Category Archives: Ashton-under-Lyne Blog

The Transfiguration – 2 Kings 2:1-12; Mark 9:2-9; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (and Colossians 1:15-20)

The Transfiguration.

Our Lectionary ensures that we encounter the Transfiguration twice this year. On the Sunday Next Before Lent (14th February 2021) and on the Feast of the Transfiguration (6th August 2021).

The lectionary readings set for 14th February 2021 are:

2 Kings 2: 1-12, 2 Corinthians 4: 3-6; and Mark 9: 2-9.

The first of these readings is the story of Elijah’s transfiguration in the moments before his death. In 2 Corinthians, Paul talks of a kind of transfiguration in our hearts as we see Christ revealed in his glory. Mark’s short account of the Transfiguration, places Jesus, Moses and Elijah together at the top of a mountain.

Not in 2 Corinthians but elsewhere in the letters attributed to him, Paul struggles to impress on us the nature and importance of  Jesus as God’s Son. In Colossians 1:15-20, Paul writes:

Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Paul and others like him were doing Christ-centered theology for the first time. They had met with the risen Jesus, some had lived alongside him for at least three years, and they were all struggling to put into words and ideas the reality of what they had encountered.

Paul talks, in that letter to the Colossians, of Jesus as the image of the invisible God, as someone in whom the whole Godhead dwells bodily. … He has begun to realise just exactly who Jesus was and is, and it excites him. And in that passage from Colossians it’s as though, words tumble out as Paul realises just what it all means. We can almost feel his longing that his readers will understand too.

The story of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9) is part of the same kind of process going on for Peter. Up to this point, he has seen Jesus healing, he has felt his own poverty and sinfulness alongside the richness of Jesus character, he has listened to Jesus speaking, he has seen his wisdom and listened to his parables and gradually it has become clearer to him that Jesus is more than just a special person, but try as he might he can’t get his head around it all. In the verses immediately preceding our Gospel reading he has hesitantly voiced what is inside his head. “You are the Messiah, the Holy one of God,” he says to Jesus.

But ultimately he still isn’t sure what he means … and then comes the Transfiguration. He sees Jesus and Moses and Elijah together and he believes he’s worked it out. He places Jesus on the highest pedestal that his mind can comprehend. Jesus is the equal of Moses and Elijah, perhaps the greatest prophet ever. And for a Jew, that was saying something!

And Peter wants to build booths, small shrines, little churches. His leader, his master, is in his mind the equal of Moses, the equal of Elijah. This needs to be marked.

And then he hears God speak: … “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him.” Listen only to him.

Peter discovers that he has not gone far enough. His own mind just was not big enough to comprehend who Jesus was, who Jesus is. The truth was just so much bigger than he ever thought.

And we are left with the same revelation – Jesus is bigger than our own ideas of him. God is beyond our comprehension and we will only begin to understand God, to relate to God if we relate to Jesus. And we will only do that if we allow ourselves to see God’s revelation of Jesus. The lesson of the Transfiguration is that creating our own image of Jesus, of God, achieves little. All it does is bring God down to our own level. And depending on our own perspective we create a Christ who is meek and mild, or a Christ who is white rather than a Jew, a red-haired handsome specimen of humanity; or perhaps we might create Christ as the freedom fighter, the revolutionary, the liberator, or we see him as the social reformer.

“No,” says God, “Jesus is bigger than all of this – he is my Son. You can’t pin him down. You can’t domesticate him. He is there to challenge you, to save you, to draw the best out of you. Listen to him.”

We are intended to be dazzled by the light of Jesus face. To be drawn to him, and to see the world fade into dimness. And in that encounter, God expects us to be changed, to be renewed, to be challenged, to be shaken out of our present categories, our concepts of the way things are.

By meeting with Christ, we begin to understand God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – but more than that – we are challenged to move out with hope into our world, believing that God’s kingdom in Jesus is all that other’s really need, looking to bring that kingdom into being, looking for the signs of God’s presence in the world around us. Longing to serve our Lord, longing to be changed still more. Longing to be Transfigured in our encounter with Jesus.

For as Paul says in our reading from 2 Corinthians:

It is the God who in creation said “Let there be Light!” “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has also shone into our own hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The Micklehurst Loop – Part 1A

Just after I posted my first article about the Micklehurst Loop, I was sent a series of photographs by an online acquaintance, Tony Jervis. In February 1981, he visited the same length of the Micklehurst Loop as covered in that article. Tony’s pictures show the line before removal of the two viaducts but after the lifting of the length of line retained to serve the Staley and Millbrook Sidings opposite Hartshead Power Station.

Tony also pointed out a further YouTube video from Martin Zero which is embedded towards the end of this addendum. …..

My first article on the Micklehurst Loop can be found using this link:

https://rogerfarnworth.com/2021/01/31/the-micklehurst-loop-part-1

At the time of Tony Jervis’ visit on 14th February 1981, only one section of the Spring-Grove Viaduct had been removed – a simply supported span which  took the line over the Spring-Grove Mill. Toney was very happy for me to share these pictures as an addendum to my original article and he very kindly provided some notes to go with a number of the photographs. I have provided some annotated OS Maps to go with the pictures.

I have retained the reference numbers of the photographs used by Tony Jervis. I find the images fascinating. The first three photographs speak for themselves and are centred on Knowl Street Viaduct at the bottom end of the loop immediately adjacent to Stalybridge New Tunnel.

The 25″ OS Map showing the area to the East of Cocker Hill where the Micklehurst Loop broke out of Stalybridge New Tunnel and immediately spanned the River Tame. The locations of three of Tony’s photographs marked. [1]

Photograph 15, 1981, (c) Tony Jervis. [2]

Photograph 632-16, shows the length of the viaduct and is taken from above the Eastern Portal of Stalybridge New Tunnel, 1981, (c) Tony Jervis. [2]

Photograph 632-17,shows the skew span over the Huddersfield Narrow Canal looking towards the Centre of Stalybridge, 1981, (c) Tony Jervis. [2]

The next few pictures were taken in and around the Staley and Millbrook Station. The software I use allows me to add arrows which are vertical or horizontal but not at an angle, so the locations of the pictures shown on the OS Map immediately below are approximate.

25″ OS Map of Staley & Millbrook Station site at the turn of the 20th century. [1]

Photograph 632-18 shows Spring-Grove Mill was spanned by a simply-supported girder bridge which had already been removed when Tony Jervis visited in 1981, (c) Tony Jervis. [2]

Tony comments about the above image: this picture shows “the gap in the viaduct over the roof of Spring Grove Mill.  I assume the gap was spanned by a horzontal girder bridge, which would have been easier to lift away for scrap than demolish a viaduct arch.  In the background, the power station’s coal conveyor and bunkers are still intact, though the station had been closed about 18 months earlier.  The goods shed … was still in the hands of Firth Hauliers.” [2]

The Goods shed and part of the conveyor are still in place. The viaduct, the mill chimney,the section of the mill visible to the extreme left of the image, the coal handling facilites are long-gone in the 21st century.

Photograph 632-19A, 1981, the portion of the mill on this (West) side of the viaduct and the mill chimney, still present in 1981, were demolished along with the viaduct in the later part of the 20th century (c) Tony Jervis. [2]

Tony Jervis, writing in 1981, comments: “the station platforms were up to the right at the top of the grassy bank but would not have been accessible for passengers from this side.  Beyond the third arch was a span across the top of Spring-Grove Mill, which was presumably modified to allow the railway to be built.  I assume the span was some sort of flat girder bridge which has since been craned away.” [2]

Photograph 632-20A, 1981, (c) Tony Jervis. [2]

He continues: “Passengers for the northbound platform would have climbed a covered passage from the booking office and come through this subway (picture 632-20A) whence another short covered ramp or steps would have led up to the platform waiting room. Note the glazed white tiles designed to slightly lighten the subway’s gloom. Since I appear not to have photographed them, I assume that the station platforms had long been swept away.

