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Chris and I watch “Sharon” on TV

Early Days1965, the year that changed my life
“Sharon”

Chris wrote in 1967: "During all this time I had not really cared about God, and would even get very annoyed with myself sometimes when I thought about Him. I tried continually to convince myself that there was no God, and even if there was, why should it bother me? God was completely shut out of my life, in spite of the fact that I sometimes prayed, usually when I wanted something. I had no time for God, and dreaded the idea of going to church. This went on until one night just before Christmas in 1964, my friend and I were watching the television and saw the programme from the Sharon Church, Manchester. We watched this with interest, and although we suspected it of being a bit weird at first, it made us think very seriously. Here was a preacher that claimed that Jesus Christ could heal the sick now, just as He did when He was here on earth, and that He was alive today, we had never heard anything like this before."

video

Wednesday 9th December 1964
 1. The following Wednesday, I was around at Chris’s house, at 19 Ascot Road, Thornton, in the evening, and the television set was on.[1] We possibly watched a bit of the show Dave’s Kingdom, starring comedian Dave King, first,…

"Dave King", ca. 1960
…before the documentary film Sharon came on at 9.40pm.

TV programmes page in "The Times" newspaper

“This looks interesting,” Chris might have said. “Let’s watch this, shall we?” So that’s what we did.
[1] At this point, the text originally continued: Chris’s granddad was staying there, but I don’t remember his being with us that evening, so maybe he had gone to bed. It came about that, around the time of the school mid-term break in October, Chris’s granddad (nicknamed Woja) would come and spend the winter period with his younger daughter (Chris’s mum) in Thornton. But precisely when this procedure was established is uncertain: Woja may not have come to Thornton the first time till just before Christmas, i.e. he may not have been there on this occasion.
 2. We can’t remember much about the programme,…
Since I first wrote this article, I have obtained a copy of the film Sharon; so I have made a few modifications to what I originally wrote, in the light of this.
 I have made no attempt, though, in the text, to correct our somewhat faulty recollection of the order of events; the article is, after all, a memoir, and too much tinkering would destroy its character and value as such. But I have pointed out errors by means of notes.
…except that at the start the camera panned over rows and rows of terraced houses, derelict, vacated, empty street upon street.
This scene was not at the start, it was some way into the programme; and the camera did not actually pan, it was mounted on a vehicle moving through the streets. There was a reprise at the end, though, with a static camera panning around.
 At this point, I have deleted from the text: "There were also views of multi-storey flats" — for there weren’t any! The recollection of multi-storey flats must come from when we ran away from home and arrived at Sharon.
Over this, came the announcer’s voice, and as he went on speaking he said, “Where could it be? It’s perhaps Amsterdam or some other large city.” Actually, it was Moss Side, Manchester, and looked nothing at all like Amsterdam.
It was interesting to re-discover what really happened here in the film. The speaker in the voice-over was, in fact, a “she”, not a “he”, with an abridgement of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Drop of Water; and the city was Copenhagen, not Amsterdam.
 What happened next is not remembered. The camera may have zoomed in onto the church, a blackened structure situated not far from all this dereliction and waste; then there may have been shots of the interior of the church, where a joyful and exuberant congregation, made up of both black and white people, was singing a jazzy song with hand-clapping and the sound of tambourines.
The zooming-in, presumably by a camera in the unseen block of multi-storey flats, did indeed happen next, though the “jazzy song” had occurred earlier, and had faded into the arty-farty The Drop of Water; the song at this point was a slow one, a rendition of “Only believe, all things are possible”.
 There was, in fact, no sign of tambourines in the programme; there were drums being played, though, which I had not experienced before in a church-context.


"Sharon" in 2001 — no longer blackened with city grime
 This seemed very strange to me; it was totally unlike my experience of quiet churches and sedate hymn-singing. Or there may have been a close-up of one of the two ministers, or “pastors”, as they were called, placing their hands on someone’s forehead,…
Such close-ups did occur at various points in the programme, though not here.
…and perhaps shouting, or perhaps uttering intensely…
At this point, I omit the words: "through closed teeth".
…words like: “Oh Jesus, heal this man; set him free for the glory of God.”
I have lifted these words from the film Sharon; my original wording here was: "'In the name of JESUS, I command you spirit of infirmity to leave this man' (or, 'woman') 'and return no more.'"
 The words, as the account now stands, are Pastor Williams’s, though when I originally wrote this bit, I had in mind Pastor Barratt. I guess I’ve cheated here, then, and departed from the spirit of memoir-writing.


Pastor Williams. The photo is taken from a Barratt and Williams publication, not the TV programme.
And the person being thus prayed for would seem to collapse—although at one point in the programme I thought that maybe the man pushed him—and be caught by an aide (standing by for this purpose) who would lower him gently to the floor of the church, out at the front of the congregation.
 As the singing surprised me as being “unchurchlike”, so did these men, Pastors Barratt and Williams: they were unrefined men, completely unlike the sing-song clergymen of my limited church experience.

