Marking Mark at St Mark’s

Published: 26th January 2024

To mark the beginning of Advent and a new year in the Church calendar, Hanley parish, Stoke-on-Trent, hosted a very special, collaborative reading of Mark’s Gospel.

St Mark’s Church, Shelton, often called the Potter’s Cathedral, is an iconic place of worship with a prominent position that can be seen on the Stoke skyline for miles around. What’s noticeable at the moment is the scaffolding covering the church tower since the building is in the midst of a major refurbishment, funded by a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant.

Whilst ongoing building works mean there’s restrictions on space, the next-door school, (St Mark’s Primary), congregation members and clergy are keen to hold faith and community events at the Church whenever the opportunity arises. And what better way to welcome in Advent than to read the whole of Mark’s Gospel at St Mark’s Church in one sitting!

On 30th November, children from St Mark’s school opened the occasion by taking it in turns to read passages of the first four chapters of the Gospel. Patiently waiting in line, they each took the brave step of standing at the microphone to read scripture to teachers, classmates and some parents. Shelton is a diverse area, and it was particularly meaningful to have children of different faiths sharing in the Gospel reading.

We were then treated to a dramatic representation of chapters 5 and 6 by the talented Howard Jones. Howard is a Stoke resident who has captivated audiences across the country by memorising and performing the whole of Mark’s Gospel in one go! Howard mesmerised the school children with his unique depiction of Jesus calming the storm, the feeding of the five thousand and some hilarious hip wiggles as he danced like Salome!

After the children returned to school, Hanley congregation members arrived for the second sitting. Realising the impact of hearing the entire Gospel, we chose to return to the beginning of Mark, with individual congregation members and clergy taking a chapter each and Howard repeating his wonderful creative input.

As the Gospel moved towards the crucifixion of Jesus, people seemed not to notice the coldness of the Church or that it was way past lunchtime. The depth of emotion and silence was palpable as congregation members connected very personally with the profound sadness and loss associated with Jesus’ death, hope then gently resurrected in the final chapter.

To witness readers’ voices breaking as they narrated the passages and tears running down the faces of those listening demonstrated the transformative effects of reading a book of the Bible in all its fullness and united in presence. As Simon Foster rightly said in his parish magazine article in December, such a reading of the Gospel is a ‘simple, humble activity, yet a bold one…it’s very different from hearing it week by week or reading it alone to yourself. We notice the power and awe of the overall story [and] …understanding the big story helps understand all the individual stories it contains’.

Hot drinks and sandwiches were certainly a welcome finish to this St Mark’s Gospel event in St Mark’s Church, Shelton, but the time of hospitality and fellowship was just the ‘icing on the cake’ and an opportunity to share how much each person had been moved by the experience. Hanley parish is looking forward to repeating the event to welcome in future Advents, being fortunate enough to have two other churches dedicated to St Luke and St Matthew!

If you haven’t yet organised a reading of St Mark’s Gospel in one sitting, please be encouraged and have a go… it has the potential to offer all who take part a deeply memorable and meaningful movement of the Spirit.

Revd Catherine Matlock encourages pioneer ministry as part of the diocese's Mission team and is part-time minister in Stoke-on-Trent.

The last of the Mission team's 'Get Ready for Mark' events takes place on 8 February. and is open to all

Page last updated: Monday 29th January 2024 9:42 AM
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