Photograph 632-21A, 1981, (c) Tony Jervis. [2]

Tony Jervis says: “Picture 632-21A (below) is taken from the middle of Grove Road east of the viaduct.  The red brick wall would have been the end of the booking office; the station master’s house would have been out of shot to the left.  In the distance is the entrance to the subway. There are marks of the platform retaining wall, which is partly of red brick at the bottom and blue engineering brick further up, that suggest a flight of stairs with an intermediate landing led up the southbound platform and that a lower ramp alongside followed the grass bank up to the subway.  One might wonder, thinking of travel a century ago, whether there might have been a need for sack trucks or even a four-wheeled luggage trolley to reach  the platforms.  The white notice forbidding tipping and trespassing is not in the middle of the road but at the edge of the triangular station forecourt; it won’t show up on the posted picture but above the words is the BR “kinky arrow” symbol. Looking at the 25-inch OS plan, it is interesting to note that the formal entrance to nearby Staley Hall was from Millbrook village to the south but from the back of the building a footpath dropped down to Grove Road alongside the the stationmaster’s house, a tradesmen and servants’ entrance maybe?”

Tony has also provided photographs which were taken late in the evening on 14th 1981 of the Goods Yard across the river and canal from Hartshead Power Station. Their locations are again  marked on the 25″ OS Map immediately below ……

25″ OS Map of the Staley & Millbrook Coal Sidings site. The extract does not show the full extent of the sidings which were in place in the mid-20th century..[1]

Photograph No. 632-21B        9-644    14 Feb 1981    SD 976000 S    Former coal drops at Staley & Millbrook Goods Depot alongside Spring Grove Viaduct. The ruined structure on the horizon is Staley Hall. These drops were just to the North of Spring-Grove Viaduct, (c) Tony Jervis, 1981 – [Tony comments: The “B” suffix is because I managed to give two slides the same number when I numbered them back in 1981.] [2]

Tony Jervis comments: “These coal drops are near the end of the two sidings on the 25-inch OS map closest to the running lines.  They are not marked on the map but the road approach for coal merchants’ lorries is clearly shown.  I did wonder if the apparent tramway in Grove Road in one of [the photographs in the previous article] was a way of transferring coal from here round to the mill’s boiler house (below the chimney, one presumes) but I have seen no indication of it on any map.  The viaduct over Spring Grove Mill starts by the rusty car.  The building on the hill is Staley Hall and the “tradesmen’s” footpath I mentioned in a previous description can be seen descending the bank.” [2]

Photograph No. 632-22        9-646    14 Feb 1981    SD 976001 N    Staley & Millbrook Goods Warehouse and the former Hartshead Power Station coal conveyor, (c) Tony Jervis, 1981. [2]

Tony comments: This picture shows “the goods shed when in use by Firth Transport.  The cleaner ballast in the foreground was the southbound running line and the smoother patch to left of that is presumably where the walkway is today.  In the background is the part of the coal conveyor that remains in situ today.” [2]

Photograph No. 632-23        9-645    14 Feb 1981    SD 977002 NW    Hartshead Power Station Sidings and start of coal conveyor, Staley & Millbrook Goods Depot, (c) Tony Jervis, 1981. [2]

Tony comments: “One of the two towers on the edge of the power station coal sidings.  I presume the “stepped” areas fenced in orange surrounded conveyor belts lifting the coal from siding level up to the high-level conveyor.” [2]

Photograph No. 632-24        9-647    14 Feb 1981    SD 977002 WNW    Site of Hartshead Power Station Sidings and coal conveyor, Staley & Millbrook Goods Depot, (c) Tony Jervis, 1981. [2]

Tony comments: “Swinging left about 45 degrees from the previous photo, I’m not sure what purpose this building served.  There is a capstan in front of it, suggesting that locomotives were not allowed to traverse the length of surviving track and wagons thereon were moved by cable.  Could it have been an oil depot of some sort? The tall pipes at the far end could have been used to empty rail tank cars. Some power stations could burn oil as well as coal; was Hartshead one of them?” [2]

Photograph No. 632-25A      9-648    14 Feb 1981    SD 978002 WSW    Staley & Millbrook Goods Warehouse; Hartshead Power Station beyond, (c) Tony Jervis, 1981 [2]

Tony comments: that it was really too dark by the time this picture was taken, none-the-less  by screwing the contrast control to its maximum a grainy image of the shed and power station  appears reasonably clear but very grainy. [2]

Flicking back and forth between this short article and the latter part of my first article about the Micklehurst Loop (https://rogerfarnworth.com/2021/01/31/the-micklehurst-loop-part-1), will allow a comparison with images of the Staley and Millbrook Station and Goods Depot Sites early in their life and in the 21st century.

To complete this short addendum to my first post here is another video from Martin Zero.

Tony Jervis comments: [4] “After watching the half-hour video, I read some of the comments by other viewers, some of whom had worked on the site.  The tunnel turned out to be the power station’s engine shed and the steps led down to a conical underground coal hopper from which conveyor belts took the coal onwards or, perhaps, removed fly-ash.” 

Martin also found on the surface a length of surviving rail track with a lump of iron between the rails that might have been a “mule” or “beetle” for moving wagons slowly past an unloading point.  It was mentioned by some people that there had also been an “oil conveyor” — surely a pipeline? — leading from the sidings owards the power station. That makes me wonder if my postulation that the low building in my “S & M Goods 4” posting (slide 632-24) may have been a tank wagon unloading station was in fact correct.

Martin did also show a circular object buried in the ground nearby which could perhaps have been the base of the capstan that appears in my photo.  But the area is nowadays so afforested that it was impossible to work out accurately how the various items and buildings he found related to one another.”

 

References

  1. https://maps.nls.uk, accessed on 2nd February 2021.
  2. Photographs taken by an acquaintance on the “bygoneLinesUK@groups.io” group, online, Tony Jervis. They are reproduced here with his kind permission.
  3. https://youtu.be/IL6yY5UFTPI, accessed on 6th February 2021.
  4. From an email dated 6th February 2021.

The Micklehurst Loop – Part 1

I am indebted to Alan Young for a number of the images in this and the following articles about the Micklehurst Loop. This is his drawing of the Loop which appears at the head of his article about the Loop on the ‘Disused Stations‘ website. It is used with his kind permission, (c) Alan Young. [7]

During January 2021, my wife and I walked the majority of the length of the Micklehurst Loop from Stalybridge to Diggle. This was the goods relieving line for the main Stalybridge to Huddersfield railway line. It had been hoped to alleviate congestion by making the mainline into a 4-track railway but the geography mitigated against this and a route on the other side of the Tame Valley was chosen instead.

The maps used in this sequence of articles are predominantly 25″ OS Maps from 1896 through to 1922 and have been sourced from the National Library of Scotland. [1] There are a number of websites which focus on the Loop which are excellent. The sites concerned are noted immediately below and the relevant link can be found in the references section of this page or by clicking on the highlighted text here:

  1. The most detailed treatment of the line and its stations can be found on the Disused Stations – Site Records website. The particular pages on that site which cover the Loop were provided by Alan Young. One page covers the route and pages covering each of the stations can be accessed from that page. [7]
  2. Particularly good for old photographs of the Loop is the Table 38 webpage about the railway. [12]
  3. 28DL Urban Exploration has pages about Stalybridge New Tunnel under Cocker Hill [19] and about Hartshead Power Station. [20]

Part 1 – Stalybridge to Staley & Millbrook Station and Goods Yard

This first map extract shows the Western end of the Micklehurst Loop. It left the mainline at Stalybridge Station which can be seen on the left side of the extract. Both the mainline and the loop entered tunnels under Stamford Street, Stalybridge. [1]This modern satellite image covers approximately the same area of Stalybridge as the map extract above. The route of the former Micklehurst Loop is highlighted by the red line.Looking west towards Stalybridge Station circa 1960 from Stamford Street BR standard Class 5 No.73162 takes the Micklehurst Loop as it pulls away from Stalybridge Station with a Huddersfield-bound freight and approaches Stalybridge New Tunnel. Photo by Peter Sunderland courtesy of Alan Young. [7]

The Western portal of Stalybridge New Tunnel sits just to the East of the Bridge that carries Stamford Street over the route of the Loop. It is difficult to photograph and access is not easy. While search for images of the line I came across a video on YouTube:

This video shows the Western end of the tunnel and then covers a walk through the full length of the tunnel and a glance out of the Eastern Portal. [8]

This next map extract shows the Micklehurt Loop emerging from the tunnel under Cocker Hill. The main line is in tunnel further North. Just South of the tunnel mouth Old St. George’s Church can be picked out, an octagonal church building which has now been replaced by St. George’s Church which is off the map extract to the North. Immediately to the East of the tunnel entrance, the Loop crossed the course of the River Tame and the Huddersfield Narrow Canal on a Viaduct.Much has changed in the satellite image above which covers approximately the same area. The canal basin can just be picked out, as can Knowl Street. The course of the River Tame is unchanged. Old St. George’s is long-gone. There is no evidence left of the Viaduct which carried the line.

