Old Church, New Church Songs of Praise


Old Church, New Church

David Grant explores the past, present and future of the Church in Stoke-on-Trent and introduces hymns from Longton Methodist Central Hall.


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Transcript


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What is a church?

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A historic building with a tale of its own to tell?

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A state-of-the-art worship space?

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Or the hub of a community in these difficult times?

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I've come to explore the past, present and possible future

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of the church in one city, Stoke-on-Trent.

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Today, bringing the Cathedral of the potteries back to life

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with the BBC's help. The ordinary house that's become a place

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of 24-hour prayer, plus music from Kristyna Myles, Stuart Pendred

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and contemporary and traditional hymns.

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As you travel in and around Stoke-on-Trent

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you get glimpses of the area's rich Christian heritage,

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but churches aren't just stuck in the past,

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look around and it's fascinating what you'll find.

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Forget your high street coffee shops with their baristas

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and skinny cappuccinos,

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I'm actually in one of the city's forward-thinking churches.

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Another exterior that belies what's inside

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is Longton Methodist Central Hall.

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It's one of the hidden architectural gems, not just of the Potteries,

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but the whole of the Midlands, and it's here that over 800 people

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have gathered to sing their songs of praise.

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Just north of Stoke-on-Trent is the village of Mow Cop.

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Its most famous building is this castle, actually it's a folly

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and it was on the slopes that what became known

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as Primitive Methodism was born.

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Methodism was founded by John Wesley

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who was famous for his outdoor preaching.

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But by the beginning of the 19th century,

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some of his followers felt that the movement was losing its way.

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Methodism actually became a bit respectable

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and it was a bit worried about appeasing the government

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because it wanted to maintain its religious freedom.

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The Primitive Methodists were a group

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that really felt called by the spirit

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to go back to the early form of Methodism as John Wesley practised it

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and what they were really concerned about was things like open-air preaching,

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engaging with the poor and the marginalised.

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The first Primitive Methodists were really concerned with saving souls.

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It was the fire of the holy spirit, it was about saving people.

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They felt very much that the power of God was calling them

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to change lives for ordinary working people.

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How did that show itself?

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In what way did they get involved in changing lives?

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So then they got involved in politics

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and, for them, they wrestled with this and they read their Bibles

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because they wanted it to be absolutely right with Scripture,

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but they absolutely felt that politics

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was the outworking of their Christian faith.

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Through preaching, they learnt skills in public speaking

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and those were just the skills they needed

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that would equip them to empower working people

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to get better conditions and, as they developed then, they were also able

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to become some of the very first Labour MPs

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and actually go into Parliament.

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The influence of those early Methodists was long lasting,

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affecting the worlds of both church and politics

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well into the 20th century.

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Tristram Hunt is not only the MP for Stoke Central,

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but also a historian and he's well aware of the legacy of nonconformism.

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Religion and politics in Stoke-on-Trent

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went together very closely. This wasn't a part

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of the world with a particularly strong trade union movement.

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This wasn't like Manchester or Liverpool.

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The vehicles for organisation came out much more clearly from religious practices

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and when we look at Methodism, when we look at congregationalism,

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these were often the vehicles for people to begin to think about

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a broader conception of social justice

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and how they could play their part in that.

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The nonconformist inheritance within the Labour movement and the Labour Party

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was enormously powerful right through to the 20th century.

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It's not there today in any way the same degree.

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I think it's, probably, its last two great apostles, if I can use that phrase,

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where Michael Foot and Tony Benn.

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Michael Foot inherited from his father, Isaac Foot,

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that great West Country nonconformist, liberal passion,

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a belief in the word, a belief in the puritan good old cause.

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We are not prepared to accept the decision

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of this Parliament as to whether...

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'I think the Labour Party's more distant relationship with nonconformity today is really

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'a reflection of broader social and cultural trends.'

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Yes, we have lost something.

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We've lost that sense of mission and purpose

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which goes right back to the English Civil War.

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We've lost that notion of the good old cause.

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I think we've lost some of the language, some of the rhetoric,

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some of the sense of struggle, and our politics is the poorer for it.

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This may look like an ordinary terraced house,

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but inside there's a labyrinth of rooms all devoted to prayer.

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The Beacon house of prayer was set up by Karen and William Porter

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and they too were inspired by the example of those early Methodists.

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It began, I guess, because we moved to the city of Stoke-on-Trent

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and we connected strongly into the city prayer movement

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that was happening and very early on,

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as we moved to the city, we were reminded of the well of revival

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within Methodism that was here and as we came we were to connect into that

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and be some of those people who would re-dig wells of revival.

