Sunday, 26 July 2009

Englesea Brook and Mow Cop

Swine flu continues to dominate the headlines and I started the day with another interview on the subject, this time with Radio Leeds, but as it was the Sunday morning show the subject was whether it was safe to use the common communion cup or whether individual glasses should be used instead. I suggested that we needed to get swine flu in perspective and that we don’t normally worry about the many other infections people carry throughout the year. A dose of common sense and good basic hygiene is probably the most useful thing right now.

I had never visited Englesea Brook or Mow Cop before but I have a natural affinity towards the Primitive Methodist movement, which I think still has a lot to teach us today, and so was pleased that it was possible to visit both places so early in my year of office. I had been invited to lead worship at the monthly heritage service held in the chapel in Englesea Brook. Whilst the chapel no longer has a regular congregation of its own, the monthly services are attracting quite a number of visitors, as it did today.

The chapel was built in 1828. The elevated pulpit takes centre stage and it feels quite unusual to preach from in such a small building, however it does allow an eye-line to the gallery which was added in 1832 to give a further 60 seats to the building.

There is currently a display about the early Methodist missionary movement in the Englesea Brook museum so I took as my theme for the service “From missionaries to mission partners”. Kevin Watson, the project director, reflected on the way Victorian missionaries had their attitudes challenged through their experience overseas, not least the all too prevalent racism of the age. One of the strong features of the museum and its work is to link the Primitive Methodist history with contemporary issues, and this comes across strongly in the significant work the museum is doing with school children.

As with a number of Methodist heritage sites, Englesea Brook is a hidden gem and well worth making the effort to visit. It is not far from junction 16 of the M6 so next time you’re stuck in a traffic jam on that delightful motorway, you’d be well advised to take a detour via this beautiful Cheshire village.

With the help of John Bell, one of my illustrious predecessors, we then crossed the M6 to visit Mow Cop, the site of large open-air camp meetings since 1807. The rain that had followed us throughout the day meant that we had the hill to ourselves and were able to look across the Cheshire plain as well as in to Staffordshire. There was though no sound of loud hymn singing or Ranters’ prayers today.

The splendid chapel at Mow Cop has been restored through the dedicated work of a small group of volunteers and now also displays a number of the traditional banners from the Englesea Brook collection.

An important item of the agenda at Conference this year was to take steps to establish a Heritage Committee which will help support places like Englesea Brook and other sites of importance to Methodists throughout the world. As a Church we haven’t always placed enough emphasis on valuing our heritage, which may be understandable with the many competing interests for our time and resources. However there is much we can and should learn from our past which will undoubtedly help us to understand ourselves better now as well as helping us to move forward with confidence in to an uncertain future.

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