Pastors Barratt and Williams
 Early on in the programme an interview took place in a house with a woman who had a young family.
This was Joan Margerison’s mother Anne. In fact, it was not shown as an “interview” as such, it was a monologue, starting with her words, “And I felt the hand of Jesus touch me…”; there must have been someone directing the proceedings, but he was not seen or heard.
She said that before prayer she had been incapable of love; she felt no love for her husband or children; but after having been prayed for by one of the Pastors she felt the love coming back.
 Chris recalls a scene where an unidentified girl in her teens (actually this was Joan Margerison, but we didn’t know that at the time, of course),…
The scene occurred very near the start of the progamme. At this point I omit the words: "in a council dwelling".
…was setting a table, laying out knives and forks, and singing—ostensibly to herself:
“Only believe,
Only believe,
All things are possible,
Only believe…”
 This song was taken up by the congregation during shots inside the church.
—though not immediately after the appearance of Joan Margerison. The first occurrence was after The Drop of Water, when the camera zoomed in onto the church, then cut to shots of the congregation and of Pastor Barratt inside the church. The second occurrence was later, when the camera swept across the congregation in close-up as Pastor Barratt led the singing of “Only Believe”.


Joan Margerison in 1968
And I thought that the warbling, emotion-filled voices sounded a bit weird.
 I remember at one point that there was a woman lying there on the floor, sobbing, “I can see! I can see!”
In fact, there was only one utterance of “I can see!”
 3. I didn’t have time to watch much of the programme at Chris’s house because I had to be home by 10 o’clock. At that time I used to claim that I suffered from claustrophobia;[2] it was a pretty-sounding illness to gain the attention of my peers with. And when I used to go down the narrow passages between Fleetwood Road, Thornton, (on which I lived) and Aintree Road, and between Aintree Road and Ascot Road (on which Chris lived), I used to get all panicky and start imagining that the hedge on one side and the tall wooden fence on the other were closing in on me, and I used to have to run to get out of these alleys quickly.
[2] Compare To cure me of being a “claustrobe”.


"The narrow passages", 1979
 However, when I left Chris’s house after seeing only perhaps ten or twelve minutes of the programme, I decided to try this “faith” thing that Pastors Barratt and Williams were advocating. At this time God was not real to me—he was just a subject for idle discussion and speculation; and what prayers I had addressed to him in the past had just seemed to disappear into thin air—but I decided anyhow to try a tentative prayer to this God who, to my mind, might or might not be there.
In my early childhood I had been sent to Sunday School,[more] which I hated, and even before this had been taught to say my prayers.[more] But God wasn’t a real person to me, and so later on I wavered and neglected my prayers.
 I remember once writing out some prayers—my Mum was there while I was doing it—but such praying didn’t seem to make any difference to anything. They were admittedly rather general, along the lines of “Make the blind to see and the lame to walk”, that kind of thing.
 After starting at Fleetwood Grammar School in 1961 I professed myself an atheist—I was a scientist, you see, and evolution disproved God. Anyhow, if God created the universe, who created God? I looked into the blue sky one day and saw the white clouds floating high above, but God I did not see.
 “If there’s a God,” I said, showing off my atheism to my class at school, “let him strike me dead in five seconds: one, two, three, four, five—see, that proves there’s no God!”
 But then I started going round with a lad in my class, David Rotheram, who had a keen belief in God at this time. We went camping in Garstang together in summer 1963,
[more] and David was not ashamed to pray in my sight in the tent. He encouraged me to pray, which I did for a few days; but the one to whom I was supposed to be praying seemed remote and unreal, so I gave it up all too soon.
 Before seeing Sharon on TV, though, I had changed my description of myself from “atheist” to “agnostic”.
And when I had done this, I walked calmly down the alleys, all the way down that dark, narrow path from Ascot Road to Fleetwood Road, with no difficulty.

 4. I think my Mum and Dad—and our Steve
[3]—must have been out when I got home; I seem to recall having to turn the television set on to see the rest of the programme, the last twenty-five minutes or so, and don’t remember having to give any explanation about what programme I was watching.
[3] Our Steve—i.e. my brother Steve. This usage of “our”, to mean “belonging to my family”, is quite common where I lived at the time, but is considered as somewhat quaint elsewhere.


"My Mum and Dad—and our Steve", ca. 1967
 5. So it was that in a non-committal way I sort of gave credence to what the programme had to say.
Non-committal: I didn’t instantly reach up to the shelf and seize my New English Bible New Testament, almost unopened since I was awarded it as first prize in Pop Robinson’s class at Primary School.

At Church Road County Primary School, Thornton, we used to refer to female teachers as “Ma” and male teachers as “Pop” (not to their faces, of course). I was awarded the newly published New English Bible New Testament at the end of my final year, July 1961, as first prize for coming top of the class in exam performance, but I never read beyond the first few words of the first chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew.
Sort of: I didn’t experience any kind of decisive conversion; God was still, as far as I conceived him, remote and unreal.
 6. After I had gone, the Fido Crowd (Chris’s Mum and Dad) arrived home. The programme attracted their attention, and they sat down and watched the last five minutes before taking their coats off.

"The Fido crowd", 1972
 When it was over, Chris commented, “That was good, wasn’t it.”
 But his Mum seemed sceptical. “Yes,” she said, “if you can rely on it being true. You don’t know if it’s true, do you?”
Chris doesn’t remember what his Dad said, but he recalls his Mum being a bit sceptical, and replying, “Yes, if you can believe it, if it’s really true”, expressing some reservation as to whether it was actually reliable. Maybe she was thinking about Chris: she might have been concerned that he was showing too much interest in the programme, that because of his epilepsy he was getting some ideas about “faith healing”. She probably didn’t want him to be disappointed, so just tried to scotch any ideas that he had.
Chris’s reaction to the programme “Sharon”


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