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It began in our lounge with about 15 friends,

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not with an agenda or a plan, we just said we were going to meet

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together once a week and we'd worship.

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How did you go from your lounge to a dedicated house of prayer?

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About five years ago we found a building

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and we had this nice facility with a basement room,

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a ground-floor prayer room and next door was a massage parlour.

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So it was an interesting contrast.

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You started in 2007, how has it developed from there?

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Gradually different churches connected with us, prayer groups started to come,

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and last year we felt God was challenging us.

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Now you've built enough strength,

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will you have a year of unbroken prayer in 2012?

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Father, we thank you for the journey that we've been on...

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So, Karen and William responded to this call

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by organising a year of 24/7 prayer.

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Every single day during 2012, at any time of the day or night,

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there was always at least one person praying at the Beacon.

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Practically, there's a rota so 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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We've got a website - whynotprayforachange -

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people literally sign up for the hours that they'll be there.

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We give you thanks, Father...

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My slot is 6-7, so I get up at 5:30am.

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Excuse me, did somebody, like, volunteer you for that

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or did you volunteer yourself?

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The rota went up and everybody had to fill in what was best for them.

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-Was that the only one left?

-No, no.

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I've been getting up quite early in the morning and praying anyway.

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So, Kev, is it like a prayer relay race

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where the person after you comes in and you hand over the baton?

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Yeah, it's very much like that.

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The person who I'm taking off will actually pray for me.

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He who is so faithful...

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I always read my Bible first and then around the particular room

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that I actually pray in, there's a city map, there's a map of the whole of the country

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and there is a map of the world and I find myself drawn towards praying,

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at some point in that hour, towards what's going on in our city and our country.

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I'm quite creative, so I find myself doing a painting or even drawing.

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For me, coming from a traditional church,

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I just thought praying was praying, really.

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Yet what I've discovered is that there's so many

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creative ways of praying which, again, made me want to stay.

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# In this world

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# I walk alone

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# With no place

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# No place to call my home

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# But there is one

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# Who holds my hand

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# Through rugged roads

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# Through barren lands

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# In your love

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# I find relief

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# A haven from

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# My unbelief

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# So take my life

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# And let me be

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# A living prayer

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# My God, to thee

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# So take my life, take my life

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# And let me be

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# A living prayer

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# My God, to thee. #

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Bethesda Methodist Chapel is known locally

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as the Cathedral of the Potteries and holds up to 2,000 people.

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But in 1985, the last regular service was held here.

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It was a sad occasion and there were tears that night to think that

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there wouldn't be a service here again.

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Bethesda fell into decay, but in 2003, this wonderful building

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was a finalist in the BBC Two series Restoration.

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This galvanised attempts to save the chapel and in the past ten years,

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it has been lovingly renovated

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and now holds open days and occasional services.

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It feels wonderful to see people walking in the church again

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and to have a service in here,

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like we did a few weeks ago for the memorial,

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and to hear the organ being played.

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The first time the organ was played, I'm sorry, but I cried.

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And some people who are probably even older than I am

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will tell us about their memories and how they were married here.

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It is really wonderful to see people come in.

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Another impressive building in the Potteries is where our

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congregation has gathered - Longton Methodist Central Hall.

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This has recently undergone a restoration programme of its own,

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not as far-reaching, perhaps, as Bethesda, but quite remarkable

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because it was the handiwork of just one man.

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Property steward Alan Nickisson single-handedly painted

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the interior of the church.

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Speaking as someone who needs a week to do two coats of emulsion in a room,

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how long did you give yourself to do this?

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I was asked how much time did I need and I said I would need seven weeks.

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So, when you started it, what drove you to it?

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I think it was the past,

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it was my memories of this place many years ago.

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When I first started with the Boys' Brigade

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I used to come to the classes that used to be here in the church

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itself in the mornings. I used to thoroughly enjoy the services.

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How high is the ceiling here?

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Approximately 45 feet from the floor.

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Did you lie on your back to do it,

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sort of like Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel?

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No, no, no, not at all. We had what's known as a birdcage scaffold.

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When you see the roof being raised off this place and people singing

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their praises in such a beautiful building, what does that feel like?

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It's an unbelievable feeling. It's absolutely unbelievable

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to realise that, when people are looking around them as they're

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singing, the worship that takes place in here at that particular time,

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it does absolutely raise the roof.

