St Martins Church Ashton Upon Mersey

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Dear friends,

 

Earlier this year I enjoyed a few days break in Krakow, which has become one of my favourite places I’ve ever visited. Most foreign visitors who go to Krakow will be familiar with the ‘chocolate box’ medieval streets and squares and buildings, and nearby places such as Auschwitz and Wieliczka Salt Mine. Having been fortunate to have toured these places on previous holidays I managed to go to see something else I’d longed hoped to visit: a rather unusual church called, in Polish, Arka Pana – or in English, The Lord’s Ark. It’s found in one of the outer suburbs of Krakow, Nowa Huta, and was consecrated just over forty years ago

 

The town of Nowa Huta is interesting in itself. In 1947, the decision was made to build a kind of Communist utopia, with construction beginning straight away. It was meant to rival the ‘twee-ness’ of medieval Krakow and show what modern socialism could achieve in terms of ideal community living. The development is impressive in its enormity and precision and as one of only two Socialist Realist settlements ever built, it is considered one of the most renowned examples of social engineering in the World.

 

The Communist authorities had intended the suburb to be church-free, as part of their atheist manifesto, but as people began to move in to the new properties, there were many who began to press for a church to be built. A cross was erected on the proposed designated building site in March 1957 but by 1960 this had become the focus of open conflict between militia forces and local inhabitants who defended the cross. This resulted in permission being granted for the cross to stay but there being no official permission to build a church – it would be a further seven years before this was won... and then the authorities refused to provide any building materials or labour. In a state-run economy this made construction extremely difficult. It can be argued that this was part of a calculated move on the part of the government - they would appease the protesters by greenlighting the project and the same time making construction practically impossible.

 

However, the government did not take into account the sheer determination of the people. Instead of giving up, the residents promptly built the church by hand out of whatever stones that they could gather up, mixing their own cement. The façade alone is made up of 2 million stones. It is built to resemble Noah's ark, which was washed up on Mount Ararat after the flood had finally reseeded. It was finally completed in 1969, and consecrated by the local bishop Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II.

 

The design of the church, and its ecclesiastical furniture, is as unusual as its Ark shape. There are seven doors, representing the seven sacraments; seven ways ‘into’ knowing God and his love. The high altar is carved from marble in the shape of a giant open hand, and there is an immense statue of Christ, soaring up to heaven. The tabernacle, where the consecrated sacrament of the Eucharist is kept, is in the shape of the globe and has set within the door a stone from the moon, originally given to Pope Paul VI by the crew of Apollo 11. There’s even a statue of Our Lady made from shrapnel removed from Polish soldiers at the Battle of Monte Casino. Currently the interior of the church is undergoing renovation so I was limited in what I could see but it would be fascinating to return when it is fully open again and spend some proper time inside. 

 

As we move through Holy Week into Easter this month, this Church, with its remarkable story, is, I think, a great symbol of both suffering and Resurrection. Just as the authorities thought they could silence Jesus by killing him, so too the atheist authorities thought they could quash religious faith and Christianity in the Soviet Union. Neither succeeded. The power of God at work in the life of Jesus Christ, and in the life of his body the Church, is one which cannot be crushed, or even contained. It is vibrant and vital. Just as Jesus triumphed through seeking to do the will of his Father, so too have Christians triumphed in many generations when they have found themselves under persecution.

 

And just as Jesus achieved the new life of Resurrection at the place of death, Golgotha, the Arka Pana symbolises this too – the construction had to be halted when it was found that the site was an abandoned WWII ammunition dump and 5,000 mines and shells had to be carefully removed. But that's not the end to the drama witnessed by the church. The town later became a stronghold for anticommunist troops, at which time the church provided shelter from militia, as well as holding monthly masses during the period of martial law from 1981 to 1983.

The Church rises over what was the source of death and now points to new life and new hope.

 

The message of Easter, that Love triumphs over evil; that new life is raised from death; that God is faithful in his promises to love us and save us, is a powerful one which the world is always in need of hearing afresh. Alongside the first Easter in history, when Jesus was raised from the dead, there are many ‘mini-Easters’ to be found in the life of Christ’s Church which encourage us to sing our Alleluias anew, but also to recognise that they often come from periods of struggle and suffering. The Lord’s Ark is not just an incredible building with a fascinating story – it is also a modern icon of the resurrection truth that God’s love prevails even in the midst of disaster, and that Christ’s risen life is flooding the world and its people.

 

May you all know the power and joy of Christ’s Resurrection this Eastertide.

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The Methodist Covenant Prayer

 

I am no longer my own but yours.

Put me to what you will,

rank me with whom you will;

put me to doing, put me to suffering;

let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,

exalted for you or brought low for you.

Let me be full, let me be empty,

let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things

 to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

you are mine and I am yours.

So be it.

And the covenant made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven.

Amen.

 

"BE PREPARED"  Our Lord tells us that he will come again... but he doesn't say when!  For over 2000 years people have been waiting but it could be tomorrow!

 
 

  

St Martin's Church, Church Lane,  Ashton-upon-Mersey,  Sale,  Cheshire ,    M33 5QQ  

0161 976 4086 
0161 973 4204