Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Staying alive

Thirty-nine years ago fresh out of theological college I joined the team ministry of a group of six churches, four of them in the area which became the Borough of Tameside and two just over the border in the City of Manchester. The two Manchester churches were in Openshaw and, as is the way with these things, were the result of a split. Thus there was one in Cornwall Street and one in Mersey Street – their locations accidentally symbolic of the psychological, if not physical, distance between them. So I began by preaching regularly in both churches. They were faithful people but small in number. Then they reunited, probably more responding to economic reality than anything else, at Mersey Street. I continued my contact with them as a visiting preacher for almost ten years after I left that team ministry.

The area has had times of difficulty ever since fields were first built on in the industrial urban expansion of Manchester. Many other churches in the area have closed, their denominational authorities preferring to put their human and financial resources into areas where there is a better immediate return on their investment. I suspect there were many times when shutting up shop at Mersey Street seemed a more attractive option than hanging on in there. Put like that it doesn’t seem either creative or attractive but being present gives an opportunity to do things that those who drive in and then drive off again cannot. For such a small congregation it has, over the years, been involved in all kinds of projects from bikers to credit union, from health to urban spirituality.

On Sunday afternoon I returned to Mersey Street. The houses in the area immediately round the church were all boarded up – even some which had been rebuilt about 10 years ago. The area is being regenerated so the church building had been compulsorily purchased by the City Council. It was the closing service of not the church but the building. In the midst of physical desolation and disruption, the service looked joyfully to the next steps for the church – first to continue to work and worship without their building, then to make creative use of the compensation.

Their new logo features a tent – one of the best images for the church. The logo also features a dancing scarecrow. If that intrigues you, look at www.dancingscarecrow.org.uk.

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