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Saturday 25th June 2005


Sharon: 50th anniversary

From The Cooper Diaries:
Dear Father:… I look to you for a special time today. Help and inspire the organisers and planners. Help Sharon renew its vision and fulfilment of your plan and destiny for the church.…

It was a cooler, grey-overcast day — ideal for travelling and for sitting in a building for a meeting. Walked to Cleethorpes railway station for the 10.29 a.m. train to Manchester.
On the canal between Scunthorpe and Doncaster, there were no herons — I’ve not seen a heron there for several journeys on this route — but I did notice in some places small, yellow flowers on broad, round, flat, floating, green leaves. A later look-up has shown these to be yellow water-lilies (I’d thought all water-lilies were white).
I’d assumed that all the trains went to Manchester Airport, and that I would be able to get off at Deansgate and walk along Chorlton Road to the church; but I was wrong, for the train terminated at Manchester Piccadilly. It went on the “old” route too, passing through New Mills Central, and didn’t go via Stockport. At Piccadilly I used the loo, and bought and ate sandwiches (my usual “Indian triple”) from the Sainsbury’s convenience-store in the station. From Piccadilly I got a taxi to the church. The entrance doors give access via a small porch to an ante-room or foyer, which has two doors in its far wall, giving access to the left and to the right aisles of the main hall. From the foyer are stairs to the balcony, and there are toilets also. I went through the left door. I was one of the first ones there. The interior of the church looked much smaller than I remembered. I sat in the next-to-back row to the left of the left aisle, where we used to sit with Hazel and Pam. I’d visualised the rear balcony overhanging this location, but now saw that the ante-room occupies all of the space under the rear-balcony overhang. The left balcony does overhang it, though. A black guy called Tony shook hands with me; turns out he’s the music leader. Other people said hello too, including Joyce Harvey. There was an expression of relief — was it from her or from husband Wesley? — because they had me down on their list to speak. (I’d forgotten about this.) Eventually I saw Chris and Fido, Hazel and Pam in the foyer (Mrs. Williams was in the loo). My choice of seating wasn’t used: they sat in the left-centre block; I think it was perceived that Mrs. Williams would be able to hear better there. There wasn’t room for us all comfortably to sit on one row; so Pam sat in the pew behind, and I, with her permission, joined her there. But she felt too hot, so she led us to the right block near the back (it felt no cooler, to my mind, there!). Behind us sat Jonathan, Pam’s son, and his girlfriend (whose name I forget), and Pam introduced me to them. Don’t think I’ve met him before. Tony on keyboard led the worship-songs, assisted by a female vocalist and a man on drums. Pastor Wesley Harvey led the proceedings. Mrs. Williams was invited to the front to speak. She told briefly the story of Pastor Willams’s conversion on the upper saloon of a double-decker bus, and went on to mention the sacrifices they had to make, e.g. not having new clothes to wear, for the sake of their ministry. Who was it who mentioned a time when oil started to appear on people’s hands? And did Pam nod in assent at the memory of this? (I recalled then that Pastor Stanley Smith wasn’t as uncritical in his acceptance of Sharon as I was: he listed instances of actions of “Williams” that were imitative or derivative of others’: when T.L. Osborn did this, then “Williams” did this; when someone got that sensation indicating that the person being prayed for would be healed, then “Williams” started getting that sensation; and when Oral Roberts started seeing droplets of oil appear on the palms of his hands, then “Williams” started seeing droplets of oil on his palms.)
Emboldened by snapping three photos of her, I proceeded to photograph the congregation to my left,—
—three black angels up above,—
—and Pastor Wesley Harvey and guest speaker Colin Carson.
The little choir sang two or three numbers, a cappella, with black-gospel gusto.
It seems strange that apart from the preacher and Mrs. Williams, Chris and I were the only “star turns” at this event. I had already remarked to Chris that being one of the party representing the actual founders of Sharon made me feel “very important”. I failed to photograph Chris when he went up to give his story. While he was up there, I thought, “What am I going to say when it’s my turn? Chris has said it all.” I’d forgotten that we were expected to speak and hadn’t prepared anything. It came to me then why Chris had e-mailed me for the date of “the second first visit”. For Chris briefly mentioned that while this was the 50th anniversary of Sharon, this year marked also the 40th anniversary of our first going to Sharon: “Saturday 6th February 1965”. But I did find something to say — filled in some of the gaps, e.g. the series of perceived miracles: Chris’s Dad (I pointed to him) having a bad foot; encountering and staying overnight at a stranger’s house; and Pastor Williams’s praying for Chris (I gave details of the manner of his praying: commanding the evil spirit of epilepsy to leave in the name of Jesus; and his insisting that it was not he who had healed Chris, but “by the stripes of Jesus Christ I am healed”). Before this, and causing ripples of laughter, I photographed everyone in front of me.
Colin Carson was invited to speak, and I took notes.
I think it was as Colin Carson was speaking, that an aged gent walking with the aid of a stick painted white came in, and he sat next to me. Tony led a last song.
At the close, Wesley asked “John Margerison” to close in prayer, and this turned out to be the gent sitting next to me. So I wondered whether he was the “John” whose contributions were edited into “Ann’s” in the Sharon film. I had a word with him afterward, and it was indeed he. Indeed, there’s a hint of his “Little Richard”-style moustache remaining.
The old phone box across the road from Sharon has been replaced by a more modern one, and the shop next door has gone. The multi-storey block of flats behind the phone box must be where the zooming-in shot of Sharon was filmed from.
We went into the building to the north of the church, which once had a sign “Sharon Youth”, where there was a long line of tables heaving with food. Shame I couldn’t stay longer and do full justice to it. I remarked to Chris that he hadn’t absorbed very much “German-ness”, which he proceeded to put to rights with some barking in German. At this point we didn’t realise that the guy sitting opposite us [pictured with eyes closed] was a German! Following on from Mrs. Williams’s testimony, Chris and I amused ourselves with imitations from the film Changed Lives: “Oh, Arthur, you’ve won!” “I haven’t, love!” “You’ve won, Arthur!” “I haven’t, love!” “You have!” “I haven’t, love!”
Chris and I had a bit of a chat with “Joan” (actually, “Joanna”, which I hadn’t known up to that point) née Margerison, and I did by myself later. I showed her some of my screen-captures from the Sharon TV film. She seemed horrified that I’d paid £148.50 for the DVD. Before I mentioned it to her, she volunteered that she’d been in the film — it was indeed she singing “Only believe” near the start. She was aged 12 at the time. “Ouch!” I thought, because I’d written to Chris about the “babe”. I’d thought she was about 16. But no, she was 12, so that makes her 52 now. She married Maurice Barratt (they have three children) and they’re in ministry together: “Barratt Ministries”. I asked if there was a web-site.… She was more than willing to pose for my camera. The first photo was taken with the flash, but it made her look shiny so I took a second without the flash.
My train was at 6.15 p.m., so a little before 5.45 p.m. I started thinking about buses to the station. Fido’s party was about ready to go, but Chris persuaded him to lend him the car to take me to the station. I snapped a photo of Wesley just before leaving.
When I told them I was leaving, Pam got up from the table and saw me to the door. She regretted not having the opportunity to look more closely at the Sharon screen-captures, so I mentioned that I would be visiting Mum shortly and could pay her a visit. I kissed her warmly but chastely on the cheek. Chris drove me to near the station. (We got lost in the traffic system briefly.) From where he dropped me I had five minutes to nip along the street, up the station-approach, and board the train.
Both trains were on time today. I was home at about 9.15 p.m. First thing I did was visit the loo because I hadn’t had a wee for 8 hours.…

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