I don't suppose that anyone reads a foreword before they look at the book itself. If you are reading this first, it will one of the rare occasions when I have got a word in before Paul Denby, and he will have followed me!
I have been facinated by this account of the two churches now one in the parish of St George, Stalybridge for three reasons other than simply finding out about church life here in this town over the centuries.
First, I can now believe more firmly than ever that the Holy Spirit can be at work even in the Church. Read this account of the controversies that have surrounded religious faith and practice in Stalybridge and you might well wonder how any church survived the great arguments, especially that of Isaac Newton France's incumbency. God can work to bring good out the most barren circumstances.
Secondly, I have even greater conviction that the church must be about the whole people of God and not only the clergy. For although Paul has largely divided this history up in terms of incumbencies, it is those people who have gone on believing, worshipping and serving from the pews throughout those very varied ministries that have meant that this church has gone on bearing fruitful witness to the gospel in Stalybridge.
Thirdly, after reading of some of the events of our church's past, I promise not to moan too much about long or even heated discussions at church meetings! Twentieth-century church life is so very quiet in comparison to much of our past.
But enough religion! There have obviously been long hours of research, much slaving over a hot Word Processor, and a great deal of editing to produce this book. It says a lot about Paul's affection for Stalybridge and St George's that he continued his work even after his move to produce this volume in time for our 150th anniversary.
I am glad of the chance to write this foreword and to wish the book well. It bears reading not just by those with a personal concern for St George's, but also by those with an interest in the history of this area, or with the development of church life, and religious practice and expression. However, for those of you with St George's connections, and I know that this will inevitably be the majority, I would say that this book has helped me to understand a little more about the place where I live and worship. I'm sure it will do the same for you.