And where to now?...
The Revd Jonathan Tinker was inducted as the new incumbent of the parish in February, 1988. Quite a number of people, and this probably included both Jonathan and myself, were a little surprised to see him come to Stalybridge. This had nothing to do with his abilities, but only the strange phenomenon that Jonathan had been inducted as the Rector of All Saints, Stretford only a matter of weeks after I had left that parish to become Vicar of St George's. It certainly was a surprise to know that he would succeed me in the parish of St George but it was also very pleasing that he did.
Jonathan soon stamped his mark on the parish and people realised that he would not be in any sense a dictatorial priest, but one who would encourage the worshippers to take responsibility and get on with the job. Shared Ministry continued to be the norm and soon Local Ordained Ministry came onto the scene. This was a natural development in such a parish and almost an obvious consequence of the lay leadership and style of the place. Local Ordained Ministry was very new to the Diocese and Jonathan seized the opportunity of moving people in this direction.
The parish was soon accredited as a suitable base for such a ministry and the name of Philip Brierley was put forward. After going through the selection procedure, it was decided that Philip would be allowed to begin the first of the three years of the course and that he would hopefully be ordained in 1992 and become one of the first people in the Diocese to be trained in this way.
Very soon after Jonathan had arrived in the parish, Chris Atkinson was offered the post of Team Vicar with sole charge of seven parishes around the village of Brampton in Suffolk. Chris and Anna moved in May, 1988 to take up this new challenge and are currently enjoying their new life in that rather idyllic setting. Anna is employed as Chaplain to the St Felix School at Southwold in Suffolk.
In July, 1988 the team at Stalybridge was enriched by the arrival of a new deacon. Tony Davies was ordained on the first Sunday of that month and, coming from the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, brought a whole new dimension to the worship of the church. His was a "high" practice and though the parish had moved considerably "up the candle" they were not quite ready for such a radical change in their pattern. Stalybridge has historically oscillated throughout the spectrum of churchmanship. It has been "very low", notably in the early years and in the middle of the 20th century and relatively "high" during the time of Murphy Oldfield, Stanley Stirrup and myself. It is now finding a level some where around what is commonly called "liberal Catholic".
Tony moved into the curate's house in the village of Heyrod, but has opted for a wider ministry than his predecessor and relates to the parish as a whole rather than primarily to the village. This inevitably offers both advantages and disadvantages to the village.
Whilst I was still in the parish, it was discovered that the floor area in the Narthex of the building had deteriorated at a rapid rate. The concrete was breaking up and this was caused by the poor mixture laid at the time of the alterations in 1976. The original builder inspected the floor and, though the fault was not primarily his, undertook to replace the concrete free of charge. This was completed in 1988 and it is hoped that carpeting can be fitted in the near future.
Reader Ministry was once more to come to the fore. Dennis Grantham had been coming to the church for a number of years and was confirmed after joining the fellowship. He began his training in January, 1986 and was licensed in May, 1990, continuing the line of committed lay people who have worked for the church in this way.
Towards the middle part of 1989 the incumbent decided to hold a Parish Weekend so that new priorities could be established and an in depth appraisal made as to where the parish now stood and where it might be heading in the foreseeable future. This proved a most successful event and it was clear from the weekend that communications within the church and in the parish would be a major area of concern. Many other good points were raised at the weekend and one of which stimulated the creation of the Youth Services which began on an experimental basis.
The parish now looks forward to the restof 1990 and to a year of celebration and thanksgiving to God for the 150 years of worship and service by the people of the church. During 1990 it is intended that there should be a Flower Festival, a Carnival Procession around the parish, a series of sermons from previous incumbents and curates, Festal Evensong, mementos of the 150th celebrations and a Dinner Dance to complete the festivities, all promoting the work of the church and its interface within the community.
The parish of St George, for me, could best be described as a parish of great opportunity, where Shared Ministry allows a clear vision of what it is that God is asking of his people. Though the church is 150 years old this year, the parish is 214 years old and is a place full of history, struggle and often apathy mixed with confusion and even hate but, by the grace of God, one that has made a significant contribution to the life of the people and to the town of Stalybridge.
It is only fitting that the final words of this book should not in fact be the author's but those of the present incumbent in expressing his hopes for the parish in the future. In an interview Jonathan had this to say:
"At our parish weekend in April, 1989 we decided that our long-term vision was of a united church, sharing in ministry and reaching out into the local community. But that is a vision that we will always be perusing.
In the somewhat shorter term, I would like to see ministry being shared even more widely than it is already. That ministry must be both within the church community, and also outside, in mission to the whole of the parish. To help that process along, the challenges that have presented themselves in Local Ordained Ministry have meant that we are considering the possibility of two LOM's operating as co-ordinators of the work done by the laity in caring for the parish and in communicating the Good News to them. The real point of Local Ordained Ministry is not to provide the vicar with extra curates but to stimulate the whole church to see what each individual's ministry might be.
I hope that through LOM there will be a greater understanding of what lay ministry is really all about. For it is not just concerned with the church building, or worship, or what we do in our spare time. Each of us is called to fulfil a ministry of caring and proclaiming the Gospel wherever we are in our everyday lives, at home and at work. I know that people at St George's are beginning to see that. I am sure that is where the future of the Church as a whole lies.
In a growing church like St George's, the need for better and better communication with each other and with the parish will remain a central issue. We hope to improve our communication with each other, and our communication with our neighbours, both about the things that go on in the church, and about the fundamental things of the Gospel. Included in that must be a greater involvement with all those other institutions concerned for our bit of Stalybridge, and a greater co-operation with them. That must also include the other churches of Stalybridge, of all denominations, then our witness will be more effective.
As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the building of New St George's we need to see too how our building can best be used in the service of the community. All the work done by previous generations in maintenance, in beautifying, in adaptation for wider use, must be built on. The lounge and hall could be better used for the whole community and our worship could reflect God's glory and concerns even more closely.
Perhaps some of this seems a bit vague. Day to day life goes on, caring for people in the area in the ways that have always been part of parish life, but in the middle of the activity we need to dream dreams and see visions. If they are of God, he will bring them to pass".
For all that he has given us: Thanks be to God.