Sixteen of us were Chrismated by Frs. Gregory, Jonathan and Stephen in September 1995.
In 1996 we took possession of a very small Wesleyan chapel in Audley several miles outside Stoke on Trent. Metropolitan John, at the re-quest of Metropolitan Gabriel, consecrated the church, now fully paid for, in August 2002. By this time we had grown considerably and had to ask people not to come to the service of Consecration. We have continued to grow to around forty families, making our church in Audley uncomfortably cramped. Sometime in mid-September 2011 we shall begin a ten year lease , from the C of E, for the Church of the Holy Resurrection, Dresden, Stoke on Trent (ST3 4PD).
ST. MICHAEL'S ORTHODOX CHURCH in AUDLEY - A BRIEF HISTORY
In the early 1990's there were two Anglican clergymen living in Stoke-on-Trent who for some time had developed an interest in the Orthodox Church. One of these was Fr. Samuel Carter, whose interest had been stimulated through meetings with Archimandrite David in Walsingham, during pilgrimages to the shrine of the Virgin Mary there. As well as being a parish priest, he was also chaplain to the local guild of servers (a number of whose members would form an important part of the nucleus of the future Orthodox parish). The other Anglican priest was Fr. Colin Lantsbury, a long-term member of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, a society founded to encourage friendship between Anglican and Orthodox believers.
At the encouragement of Archimandrite David these two Anglican priests attended a meeting of Anglican clergy held in Birmingham in June 1993. Members of the Anglo-Orthodox Society (a group within the Church of England who believed its true destiny lay in re-establishing communion with the Orthodox Church) had called the meeting. It was held against the backdrop of the decision of the Anglican Church in November 1992 to admit women to the ministerial priesthood. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibility of Anglican clergy with some of their parishioners petitioning one of the Orthodox Patriarchates to be received into the Orthodox Church as a community. In addition to some twenty-three Anglican priests, two Orthodox observers attended the meeting: Fr. Philip Steer, a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Nicholas Chapman, an Orthodox lay man, who at that time was Secretary General of the St. Gregory's Foundation (a pan-Orthodox charitable and missionary society).
Following this meeting, the two Stoke-on-Trent priests organised a Friday evening meeting in September 1993 for other Anglican clergy in the Stoke-on-Trent area and the next day for members of their parishes and others who were interested in becoming Orthodox. Frs Samuel and Colin together with Nicholas Chapman and his wife Nina addressed both of these two meetings. Following on from, this a catechumenate community was formed, which began meeting in December 1993. Initially they remained within the Anglican Church and met as a distinct group on Sunday afternoons, using Western rite forms of Orthodox worship. A two-day public conference introducing Orthodoxy was also held in Stoke in December 1993 with Orthodox clergy and laity from the U.K. and the U.S.A giving initial instruction in the Orthodox Faith and serving a number of Orthodox services.
In June 1994 Fr. Samuel resigned his living as an Anglican priest to lead the new community that was one of a number within the national movement known as "The Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy" under the protection of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. Fr. Colin also left the Anglican Church and was received with his family into the Orthodox Church in Shrewsbury. The Greek Parish in Shrewsbury and their priest Fr. Stephen Maxfield also provided much on-going support and encouragement to the new community in Stoke. After their Chrismation, the Lantsburys moved to Cornwall where they owned a property.
The community gathered with Samuel Carter adopted St. Michael the Archangel as their heavenly protector, as Archimandrite David had painted an icon for them shortly before his repose. As a catechumenate community within "The Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy", St. Michael's was visited by Orthodox clergy from North America who provided teaching and pastoral advice. Samuel Carter and Philip Boothby also attended a series of liturgical workshops designed to provide an overview of the structure of Orthodox services and an introduction to Church singing. These were taught by Fr. Michael Keiser from the U.S.A., Fr. Andrew Morbey from Canada and Nicholas Chapman. Further instruction in the new Faith was provided by means of a series of video tapes, books and visits to existing Orthodox churches.
In the summer of 1995 St. Michael's began to adopt the more widely used Byzantine rite of Orthodox services, which in the absence of the Eucharist centred on the Typika service on Sunday mornings. St. Clare's Anglican church in Meir Park, Stoke-on-Trent, was used for this purpose. On September 29, 1995 Fr. Gregory Hallam from the Antiochian Orthodox Church in Manchester received initial sixteen members of the community into the Orthodox Church. The service took place in the Village Hall at Tittensor, Stoke-on-Trent. St. Michael's thus became the seventh community of the "The Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy" to be received into the Orthodox Church as a part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. The new Orthodox community was initially served by visiting priests until Samuel Carter was ordained to the Diaconate in January 1996 and the priesthood in February 1996, both at the hands of Bishop Gabriel, at that time the Vicar Bishop of the Patriarchate of Antioch in Western Europe.
From the beginning the members of St. Michael's had wanted to have their own place of worship. Through the prayers of St. Bertram, a local saint and ascetic of the seventh century, they were led to a former Methodist church (Vernon Chapel) in the rural parish of Audley between Stoke-on-Trent and Crewe. Through the sacrificial giving of the small community and a limited amount of debt they were able to purchase this property in the summer of 1996 and to begin using it for Orthodox worship in July of that year. Over the past seven year the church has been gradually furnished and beautified for Orthodox worship with the iconostasis made from a Rood screen of a former local Anglican convent which had closed down, other church furnishings skillfully made by members of the community and a number of newly painted and donated icons. The crown of all this work was the consecration of the temple on August 11, 2002, at the hands of His Grace Bishop John (Yazigi), Bishop of Homiera, acting as an assistant to His Grace Metropolitan Gabriel.
Over the six and a half years of its Orthodox life St. Michael's has grown surely but steadily in numbers, with some fifty persons now considering it their local church. To the initial members from an Anglican background have been added other British people from spiritual backgrounds ranging from Baptist to Buddhists. Existing Orthodox believers from different national backgrounds have also come so that as well as the English members may be found Greeks, Lebanese, Irish, Russians, Byelorussians, Ukrainians, Cypriots, Georgians, Romanians, Americans and Albanians. Parishioners presently range in age from one month to ninety-seven years!
The parish enjoys a full liturgical life with Vespers, Matins and Liturgy being celebrated every Sunday, on all major feast days and some lesser feast days. The period of Holy Week and Easter is a particularly intense time liturgically as, to a lesser extent, is the time of "Little Holy Week" leading up to the Feast of Christmas. To date, in addition to several Chrismations most years, the parish has celebrated two weddings and will shortly have its first baptism. Three members have fallen asleep in the Lord and their funerals served with both sorrow at their earthly parting and joy in their going to be with Christ.
Each year the parish organises a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Bertam at Ilam in the Staffordshire moorlands. This is held on the nearest Saturday to his Feast Day in early August and is increasingly attended by Orthodox from other parishes in the Midlands. Pilgrimages have also been held further a field in Anglesey, Lindisfarne and Walsingham. Through the Grace and mercy of God, with the co-operation of the earthly members of the community, aided by the prayers of the founders who have fallen asleep, together with those of St. Bertram, the Archangel Michael and all the saints, the new parish will continue to grow and prosper, drawing all its members deeper into the love and knowledge of the Lord.