Beech Hill Church began life during the First World War in 1916 and was known at first as Bethel Gospel Mission. Its first minister was Rev. Sydney Key, who had previously been the minister of Otley and Wharfedale Methodist Mission. He was a conscientious objector, who was, at one point arrested for refusing military service. In its early days it met in a building on Mercury row which was given to the church by local businessman, George Hudson.
They met there until most of the building was knocked down and rebuilt to house the church as well as Otley Action for Older People. While the building work was being done the Parish Church allowed Bethel to meet at Musgrave Hall on Burras Lane. When the building was ready the church met upstairs.
Rev. Key continued as pastor for 30 years before retiring to South Yorkshire.
Eighties, Nineties & Noughties
After many years without a full time minister the church had dwindled to a handful of people. In 1986 they invited Martin Woodier, who had moved to the area for university, to be their pastor. Pastor Martin, as he became known in the four schools in which he did regular assemblies, continued as pastor for 30 years.
During his time the church moved from Mercury Row to premises on Myers Croft. Bethany Hall, as it was previously called, was gifted to the church by a closing Brethren Assembly who had met there. In order to have Sunday School for the children in a hall with only one large room, the church acquired two caravans which were driven to the site every Sunday morning. This lasted for a number of years until the church decided to have their morning meetings elsewhere. Sunday morning venues have included over the years: Prince Henry’s Grammar School, Chippendale School, All Saints School, and the Whartons School.
During holidays the church would hold Bethel Bible Club, which is fondly remembered by many in Otley.
In 2009 the church began to have its evening meetings in Ilkley, in part due to a number travelling from Ilkley to Otley for church. In 2015 the decision was taken to focus on Otley, though we still have a high proportion of members from Ilkley and the surrounding villages.
In 2013 the church appointed a trainee pastor with help from the FIEC training fund (the church is one of the longest standing members of this fellowship of churches, having joined in 1923). Chris Haley, originally from near Morley, moved with his family from Lancaster where he was then working as a student worker at Moorlands Church. After serving three years as trainee then assistant pastor, Chris Haley took over from Martin Woodier as pastor of the church in 2016.
In March 2020 the church purchased a property on Westgate/Beech Hill which had formerly been a tobacconist/gift shop. In April 2021 the church changed its name from ‘Bethel Church’ to ‘Beech Hill Church’ to reflect the new location and the new chapter in the church’s life. In May 2021 as covid restrictions ease, we will be moving into new premises and begin to meet. We plan to use the building for our own meetings, but also as a venue for other organisations and groups in Otley. We want to be serving the community at the heart of the community.
Watch this space.