New community projectMcGregorWWIoutside
memorial for World War I 

Frank McGegor writes:
The Hanley Team Ministry in Stoke-on-Trent is made up of 5 churches in different communities around the city centre of Hanley. With the national focus on WW1, and four of our churches having war memorial plaques, it was obvious that we should see the Commemorations as something our churches should be involved in both helping with acts of remembrance and in pointing them again to Jesus. One of our churches, St Matthew’s in the Birches Head district is the only 20th century building, and unlike the others contains no memorial and no stained glass at all.

The first Sunday morning I led a service there, the sun was blazing through the 48 huge plain glass windows which are all down the long south facing wall. It struck me then that a stained glass window would flood the whole church with colour, and so the seed of the idea for our WW1 Window was planted.

As “Creative Missioner” I do a lot of arts & crafts in my ministry but up until now I had only ever done A4 sized stained glass effect work using tissue paper with school and church groups. As our churches began discussing ideas for the Centenary I experimented with an A3 size piece of black craft foam board thinking this might create the lead effect, and I used coloured lighting film for my glass, and drew a simple poppy for my window image. It looked good and I then presented the idea to the St Matthew’s Church Council. At this point I had no design in mind except for lots of poppies and lots of red film flooding the church with dramatic red light reflections.

w34 w1and2The idea was accepted, as well as suggestions for local community involvement. It was to be a memorial to the fallen heroes of Birches Head, whose names could be found on memorials here and there around the city, with some buried locally and others abroad. But their names had never been brought together on one memorial in the place where they all lived, Birches Head. I bought the “Greater Love” DVD from CVM and this reinforced my choice of the bible verse John 15:13 to go up on the window. I started looking at WW1 pictures and was drawn to the simplicity of the iconic images of silhouetted figures on the ridges of Ypres, Belgium, which became the centre of the design.

I then decided that a silhouetted image of Jesus carrying his cross should follow behind the men, with a large crown of thorns on his head which would echo circles of barbed wire which I added to the picture. Where is God in war? There with you, suffering with you, carrying our sin which includes all the wars of the world.  Jesus is also the way to true peace for individuals, communities and the world.

I love illuminated letters so I went for a huge J for the word Jesus. I also designed a marble effect memorial stone on which to inscribe the names of the 32 local men one of our congregation discovered through looking at records. I thought we should also focus on one large image of a local soldier and so another member of the congregation brought in a photo of her Uncle when he was 23 and just joined up. He returned from war having had one leg amputated in a field hospital. This led us to think about raising money for Help 4 Heroes which of course provides practical support for our military personnel in recent times who return home injured.

Finally, I felt that the well- known phrase “At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them” should be included. This also gave me the ideas of colouring the windows from sunset to morning and of involving local schools in designing the border and writing the words “we will remember them” in their own handwriting next to their art. I then measured up the windows and drew most of the design out on my PC.
w22 liam carving 2
I approached 3 local schools, Hamilton Infants, Grove Junior and St Margaret Ward RC Academy whose ages ranged from 4 to 14 and asked them each to provide 25 x A3 designs each based on the theme of Peace. Hundreds of children and young people took part as they worked in groups on each design.  I provided them with A3 laminated sheets to use as “glass” and sticky backed coloured film from Regalead Stained Glass Colour Film in Manchester, who sponsored us 50% of the full cost, which was £1800 for film alone.

We raised the money to pay for craft materials by simply visiting local businesses in the community and asking if they would like to sponsor one or more of the 48 panes of glass in the 6 large bays of windows. Every window was sold in a few weeks, and this along with other donations and some local government ward budget grant brought in nearly £2000. We had originally thought we might fund the project through a lottery grant for WW1 initiatives, but got turned down and really hadn’t got time to try to rework the idea in order to try fit the lottery criteria. The good thing here though is that this forced us to engage with the business community who proved magnificent! 

We aimed to complete the window for Remembrance Sunday. I transferred the main design to paper and then onto 5mm craft foam board for cutting out. A small group of people from the church and friends and relatives with some artistic skill spent about 3 weeks at evenings and weekends cutting the designs from 5mm craft foam board which provided the “lead effect”. Meanwhile I also visited the schools and worked with them. It was soon clear that we would not be able to colour in the whole window in time for November 9th. The cutting out was a time consuming intricate job. So we decided to simply aim for the leads effect outline and the coloured border. This we achieved and it was dramatically striking. The Bishop of Stafford was our speaker at the service which was attended by community and business sponsors.
The story was covered in our local press and the church is open at weekends for the community to pop in and view the window. As a practical response people are also invited to give to Help 4 Heroes.

w37 w6 sunlight at bottomThe window project has once again successfully connected church and community at different levels. We enabled many in the community to take part in providing a high quality fitting tribute in honour of the fallen of Birches Head and through this have also raised the church’s profile not only locally but also wider through the press and media. A student studying film and media from Staffs University has been along this week to film it and do an interview for his final exam. The UK glazing magazine will feature an article by Regalead who sponsored the colour film. People are dropping by at weekends from all over the city and the UK. People are also sharing the images widely on twitter and facebook.  The window is also a beautiful talking point – what is this “greater love?” Why is Jesus up there on the ridge? This was exactly the question asked by one man who helped cut out the boards, and then went onto do a brilliant job of cutting out the crown of thorns panel.

We hope for many more such conversations in future as the window, like the WW1 Centenary, is a 4 year project. So, we will begin to add colour in the New Year, and aim to finish it for Remembrance Sunday 2015. This also give us time to think about events we can put on in the church for next November related to war time themes for different ages and groups in the community.

Frank McGregor
Church Army/CreativeMissioner/Hanley Team Ministry


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