Old St. George’s Church was located almost directly over the tunnel. It was an unusual church building and over its life was rebuilt twice on essentially the same plan. “The first was built in 1776. It was the first recorded church in Stalybridge and it did fall down shortly after it was built. The next church was demolished around a hundred years later because of structural problems and the last church was demolished in the 1960’s as it was no longer used.” [3]The last incarnation of Old St. George’s Church on Cocker Hill. This coloured monochrome image is held in the archives of Tameside MBC. The Micklehurst Loop can be seen exiting the tunnel below the church to the right and immediately crossing the River Tame on Knowl Street Viaduct. [4]This monochrome image is provided with permission,  courtesy of Alan Young, once again. [7] He comments: “looking north up the River Tame the western end of Knowl Street Viaduct in Stalybridge is seen in this undated view. Having crossed this 16-arch viaduct the Micklehurst Loop promptly plunged into Stalybridge New Tunnel through Cocker Hill (left). This section of line ceased to handle traffic in 1972, when coal movements to Hartshead Power Station (near Staley & Millbrook) ceased, and the line was taken out of use in July 1976, but it was not until 1991 that the viaduct was demolished.” [7]

The Eastern Portal of the tunnel, which was directly below the church can still be reached with a little careful clambering. The image below has a Creative Commons Licence. (CC BY-SA 2.0).The East Portal of Stalybridge New Tunnel which is directly below the site of Old St. George’s Church © Copyright Tom Hindley and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence. (CC BY-SA 2.0). [5]

Knowl Street Viaduct carried the Loop over the River Tame, Knowl Street and the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and a series of arches in between. There were 16 arches in all.This photograph taken from the East alongside Knowl Street Viaduct is included with permission, courtesy of Alan Young. [7] Alan comments: “The Micklehurst Loop diverged from the original Huddersfield-Manchester line a short distance east of Stalybridge station, entered Stalybridge New Tunnel (about 300yd in length) then promptly crossed the broad valley of the River Tame on Bridge No.3 (also known as Knowl Street Viaduct). This impressive curving viaduct, in the blue engineering brick used by the LNWR on the Loop’s major structures, was 330yd in length with 16 arches. In addition to crossing the River Tame, the viaduct also strode across Huddersfield Narrow Canal and three roads. In this undated westward view, the viaduct and Stalybridge New Tunnel through Cocker Hill are shown. Coal trains that served Hartshead Power Station ceased to run over the viaduct in 1972, but it was not until July 1976 that the line was officially taken out of use. Fifteen years elapsed before the viaduct was demolished in 1991.” [7]A further image used with permission, courtesy of Alan Young. [7]  Alan comments: “Looking north-east from a point close to the eastern portal of Stalybridge New Tunnel. The Knowl Street Viaduct, 330yd in length and with 16 arches, is seen crossing the River Tame then curving away towards the next station of Staley & Millbrook. The local passenger service on the Micklehurst Loop, on which this viaduct was located, ceased in 1917, but occasional passenger trains and many freight workings continued into the 1960s; coal traffic continued to pass over the viaduct until 1972 en route to Hartshead Power station near Staley & Millbrook station and the line was officially taken out of use in 1976. Nature is taking over the former trackbed as seen on this undated photograph. The viaduct was demolished in 1991.” [7]A modern view of Knowl Street taken from Google Streetview. Knowl Street Viaduct crossed Knowl Street at this location. The spandrel walls on the North side of the Viadct passed very close to the gable end of the terraced building to the East of Knowl Street, the righthand side in this view.

After crossing the Huddersfield Narrow Canal the Loop line regained the embankment shown on the next OS Map extract below. Just to the North of the point where the viaduct crossed the canal is a stone bridge carrying what is now (in the 21st century) the canal-side walk. That bridge is shown at the centre of the Google Streetview image below and at the bottom left of the OS Map extract. It is named Knowl Street Bridge and carries the number 97. [8]

After crossing the Canal the line was carried on embankment, passing to the West of Brookfield House and running North by Northeast parallel to the Canal with Huddersfield Road a distance away to the South. Across the valley of the River Tame to the West were Riverside Mills.The approximate line of the railway, shown in red, runs parallel to the canal. We parked in a small car park just off the south of this satellite image, as illustrated below. The image shows that the site of the Riverside Mills is now occupied by the premises of Smurfit Kappa, Stalybridge. [9]Stalybridge and the Southwest end of the Micklehurst Loop.

Brookfield House was  “a large detached house built in the early 19th century for James Wilkinson, and shown on the 1850 Stayley Tithe Map. All that remains is the former mid-19th century lodge house at 93, Huddersfield Road, with the entrance to the former drive with stone gate piers on its south side. The grounds of Brookfield House are clearly shown on the 1898 OS Map, and included an oval lake and glasshouses, …. Brookfield House was demolished and the lake filled in between 1910-1933. The grounds are now overgrown with self-set woodland.” [2]This next OS Map extract illustrates, at the the top right, how tightly the river, railway and canal follow each other at times up the Tame Valley. The railway sits above the canal which in turn sits a little above the river. Also evident is the name used on this series of OS Maps for the Loop Line – the “Stalybridge and Saddleworth Loop Line.”

Alan Young explains: “Although described as both the ‘Stalybridge & Saddleworth Loop‘ and ‘Stalybridge & Diggle Loop‘ on Ordnance Survey maps, the line is more commonly known as the ‘Micklehurst Loop’.” [7]

River Meadow Cotton Mills were owned by Henry Bannerman who was a successful farmer in Perthshire, Scotland At the age of 55 in 1808 he “moved with his family to Manchester, determined to get involved in the burgeoning Lancashire cotton industry.” [10]

At one time the company had “four cotton mills in the Manchester area: Brunswick Mill in Ancoats, Old Hall Mill in Dukinfield and the North End Mill and River Meadow Mill, both in Stalybridge.” [10]

In 1929, the Lancashire Cotton Industry was struggling. It had not regained its markets after the First World War. In an attempt to save the industry, the Bank of England set up the ‘Lancashire Cotton Coroporation’. Bannermans’ mills were taken over a few years later. The mills were acquired by Courtaulds in 1964 and all production ceased in 1967.” [10] After closure the four-storey mill which was Grade II Listed “was used by Futura before they moved to Quarry Street and then S. A. Driver warp knitters, dyers , printers and finishers.” [11] As can be seen in the satellite image below, the Mill is now demolished.Souracre and River Meadow Cotton Mill and Souracre in the 21st century .

North of Souracre and visible at the bottom left of this next OS Map extract were Hartshead Calico Print Works East of Printworks Road and close by Heyrod Hall. Also visible on this map extract are Stayley Hall and the first Station on the Micklehurst Loop – Stayley and Millbrook Station.

Hartshead Print Works – is visible just below centre-left on the OS Map extract above. The works was listed in the Stalybridge Directory of 1891 as owned by John L. Kennedy &Co. Ltd, Calico Printers. lt was purchased in 1899 by the Calico Printers Association. [18]

Heyrod Hall – is shown on the top left of the OS Map extract above.

