minuted meeting of Birmingham City Mission took place on 29th November 1965, in the lounge of the Ortons’ Kingshurst (East Birmingham) home, where they still live… They worked for almost a year before the inaugural Annual Meeting in October 1966. There were weekly open-air meetings in the Bull Ring. There were prayer meetings and business meetings every month. All this time Edwin & Dorothy were raising their four young children and planting Kingshurst Evangelical Church, with Edwin teaching part-time at a local school. The first BCM Conference took place at The Gaines, near Bromyard, where an LCM missionary was drafted in to ‘explain’ what was involved in starting a city mission. Thus it was that many ‘pillars’ were established in those early days which are still part and parcel of BCM’s life today.
‘Apostle of city missions’
Edwin may rightly be regarded as ‘the modern-day apostle of city missions’, starting and encouraging city mission work in many cities in the UK, Europe, India and Africa.
If you are new to BCM’s beginnings, Edwin wrote the book ‘Into the City’ (and its sequels). Contact Warwick at the BCM Bookshop on 0121 384 3650 to buy a copy.