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It's just wonderful.

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Two of Stoke's churches are among the ten largest

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Methodist congregations in the country - and no wonder.

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One of them, Swan Bank, not only offers Sunday worship,

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but sports facilities, a coffee shop and even a library.

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Swan Bank's been here in the centre of Burslem since the early 1800s.

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And so we've been working since then and we've had to change and adapt.

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We've seen churches around us close, but we're still a growing church

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and that's because we've tried to take seriously

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the needs of the present age.

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We have opened a coffee shop that's open every day of the week.

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It's the only place in the town to get a really good cup of coffee

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in terms of a cappuccino or a latte or Americano.

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Also, recently, because in the town the library closed down, we've opened

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a small library in the building so we can serve our community.

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What is it that you like about this place?

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Erm, just that there's lots on offer.

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It's lovely and everyone's really friendly.

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You get a really warm welcome when you come in the door, so yeah, it's really nice.

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-So it's not like libraries where if you breathe loudly you get told to be quiet?

-No.

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-You've got six weeks.

-OK, thank you.

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I think Swan Bank, by having a library here,

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we'll have broken down some barriers for people

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because it's a community library and people will come in,

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the coffee shop's here and there's lots of things for them to do.

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They'll just come in here, take a book and they're in church before they know it

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and I think that's great.

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If you're visiting us, a very warm welcome to you as we worship...

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'If the church becomes central to people's lives, day in, day out,

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'so they're coming regularly into the building and the building becomes a nonthreatening place,

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'it's really easier to invite them to a worship experience with us.'

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So we're a growing church because, first of all, they're used to being in our building,

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we're building relationships with people and then they're coming to faith.

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# Be still for the presence of the Lord

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# The holy one is here

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# Come bow before him now

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# With reverence and fear

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# In him no sin is found

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# We stand on holy ground

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# Be still for the presence of the Lord

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# The holy one is here

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# Be still, for the power of the Lord

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# Is moving in this place

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# He comes to cleanse and heal

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# To minister his grace

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# No work too hard for him

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# In faith receive from him

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# Be still, for the power of the Lord

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# Is moving in this place. #

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In 1992, 25 people from Swan Bank started a church in this former secondary school.

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It now has a congregation of about 500 people,

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many of whom are new to church life.

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If somebody had told me five years ago that I'd be a regular church attender

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I would have laughed at them, to say the least.

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I was drinking, like, every single day after school

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and when I left school I was just in the pub all the time.

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I started hanging round with the wrong crowd

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and we'd go to the football matches, home and away,

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and there'd be large groups of us and we'd get into a bit of mither.

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And then I started going out with a girl and she kept inviting me along

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to this youth group on a Friday night.

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I thought, "Friday night? There's more to do on a Friday night than go to a church youth group."

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She kept nagging me and nagging me so in the end, just for a bit of peace,

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I said, "OK, I'll go along."

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Then I went along to the church on a Sunday

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and that was...that was good.

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I mean, first impressions, there wasn't pews and there's a band.

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There was a guest speaker there which comes from an army background

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and I could relate to him. He started describing

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how he experienced the holy spirit.

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He said, "If you want to experience what I encountered then put your hand up."

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So I was sitting there with my arms folded and I thought,

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"I've got a reputation here, I'm not responding to some preacher bloke,"

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and I started feeling, like, a flood into my body...

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and I couldn't describe it. It was better than any amount of alcohol.

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It was just unbelievable.

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And that was basically when I made a commitment to become Christian.

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Father God, we thank you for the inspiration of your holy spirit

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manifest in new ways of being church,

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for the leading of the spirit.

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'Giving us a sense of purpose and direction

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'as we pray that your kingdom may come

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'and your will be done.'

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In Jesus' name, amen.

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Just as churches of the past have informed the way we worship today,

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modern hymn writers are often inspired by those who've gone before.

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Michael Saward said he wanted to offer great declarations

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of faith and affirmations of commitment

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when he wrote the words of our final hymn,

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Christ Triumphant Ever Reigning.

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Next week, to mark Robert Burns' birthday,

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Sally meets Scottish artists,

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including a writer who delves into the minds of murderers

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and a painter who risked everything by giving up his day job,

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and hymns from Dunblane Cathedral.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:34:020:34:05

David Grant explores the past, present and future of the Church in Stoke-on-Trent and introduces modern and traditional hymns from Longton Methodist Central Hall with performances by Kristyna Myles and Stuart Pendred.


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