Stayley Hall – is a Grade II* Listed Building which dates back to at least the early 15th century.[14] The first records of the de Stavelegh family as Lords of the Manor of Staley date from the early 13th century. Stayley Hall was their residence. [15]

It came into the possession of the Assheton family through marriage and united the manors of Stayley and Ashton and thence into the family of Sir William Booth of Dunham Massey. In the middle of the 16th century. [15]

Stayley Hall 1795. [21]

In the middle of the 18th Century the Earldom of Warrington became extinct and the Hall, alonng with all the Booth’s estates passed to Harry Grey, 4th Earl of Stamford. Stayley Hall was owned by the Booth family until the death of  Roger Grey, 10th Earl of Stamford in 1976. [15]

Wikipedia concludes its history of the Hall as follows: “In 2004 the Metropolitan Borough Council announced that they had granted permission to a developer to build 16 homes next to Stayley Hall. A condition of the planning consent was that the hall be restored.[3] The developer has converted the hall and outbuildings into houses and apartments, most of which are now occupied.” [15]

Early 25″ OS Map covering the length of the passenger facilities and most of the goods facilities at Staley & Millbrook Station. [1]

Staley and Millbrook Station – Alan Young’s on his webpage about the Station comments as follows: “Staley & Millbrook station stood on a steep slope immediately south of Spring Grove Viaduct.  The two facing platforms were equipped with waiting rooms, most likely of timber construction, with glazed awnings, as is thought to have been the building style at all four of the Loop’s stations. The platforms, too, were most likely of timber construction as that material was used for the platforms at Micklehurst, where they were also on an embankment, and timber would be a much lighter load than masonry for an embankment to support. The stationmaster’s house and adjoining single-storey office range to its west faced Grove Road across a small, triangular forecourt. The station house was constructed of dark red brick with string courses of blue engineering brick and pale stone lintels.” [18]Staley & Millbrook Station building and the Sprong-grove Viaduct take from the East on Grove Road in the early 20th century. The picture shows a clean and relatively well maintained site, very different to what remains in the 21st century, please see the pictures below. [18]Staley and Millbrook Railway Station and Spring-grove Mill. [16]

Staley and Millbrook Station buildings have long-gone as has the Viaduct, the first arch of which spanned Grove Road and looked to be a graceful structure. Also of interest in the monochrome picture of the Station and Viaduct above is what appears at first sight to be evidence of a tramway or industrial railway in the cobbles of Grove Road. I have not as yet been able to find out anything about what this feature actually is. The feature is not marked on the map extract immediately above. Closer examination of the picture above suggests that rather than being part of a short industrial line the cobbles may have been laid to facilitate a particular movement around the Spring-grove Mill.

In the 21st century, this length of Grove Road has been tarmacked – a thin layer of tarmac covers the original sets. The next two pictures were taken on 30th January 2021 on a second visit to the site after walking the route of the Loop.

Taken from East of the route of the Micklehurst Loop, this photograph shows the location of the old station building. It sat facing the road on the left-hand side of the panorama. The Southern abutment of the viaduct sat adjacent to the station building, in the area of trees between the 5-bar field gate and the stone wall towards the right of the picture. The masonry wall is in the location of what were terraced houses between the canal and the railway viaduct. (My photograph, 30th January 2021)Another panorama, this time taken from the canal bridge to the West of the Loop. What is left of Spring-grove Mill can be seen on the left side of the image. Grove Road, heading towards Millbrook is central to the image. The masonry wall is the location of the terraced houses mentioned above. The first trees beyond it mark the line of the viaduct. The station building was sited beyond to the West. (My photograph, 30th January 2021)

Spring-grove Mill – As we have already noted, Spring-grove Mill is shown straddled by the viaduct on the OS Map extract above. When Staley & Millbrook station opened, “there was already some population and industry in the immediate neighbourhood. Spring Grove Cotton Mill faced the station across Grove Road, and map evidence suggests that the railway’s viaduct sliced through the existing mill building. A terrace of three cottages, also pre-dating the railway, stood immediately north of the platforms, and Stayley Hall was about 100yd south of the station. Millbrook village, with three cotton mills, was about ten minutes’ walk uphill east of the station.” [16] [18]The remaining buildings of Spring-grove Mill. The lighter (cream painted) brickwork is the part of the mill shown on the map extracts as being on the East side of the viaduct. The portion of the Mill to the West of the viaduct has been demolished. The red-brick portion of the remaining building would have been under the arches of the viaduct. The Western spandrels of the viaduct arches would have followed a line running from the intersecting kerb-stones in the right-foreground over the redbrick part of the present building. (My own photograph – 30th January 2021)

Spring Grove Mill was a cotton mill from 1818 to 1868 and then was a woollen mill for 100 years, it was the last steam-powered mill in the area. [17] The image of Hartshead Power station below, includes Spring-grove Mill in the bottom right-hand corner. By the time the aerial photograph was taken Grove Road appeared to extend across the Canal and the River Tame towards Heyrod.

Hartshead Power Station was also located North of Souracre to the West of the River Tame. It was a coal-fired station and was served by trains on the Micklehurst Loop up until the 1970s. The picture immediately below was posted by Tameside Council on their Facebook page in 2015.An aerial picture of Hartshead Power Station taken before the Second World War. It was opened by the Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield (SHMD) Joint Board in 1926 and the cooling towers were erected in the 1940s. The station closed in 1970 and was demolished in the 1980s. Although the Good Shed visible to the top right of the image still stands. The Micklehurst Loop curves from the bottom right to the top left of the picture. [13]This enlarged extract from the image above show the coal transfer facilities and railway sidings associated with the power station . [13] The resolution of the image is not wonderful but it does highlight the traffic which was brought to the site throughout the middle 50 years of the 20th Century.

OS 1:25,000 Map form the early- to mid-20th century, sourced from the National Library of Scotland – Hartshead Power Station. One of the two cooling towers is not shown in full as it crosses the map join. [14]

The full extent of the Hartshead Power Station site at Souracre can be seen on the adjacent OS Map extract from the middle of the 20th century, which also shows the location of Stayley Hall and the Stayley and Millbrook Station build just North-northwest of Stayley Hall.

Approximately the same area is shown below on a relatively recent extract from the ESRI World Image website which is the satellite mapping used by the National Library of Scotland. [13]

The Good Shed which is considered further below is visible on both the map extract and the satellite image and the extent of the railway sidings on the East side of the Loop line is evident.

ESRI Satellite Image extract showing the current status of the Hartshead Power Station site with the approximate route of the Micklehurst Loop Line shown in red. The Goods Shed is still standing and can be seen just to the right of the red line. Along with the Loop line all of the lines in the sidings have ben lifted. [13]A view from the East looking across the power station site with the Good Shed and coal transshipment facilities in the foreground. the lack of trees compared with the satellite image and all other pictures of the site in the 21st century is striking, © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. [23]

The substantial Goods Shed was built at the same time as the Loop initially with two sidings to its East. These sidings were expanded with the advent of the power station in the early 20th century. The site is now overgrown and is returning to nature. The only exception being the Goods Shed itself. There is an excellent video showing its current condition on ‘Martin Zero’s’ YouTube Channel which is embedded below. My own pictures of the site also follow below.

The Goods shed at Stayley and Millbrook Station presided over a large expanse of sidings which served Hartshead Power Station on the opposite side of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the River Tame. [22]Looking South towards the location of the passenger facilities at Staley and Millbrook Station. The Goods shed is on the left (the East side of the Loop line). (My photograph, 18th January 2021).The Goods Shed taken from the same location as the last photograph – a substantial three-storey structure. (My photograph, 18th January 2021).

The next part of this walk following the line of the Micklehurst Loop sets off from this goods shed traveling North.

