St Martins Church Ashton Upon Mersey

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Dear friends,

 

The beginning of September marks four years since I was licensed to St Martin’s as Priest-in-Charge. In the funny way that we experience time as human beings it seems in some ways both longer than that, and also far shorter a time too! I still remember moving in to the Rectory; after a week of hard graft sorting out the contents of hundreds of boxes, doing bits of painting and dealing with problems like a broken fridge-freezer, Dan and I decided to have a day off from the house and head into Manchester city centre to do a day’s exploring.

 

While we were wandering around we happened upon a plaque on the wall of a building in St Peter Street which had some flowers left on the pavement below it. On closer inspection it was the plaque commemorating the Peterloo Massacre, and it was 195 years to the day since the terrible events of 16th August 1819. I have to admit I wasn’t really aware of this atrocious event in English history, when over 600 people were injured and 15 (or some say maybe one or two more) killed during a peaceful rally calling for democratic reform and protesting about poverty. It turns out, though, many other people don’t really know much about it either. In the last four years I’ve spoken to a number of friends and family who also admitted their lack of knowledge.

 

Next year will mark the 200th anniversary and as part of the effort to give the event a higher profile the film maker Mike Leigh has produced a movie about the events of the day. In a few weeks’ time Manchester will host the UK premiere on 17th October. Despite growing up in Salford, Mike Leigh says he never learned about the massacre at school – and it has never been part of the national curriculum (although this does not mean it never appears in lessons in any school.) Many of the people who worked on the film had not been aware of the events either.

 

Doing a little bit of research led me to the Ashton and Sale History Society Journal, Number 32, where an article by Jill Groves states:

 

The Reverend Richard Popplewell-Johnson, (1749-1835) rector of Ashton-upon-Mersey, was also a magistrate or Justice of the Peace. He was the JP who read out the Riot Act at Peterloo to the people gathered on St Peter’s Field, Manchester in 1819. When they didn’t disperse as ordered, he was the one who authorised the mounted Yeomanry charge into the crowd.

 

Looking in church at the marble monument inscribed with the names of Rectors down the years, it seems a bit strange to think that my predecessor-thirteen-removed was at the centre of that terrible day.

 

 

Much has changed in society since then, both in terms of those who can vote in national and local elections and also how poverty is viewed. However, there are still many threads from 200 years ago which still echo in today’s world, even in our own country, about inequality and where political (and other) power resides.

 

In the past few days the Old Testament readings at Evening Prayer have come from the book of the prophet Micah. Writing in the 8th Century BC, Micah is scathing in his attacks upon the money-grubbing exploitation of the helpless and dishonesty in business. He denounces many in authority, both religious and political, for the way that they pervert the justice and love of God through their actions and words. But he also sees a glorious future; one in which Bethlehem gives birth to a greater David who will rule over all God’s people. This prophecy was later seen by some Jews as being fulfilled in Jesus and is the lens through which Christians now view this element of Micah’s words. And Jesus himself raises his voice against those who oppress the poor and needy and abuse their power and position in society.

 

As Christians in this generation, we need to be alert to the many injustices that still abound and find our voice to protest and seek reform, at home and abroad. The peaceful demonstration of the Peterloo protestors should be an encouragement to us not to be content whilst some of our brothers and sisters in Christ are living in poverty and squalor, or are being exploited and used by others. Mike Leigh, speaking about the film and the story it tells, said: “In the end, why is the film still relevant? Many reasons. One of them being the difference between those who have power and those who don’t. Those who have wealth and those who are on the breadline.”

 

May we seek to not be complicit in on-going oppression – and, unlike my predecessor, be those who press for, work for, and pray for justice and hope. In the words of Micah the Prophet:

 

They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not lift up sword against nation; nor will they train for war any more...

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.  (Micah 4:3  & 6:8)

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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