References

  1. https://maps.nls.uk, accessed on 18th January 2021.
  2. Copley Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Proposals; Tameside MBC, March 2013, p9-10.
  3. https://cockerhill.com/2010/07/06/old-st-georges-church-cocker-hill, accessed on 23rd January 2021.
  4. https://public.tameside.gov.uk/imagearchive/Default.asp & https://cockerhill.com/2010/07/06/old-st-georges-church-cocker-hill, accessed on 23rd January 2021.
  5. https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3119673, accessed on 22nd January 2021.
  6. http://nwex.co.uk/showthread.php?t=6918, accessed on 27th January 2021.
  7. http://disused-stations.org.uk/features/micklehurst_loop/index.shtml, accessed on 25th January 2021.
  8. https://canalplan.org.uk/waterway/cjdf & https://canalplan.org.uk/place/1hv4, accessed on 27th January 2021.
  9. https://www.smurfitkappa.com/uk/locations/united-kingdom/smurfit-kappa-stalybridge, accessed on 28th January 2021.
  10. http://cosgb.blogspot.com/2010/12/henry-bannerman-sons-limited.html, accessed on 28th January 2021.
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mills_in_Tameside#Mills_in_Stalybridge, accessed on 28th January 2021.
  12. http://www.table38.steamrailways.com/rail/Micklehurst/micklehurst.htm, accessed on 24th January 2021.
  13. https://scontent.fman2-1.fna.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/10923473_10152970711638376_5311634515634523408_n.jpg?_nc_cat=102&ccb=2&_nc_sid=9267fe&_nc_ohc=TvOmLmn5KTcAX_Ayq7O&_nc_ht=scontent.fman2-1.fna&oh=2306db45618ba15e6bc27d582f00e643&oe=6037BA9F, accessed on 29th January 2021.
  14. Mike Nevell; Tameside 1066–1700; Tameside Metropolitan Borough and University of Manchester Archaeological Unit. p. 112 & 141, 1991.
  15. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stayley_Hall, accessed on 29th January 2021.
  16. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=784689891661955&id=121283594669258, accessed on 29th January 2021.
  17. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.tameside.gov.uk/countryside/walksandtrails/lowerbrushes.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwjXrum3xMHuAhVMTBUIHYmQAeQ4ChAWMAJ6BAgSEAI&usg=AOvVaw2DR5SZ9N3AM7__DD-ZN0Bv, accessed on 29th January 2021.
  18. https://gracesguide.co.uk/John_L._Kennedy_and_Co, accessed on 29th January 2021.
  19. https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/stalybridge-new-tunnel-stalybridge-july-2012.72653, accessed on 26th January 2021.
  20. https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/hartshead-power-station-heyrod-and-millbrook-2015-2019.119500, accessed on 29th January 2021.
  21. https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/1795-Antique-Print-Stayley-Hall-Stalybridge-Greater-Manchester-after-E-Dayes-/292642997239, accessed on 29th January 2021.
  22. https://youtu.be/VdmWydx4VBw & https://www.facebook.com/martinZer0/?comment_id=Y29tbWVudDoxNTU4MjI2MDIxMDExNzUxXzE1NjA0NDMwMjQxMjMzODQ%3D, accessed on 31st January 2021.
  23. https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2204271, accessed on 31st January 2021.

Into 2021 with God! – Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11 – 10th January 2021

The authors of our lectionary placed the Old Testament reading alongside the Gospel reading for  10th January 2021 for a reason. They wanted us to see them in parallel.

In both cases God is doing something new.

I am not an expert in classical music, a bit of a Philistine really, but as I thought about these two readings from Genesis and Mark it seemed to me that they could be described as two different movements from the same symphony. I’m told that the classical composers used variations on the same theme to develop their composition and that if you listen carefully to the music you can hear the main theme being repeated. …..

Perhaps you can imagine a heavenly orchestra playing the first 5 verses of Genesis. Dark, brooding music portrays an overwhelming sense of chaos and darkness. I imagine that the composer would use discordant modern themes to convey a sense of disorder. Then over this music comes the main theme of the symphony – quietly at first, starting with flute and piccolo, and gradually engaging the whole orchestra. Like a wind gradually rising from a gentle breeze to a violent gale. God’s mighty wind (his Holy Spirit) sweeps across the universe. God is speaking, and his very words change the universe for ever. “Let there be light” and light appears. God saw that it was good, and Night and Day were born.

God breaks into the history of the universe with a powerful word of creation.

Our second reading comes much later in the same symphony. The main musical themes are now well developed – we=ve heard them over and again throughout the symphony. When John the Baptist appears we return to that same discordant, abrupt and harsh theme that we heard right at the beginning of the symphony. His harsh manner, his odd clothing, his strange habits all seem to echo the chaos and darkness of Genesis. The sound from the orchestra builds and noise of the crowds coming to John for baptism shake the concert hall and then John’s voice can be heard as a sharp solo, perhaps, by the oboe cutting through the surrounding noise.

Then quietly at first the main theme appears again. The theme that represented God at work as Creator gradually supersedes the chaos of the early part of this movement. Jesus has come for baptism. The Word of God, from the beginning of John’s Gospel, is beginning his work. And as Jesus comes up out of the waters of baptism the whole orchestra joins the theme – the heavens are rent open, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and God speaks, a strong solo voice: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”.

Can you see the common themes in the two passages?

  • The milling crowd, longing for God to act in their lives; and the universe awaiting God’s creative action.
  • The wind of God, and the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of the deep and the waters of baptism.
  • The word of God bringing creation, “Let there be light”; and the Word of God, Jesus, God’s Son, whose ministry brings redemption.

God’s delight is obvious in both passages. Looking at creation, ‘God saw that it was good’. Looking down on his Son, God said, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased”.

The theme from each movement of our symphony is the same. God creating his world and God redeeming that same world. All part of the same plan. In our symphony, both represented by the same theme.

And now, early in 2021, we are participating in what the Bible calls the end times, the days between Jesus’ first and second coming. We are participating in what we might call the final movement of the symphony.

In the first movement, God saw that everything was good. What does he see now, at the start of this new year, in Ashton, in our churches, in our families and personal lives? Where are the signs of new creation? Where are the dark, formless voids that still await God’s creative action?

In the later movement God expressed overwhelming pleasure at the baptism of his Son. What things in our world, our town, our churches or in our lives today, give God pleasure?

Where might we begin to hear that same musical theme of God’s intervention here in Ashton-under-Lyne? What do we long that God would do in our town and in our world?

At this moment the pandemic looms increasingly large and we can feel the discordant notes of fear and anger. The discordant music seems to dominate our lives, yet quietly, almost unheard in the chaos of noise that theme of hope is still present quietly picked out again by flute and piccolo bringing a measure of calm in the midst of the noise.

How might the final movement of our symphony be being played out? What should I do? What should we do to participate in God’s work here? Now, in these difficult times? Which of the musical voices are we contributing to? The discordant chaos or the still, small, haunting voice of calm and hope?

Epiphany 2021

Matthew 2: 1-12

In the bleak midwinter  by Christina Rossetti

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
A breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the moment when the story of Christ’s birth first becomes a matter for the whole world. Up until the appearance of the Wise Men, the Magi, the story is exclusive. All the main characters are from Palestine. All of them are Jews.

In Matthew 2: 1-12, we hear the story of how, after Jesus was born, some wise men from the East, from beyond the borders of what we now call Palestine and Israel, even from beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire, heard that a King had been born. The Gentiles are at this point included in the story.

These wise men wanted to find the King so that they could worship him. They followed a star to Jerusalem and asked some priests there if they knew where to find the King. The priests knew where Jesus was to be born, because they had been told by the prophet Micah, so they told the wise men that they would find the new King in Bethlehem.

The Wise Men saw the star and chose to follow it, otherwise the Star would have been useless. …

So it is with all that God promises us in his Word. We need to respond to the gifts God gives us. We need to continue to grow in faith and commit to following God – and in doing so we make God’s promises our own. We find God to be trustworthy – God is there for us when we need him. This is the journey that each of us is on!

Wise men and women today are still seeking for Jesus. We don’t look for him in Bethlehem, because he is no longer there. He is on his throne in heaven. We don’t need a star to help us find him. We can find him by reading about him in the Bible, by sharing together in the bread and wine of communion, by talking together with others who know him well.

Just as the Wise Men brought gifts to the Christ-child, so Christina Rossetti reminds us that Christian faith is not just about how we receive the gifts and love which God gives, nor is it just about following the best path to the right place. The words of the last verse of her carol remind us that our faith is also about what we bring, about the offering of ourselves, the core of who we are, as a gift to the Christ-child.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

The Feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist – 27th December 2020

John 20:19-31

On 27th December, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. Born in Bethsaida, he was called while mending his nets to follow Jesus. He became the beloved disciple of Jesus. He wrote the fourth Gospel, three Epistles and the Apocalypse. The first chapter of his Gospel which focuses of the Word made flesh is one of the most read Gospel reading at Christmas time. In his Gospel and in his epistles, he speaks of the divinity of Christ and of the primacy of love. With James, his brother, and Simon Peter, he was one of the witnesses of the Transfiguration. At the Last Supper, he leans on the Master’s breast. At the foot of the cross, Jesus entrusts His Mother to his care. John was close to both Jesus and Mary. Towards the end of his life, we know that John was exiled to the island of Patmos under Emperor Domitian.

I have chosen to reflect on a passage from close to the end of John’s Gospel. It might seem strange to be reading an Easter story just after Christmas. It isn’t the passage set for the Feast of St. John. But it is the point at which John’s Gospel reaches its climax.

We’re not told why Thomas wasn’t in the upper room that first Easter evening when Jesus visited his disciples. We could spend time trying to imagine where he was – but we won’t! Suffice to say, he missed the key event, the turning point, the moment that changed defeat into victory. And how did he respond? … In exactly the same way as most of us would have done. … Thomas just could not believe what the others told him.

I doubt any of us would have done under those same circumstances. We say that ‘Seeing is believing’ – but so is sharing in an experience with others. Thomas not only didn’t see what happened, he was left out of the experience that everyone else shared. He was in a lonely place, wanting to believe, wanting to share in everyone else’s happiness, but unable to do so. He’d not been there, he had not seen Jesus.

Thomas’ reactions and feelings are understandable, and as we read the story we can see that Jesus thought so too. He provided a repeat of the same encounter – one in which Thomas could share. He then gently reminded Thomas of his outburst – no indignant rebuke, just words which drew Thomas back to faith. Thomas’ response is one of the clearest statements of Jesus’ divinity in the Bible. Having seen the truth of the resurrection he cannot but exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

The next 3 verses are important, and they are pivotal to St. John’s message:

Jesus said to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” ….  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

St. John has led his readers through a story – a story which allows those readers to meet Jesus and begin to understand who he is. It’s a journey of discovery, one in which we can identify with the different characters, feel their emotions, struggle with them to understand what Jesus is doing and saying. Thomas’ words are the culmination, the pinnacle of the story – the point where even the strongest of doubters expresses faith. Jesus response is not just for Thomas’ ears, not just for the disciples, but for all who read John’s Gospel in coming generations. “Don’t think,” says Jesus, “that the disciples were in some way special because they saw all these events first hand. Rather, blessed are those who read the stories and encounter Christ through the work of his Spirit in their lives and the lives of those around them.”

“Blessed,” says Jesus, “are all who read this Gospel, who struggle with doubts & come to believe that I am the Son of God.”

St. John’s message for us is that we have not missed out on the party, we can still be part of the events which changed defeat into victory. We too can own the risen Jesus as our Lord.

This is good news – particularly for those of us who struggle with doubt; for those of us who’d like to believe more strongly than we do; for those of us who see other people’s faith, or the joy they seem to experience in their Christian life, and feel that we are somehow missing out.

I think this passage is not just important as the culmination, the climax of St. John’s Gospel. It is important because St. John chooses, at this climactic moment of change, to embrace doubt. He places the strongest words of faith in the mouth of Thomas the doubter.

Everything is different, Jesus was dead and is now alive. Nothing can now be the same. In the story, Thomas struggles to accept this new reality. For so many of us change is difficult to handle, yet it is happening all the time. It is happening right now as we struggle towards a possible post-Covid reality.

We need to continue to engage with the communities around our churches, looking for new ways to serve, new ways to make Christ known and to bring hope where there is despair. We need to accept that the future for the Church of England is one with significantly less stipendiary clergy – perhaps one third less in numbers in only a few years’ time – and we need to imagine new forms of ministry both lay and ordained, new ways of being church. Nothing is the same as it was, nothing will be the same as it was, and we want to shout out the loudest “No! Not now, not ever!”

I think that there are two key things to take away from this passage.

First – it’s OK to be honest – don’t pretend that everything is OK when it isn’t, don’t manufacture faith if it isn’t there. We can express our fears and we can express our doubts. In fact expressing our fear and our doubt is often, like it was for Thomas, the first step to faith.

Second – this story of doubt and faith is made the crowning moment of John’s Gospel – the pinnacle – Jesus reaching out to his loyal but doubting and fearful follower, not in anger but in love. Thomas’ exclamation, “My Lord and my God!” is the point at which John choses to rest his case. He has asked his readers to understand who Jesus is and this story of doubt and faith is the crucial last part of his argument. Honest struggling with change, honest struggling through doubt towards faith is given the highest honour in John’s Gospel.

So, don’t be discouraged if the pace of change or the circumstances we face are a struggle. Don’t be discouraged if believing is a struggle. Be encouraged as you struggle to be faithful in an ever-changing context, when at times everything you hold dear seems threatened. Be encouraged as you struggle to believe, for the story of Thomas makes clear that God loves the open and honest doubter.

Sunday 6th December – Mark 1:1-8 and Isaiah 40:1-11

The first Candle on our advent wreath in church spoke of the Patriarchs. The second candle speaks of the Prophets. Both groups witnesses, ahead of time in the Old Testament, to the coming of Jesus. The remaining two outer candles on the wreath represent John and Baptist and Mary.

Our gospel this week and that next week focus on John the Baptist, the last of a long line of Old Testament prophets.

I used to work in the centre of Manchester, and during lunch breaks I’d often wander around Piccadilly Gardens. Frequently I’d be approached by one of the men who lived rough – sleeping on the benches in the Bus Station or in the sunken gardens which were once the basement of a hospital bombed out in the Second World War. Usually I’d be asked for a coin or two to help purchase a meal. Money which, I was near certain, would be spent on alcohol. … Jo, my wife, once told me that when she worked in London and shopped on Oxford Street there was one character that she could rely on meeting. … Trudging up and down, eyes downcast, with a sad look on his face, a rather dishevelled looking man with a scruffy brown overcoat carried a sign “Repent, the end is nigh”. It wasn’t surprising that no one ever stopped him to ask about his message. He seemed rather strange, a person to avoid. Of no relevance to their lives.

This is how I imagine the Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist – very similar to this dishevelled tramp, although perhaps with a little more fire in their bellies! . John the Baptist was an unconventional man, living in the desert, with clothes made of camels hair, living on a diet of locusts and wild honey – proclaiming a message of repentance. A seemingly unattractive person – someone to be ignored. Yet John was attracting large crowds and his message was credible. People listened and acted on what he said.

‘Repent’, said John, and people did, in large numbers. He was a success. …

So, what can we learn from John? How come he was so successful?

In John’s day, Israel was a weary people, living under occupation. They’d been so for 400 years – first the Greeks and Persians, and now the Romans. They were right at the bottom, depressed and desperate for any sign of hope. God had promised a Messiah, and in 400 years there had been only imposters claiming the title. God seemed to have gone silent. They lived under pagan occupying forces; they lived in a secular, world with a corrupt king and hypocritical religious leaders.

Yet among the people were those prepared and willing to hear John’s message. People longing for renewal and change, people who knew that there was more to life than the grind of daily living under the burden of an occupying power. People who perhaps were desperate enough to respond to anything – they’d tried everything else, and here was their last hope. Perhaps people, who when they heard John, recognised God’s voice calling to them. Or perhaps they were people who were just dissatisfied with the world around them and wanted something more.

This sounds very familiar? A secular world, full of unbelief? A lack of confidence in authority? Religion on the back foot? Church attendance dropping? Values of society changing – no longer so easily identified with our Christian heritage? God seemingly absent? … Just like today? Well, almost. …. Perhaps the pandemic makes our circumstances different, but the people in Palestine at the time of John the Baptist would have had significant concerns about their health. There were none of the amazing drugs which we can rely on today!

How should we respond? Pack up and go home? That seems to be the easiest option. Let’s retreat back into our churches, do the things we enjoy doing and let the world get on with its own agenda. Unfortunately, in churches across our land that seems to be the temptation. It’s so much easier to stick with what we know than to contemplate radical change.

John the Baptist chose differently, and so did those who listened him. John spoke words that the people needed to hear. Not, perhaps, what they might have wanted to hear. …… “Repent.” Why? Because God’s kingdom is near! There, in John’s message are the first seeds of hope. God seems to be speaking again, just like he did to the prophets of old, speaking with authority once again. Hope was being born again in the hearts and minds of all who listened to John. John was preparing the way for something significant to happen. Something new, something different.

John brought hope, and with it renewed energy and life. Hope that God would act. Hope that, in the words of the placard carried by the tramp in London, hope that the end was nigh. The end, not of the world, but of waiting for God to act. Now, soon, God will act. The people who went out to John in the desert became a people of hope, people with a renewed vision for the coming of the Messiah.

Advent is a season for preparation, for anticipation, for longing; a season of hope; a season to allow ourselves to yearn for things to be right. A season when we can express even our anger to God – anger that the world is not the way it should be, longing that God will do something about it. Advent is a season when we can start to recognise that God has given us his first response to that longing, to that hope; a down-payment, a deposit that we can trust. In the incarnation of Jesus, we have God’s “Yes!” to our cries for help. “Yes, I am with you. … Yes, I have heard you.” … But it is also the season when we acknowledge that we wait for his final answer. We wait in hope for God’s final solution, when everything will be made right.

Advent hope, Christian hope. Hope that is not just ‘pie-in-the-sky’, but hope based on the firm commitment of a deposit made 2000 years ago in the birth of Jesus. Hope that doesn’t just pretend that everything is going to be all right, despite the evidence. But hope which has seen everything and endured everything and still has not despaired, because it trusts God and his promises. Hope which continues to bear fruit in reality, as people’s lives are changed through meeting with God in Jesus; as they encounter Christians who clearly aren’t perfect but whose lives have something deeply attractive about them.

John calls his hears, calls us to renewal, to repentance – to ‘turn round’, to change direction. Not just to tinkering with the edges of our lives, those little personal things that need to change, it’s a call to a complete reorientation of our lives, a call to begin to believe again in God’s love, to turn away from selfish values and to love again as God has loved us – only this kind of all-embracing repentance will begin to demonstrate that hope is more than wishful thinking, that lives can be and are being changed by God’s love. Only through this kind of repentance will we prepare our hearts and the hearts of those around us for the coming of Jesus.

John’s life witnessed to the truth of what he believed. He was sold out to what he proclaimed. He lived his message. Nothing in the way John behaved, not his words nor his actions, left any doubt about where his priorities lay. However strange found him, the one thing that you could not do was accuse John of duplicity. He was whole-heartedly committed to his message. John’s words and actions belonged together. John’s challenge to us is a challenge to integrity – to live day by day the way that we talk at Church on Sunday. To be united with each other, caring for each other, to be seen to be growing in understanding of our faith, to be seen to be loving each other, and to be reaching out with the love of Christ to everyone that we meet in our daily lives. And by so doing, to emulate John who, as our Gospel reading tells us, pointed beyond himself to another, to the one on whom people’s hope can justifiably rest, to Jesus.

How will we make Advent hope more of a reality in our world today? Certainly not by carrying a placard which speaks of impending judgement, nor by mouthing words of faith which are not clearly supported by the lives that we live. Advent hope, real hope, will be seen as a reality by those around us only when they see lives that are sold out to the Gospel.

Advent Sunday 2020

Mark 13: 24-37 – 29th November 2020

It is over 30 years since the fall of many of the Soviet states in Europe.

31 years since the Berlin Wall was torn down!

My brothers-in-law travelled there at the end of 1989 and picked up a souvenir piece of the wall. Pieces of the Berlin wall are still on sale today.

Over the New Year Holiday, the Berlin Wall was being dismantled. … The end of the Berlin Wall was the end of probably the most potent symbol of oppression in Europe in the 20th Century.

It’s disturbing to realise that it all happened over 30 years ago now. Maybe, at that time, you shared my sense of unbelief – ‘Is this really happening?’ It was hard to believe that the world order that I had grown up in – that of a Cold War, stand-off between two superpowers – was seemingly coming to an end. Something that even just months before those amazing events at the end of 1989 seemed impossible.

This same seeming impossibility surrounded the Jewish people in the centuries before Christ. They had been longing for a Messiah – someone who would change the course of history for ever. They were so often disappointed, different men came promising what they could not deliver. No doubt Israel felt the mocking eyes of others as they clung onto this seemingly vain hope of a glorious Messiah. Someone who would bring in Israel’s golden age. Everything pointed against it. Israel was a pawn, a minor league nation caught in the ebb and flow of the politics of the real powers.

In Advent, as Christians, we do at least two things – firstly, we remember, we enter into something of the feelings of the people of Israel as they waited for the coming of their Messiah. We wait with them. … They had to wait 500 years from the first promises made to them. We allow ourselves the month of December – but we wait for the coming of the Christ-child. Unlike them we know for sure that he will come – for we’ve read the story before.

But we are in other ways just like them. For we impose our expectations on him – we know what the Christmas story is all about – we’ve got the story neatly packaged. … We need the story to be constant, unchanging because life is too busy, too pressurised at this time of year. ‘Let’s stick to the routine,’ we say, ‘enjoy the celebrations, and hopefully have time to relax in January!’ Although what those Christmas celebrations will be like in 2020 is still a matter of uncertainty.

If we are not careful – if we don’t make the time to reflect, to listen, to wait – we’ll miss the Christ-child. We’ll not see the miracle of God in human form. Just as most of Israel missed its Messiah, so God’s grace will pass us by. Advent is our time to centre ourselves before Christmas, to focus on the true meaning of the Christmas story, to grasp that God’s Son, the Christ, God incarnate, Emmanuel, God with us – Jesus, is coming and he is coming for us, for me.

But we also wait in other ways … for many of us, life is not the way we want it to be and we pray for God’s intervention. It feels at times as though nothing is happening. Times like this are hard. We wait for God to come, and he seems absent. We are a little like the people of Israel awaiting their Messiah.

Advent is not just preparing for Christmas, but about looking forward to Christ’s Second Coming. Jesus spoke about this our Gospel reading. A difficult passage, because this Second Coming seems for Jesus to be so immediate. And so we, the Church, have our questions – raised at different times with different intensity. Why has it been so long? Has God forgotten us? Is Jesus never coming back? Were we intended to take it literally? Was Jesus mistaken? Is it important to believe in the Second Coming?

And these questions are often mirrored in our experience of daily life as at times God seems to be absent. And our experience of waiting in some way matches that of those nations waiting year after year under the tyranny of Communism. Seemingly without hope – yet in 1989 there was that dramatic change. What was unbelievable, happened. The wall came down, Communist regimes toppled.

Similar but different.

In our daily lives, we hold onto a promise – a promise to be taken on trust. Jesus’ promise to be there for us in the midst of all that life brings our way – Christ will come again.

But, as Christians, we also have something of the reality on deposit. In the meal of Holy Communion we look back to the realities of Christ=s first coming – his death and resurrection. And we also look forward to that heavenly banquet in which we will all share – a meal that Jesus promised to eat with us in his Kingdom.

We can believe that God is with us in our suffering. We can believe that Christ will return. Things that people dream about, do happen, God’s, presence with us is real, and Christ Second Coming is no more impossible than the collapse of the Berlin Wall felt to a divided Europe, a divided Germany. The seemingly impossible is possible with God.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Remembrance Sunday 2020

Remembrance Sunday

On Sunday 8th November, Remembrance Sunday, all our churches would usually have been full of people remembering, along with millions around our world, the many women and men who have given their lives in the different conflicts of the past 110 and more years.  People who either by choice, or through compulsion, risked their lives in the pursuit of peace and justice.  We owe our freedom to many such people who have stood up against tyranny and oppression – to people who risked everything, laying themselves on the line.

Things are very different this year! We enter another national lockdown because of Coronavirus on Thursday 5th November and our churches will now only be open for private prayer for the next few weeks.

But we will all remember. …. Some will be able to attend church on 8th November, others will want to remain at home. We have sent out Remembrance Sunday prayer cards to people who usually attend our churches or who receive mailings. The prayers included here are specifically for Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day. As you use them, you might want to have a poppy to hand.

As I said in our Parish magazine this month:

Our remembering will … include the memories of those who have served on the battlefield or in conflict zones around our world will no doubt justifiably tell and re-tell stories of valour and bravery. For those who served, >remembering= will also bring to the front of the mind stories of those who did not return. Remembering brings to the surface the naked fear of conflict, the pain of loss and a real sense of comradeship.

 But remembering is so very important to us all, not just on Remembrance Sunday or Armistice Day, but in all areas of our lives. Remembering leads to us telling our stories. Both as individuals and communities. And as we tell our story, we reaffirm our roots, and we define who we are. We put our own lives in context. For today=s world, where we define ourselves not so much by where we come from as by our networks of friends and acquaintances can so easily become a rootless place where we do not know who we really are.

Our shared memories are our key to understanding ourselves. And our collective memory needs to be sustained by hearing the stories of our past. By hearing from those who went out from us here to serve in different arenas in our world. These stories, these people are so much a part of who we are here … today. They contribute to our history, they strengthen our community spirit.

Our stories are important. Remembering is vital. Nowhere is this more true than in relation to the conflicts with which we have been involved as a nation. Failure to engage with and learn from our past is the height of modern arrogance. We have to hear again the stories of conflict, of bravery, of pain and loss. And we need to allow those stories, … that remembering, to change us now. It must inform our thinking about the future, it must be allowed to change our wills and our actions.

 For in today’s world, we are all called to take new & different risks. To act for justice, for peace in society, in the world around us. To work for racial justice, to fight discrimination, to engage with injustice in whatever form it might arise.”

We have the promise of God in Christ: “Work,” says Jesus, “for the coming of God’s kingdom and I will be with you always.” God does not leave us alone to face new challenges, to risk our lives in the cause of his Kingdom. He promises always to be with us. So let us covenant again, as people of different races, ages, interests, appearances, and with different views, choose to live together in harmony, to work within our own communities, groups and congregations, for peace, justice and understanding.

Prayers

A prayer of commemoration for the fallen

Father of all, remember your holy promise, and look with love on all your people, living and departed.

On this day we especially ask that you would hold forever all who have suffered during war, those who returned scarred by warfare, those who waited anxiously at home, and those who returned wounded, and disillusioned; those who mourned, and those communities that were diminished and suffered loss.

Remember too those who acted with kindly compassion, those who bravely risked their own lives for their comrades, and those who in the aftermath of war, worked tirelessly for a more peaceful world.

And as you remember them, remember us, O Lord; grant us peace in our time and a longing for the day when people of every language, race, and nation will be brought into the unity of Christ’s kingdom. This we ask in the name of the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A prayer for World peace
O God of the nations,
as we look to that day when you will gather people
from north and south, east and west,
into the unity of your peaceable Kingdom,
guide with your just and gentle wisdom all who take counsel
for the nations of the world,
that all your people may spend their days in security, freedom, and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Prayers with poppies – suitable for children, as well as adults!

All you need for this simple prayer is a poppy.

Look at your poppy. Poppies are bright and cheerful flowers: give thanks to God for the lives of those who have died in war, remembering all the joy they brought to families and friends, and all the good things they did for their home and their country.

Then look at the red petals: red reminds us of danger and harm. Ask God to be close to those who are still facing danger each day, to give courage to the armed forces, and compassion to all who help others.

Place your whole hand over the poppy: poppies are also fragile and need to be handled gently. God cares for those who are hurting and those who are sad. Ask God to comfort all who are grieving the loss of someone they love.

Finally place a finger on the centre of the poppy: ask God to help you play your part in working for peace in the world.

 

All Saints’ Day – Matthew 5:1-12 & Revelation 7: 9-17

The reading from Revelation set for All Saints’ Day paints a vivid picture of the future – looking forward, imagining an ultimate destination for all of the saints, for all of us.

The technical term for the book of Revelation is that it is ‘eschatological.’ Eschatology is the study of the last things. Under its umbrella in Christian thinking we could place the coming of God’s Kingdom, the return of Christ, immortality and eternal life, judgement, heaven and hell – perhaps too, what we might understand by ‘Christian hope’. The passage in Revelation is a vision of what the future might hold.

The book of Revelation is written to a church suffering persecution. That church found the imagery of Revelation dramatic and hope-giving. Words of hope spoken to people in the midst of suffering.

The author is encouraging their first hearers to believe that there is something more than the difficult things they are currently experiencing. That ultimately, the faithful will have a place in a new heaven and a new earth. The author hopes that such knowledge will change their listeners understanding of the present.

We are now entering the time in the Christian year when our eyes are turned to look forward. Where the Gospel and our other readings look ahead – not just to the Incarnation – the first coming of Christ – but to Christ’s return. We will hear words on Jesus’ lips that promise his return, parables that encourage us to be ready for that return. A return that has not taken place and which, at times, it seems might never take place.

It is true that all that the Gospels promise us has not yet been fulfilled. The death and resurrection of Christ are at the heart of our faith. Jesus has inaugurated his Kingdom here on earth. But we know that everything that the Kingdom stands for seems as far away today as it must have done in Jesus’ day.

As we listen to Jesus words over the coming weeks, we will hear him emphasising that we are living in what we might call ‘in-between times’. As Jesus speaks, he seems to say, “My death and resurrection will inaugurate the Kingdom, but its final fruition is dependent on my return.”

He wants his listeners to know that their lives are lived within an on-going flow of history which reflects the purposes of God, a history which will come to an end in God’s good time. He wants them, and us, to realise that while we cannot know the time and place – God will bring all things to a final conclusion.

We live in the ‘now and not yet’ of God’s salvation history; looking forward with real hope to a time when history will finally be resolved, when Christ will come again. But living now with the reality of a world of complications, of joy and sadness, of hope and disappointment; a world where God is seen most clearly in the lives of those who love and serve him – even when serving God brings persecution and trouble. And so, John, in his epistle, says:

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when Christ is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

We are being transformed, made new, through our experiences in this life. Day by day, God is working that transformation in us. Our Gospel reading gives a shape to the transformed lives we are to live as God’s saints here in the present:

“Blessed,” says Jesus, “are those who are aware of the poverty of their own spirit – who realise just how easily good motives turn to bad. Blessed are those who mourn over their own weakness. Blessed are those who choose a path of meekness rather than power and self-aggrandisement. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Blessed are all these because in doing so they will be changed, they will be renewed. The very characteristics that they long for, they will have. Blessed they will be, as they are merciful to others, as the purity of their motives and their heart becomes clear. Blessed they will be as they become courageous peacemakers.”

“Most blessed will they be,” says Jesus, “when they share something of my sufferings.” For through those sufferings they will be transformed and truly be the salt of the earth, lights in the darkness of a world which is longing for the acceptance and the love of God.