Parishioners at St Mary’s church in Norton le Moors celebrated their golden jubilee with a procession from the old parish site on Brierley street to the current one on Ford Green Road.

On Sunday 6th October Fr John Laybourn and the Parish of St Mary's commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Solemn Blessing of the Church in Norton-le-Moors in 1969. After the procession, Mass was celebrated by Bishop David McGough, Fr John Laybourn, Monsignor Pat Kilgariff, Fr Chris Greaney and Fr Simon Stephens plus current Deacon Dave Pronauskus along with retired Deacons Paul Mayland and Richard Pemberton.

Instituted in 1923, the parish moved from Brierley Street Smallthorne in 1969. In 2012 the parish started a campaign to save its leaking copper roof, which resulted in £100,000 being raised to save it.

All were warmly invited to join the procession, Mass, reception and social events which will took place after the Mass at Smallthorne Community Centre.

Bishop David's Homily

There are many things that could be said on a day such as this when we celebrate all that has unfolded over the fifty years since this church was opened.  So many people to remember, priests and parishioners, teachers and pupils.

It would be impossible to say it all, and I’m not even going to try. Instead, I want to take my lead from the beautiful prayer that was prepared by the children of Saint Mary’s Catholic Academy next door.

They have, I’m absolutely sure, put into words not only their own hopes for this parish, but the hopes of all who have contributed to this parish from its very beginning.

They prayed that this parish may continue as a community built upon Jesus.  They prayed that, like Jesus, we might reach out to each other, and beyond, as peacemakers and bridge builders.

They prayed that we might bring joy to all we meet, and that we might have the faith, love and compassion to bring that same love of Jesus to all we meet.

Finally they prayed that this Church, this very building, might remind us of the love of Jesus for all.

Finally, they asked Mary, the patron of this parish, to help us all in getting this done.

That prayer is their vision for the future.  It is what Jesus wanted for us all, and it is a vision that we can share.

The Scriptures that we have heard give us other visions for the future.  First of all the vision of the prophet Ezekiel writing some five centuries before the birth of Christ.

At this time Ezekiel was an exile, a refugee if you like.  His home in Jerusalem, and its beautiful temple, had been completely destroyed. Most of Jerusalem’s population had been killed and their homes destroyed.  The few that remained had been carried off into exile.  What could they possibly hope for?

But even in this, their darkest moment, God was still with his people, and so he gave this wonderful vision to his prophet Ezekiel.

Now, to get into what God was saying through this vision of promise, you have got to forget what the weather is like here in north Staffordshire.  You have got to imagine yourself in the middle of a desert with scorching sun, and where nothing could possibly survive.

Into that dead landscape God brings a vision of the temple, the Church that they shall build.  What is most important in this vision is not so much the temple in itself, but what flows from the temple.

From the temple flowed a stream, which became a mighty river bringing life to all its surroundings.

“Wherever the river flows, all living creatures will live, for wherever the River goes, it brings health and life.”

The vision given by God to Ezekiel, some 2500 years ago, is, in many respects, the same as that beautiful prayer which the children composed for this occasion.

They prayed that from this Church, this community, would flow the love, joy and compassion of Jesus himself.

But before that can happen, the love, joy and compassion of Jesus must become something real in each and every one of us.  And so, in the Gospel, we heard the story of Zacchaeus.

I’ve noticed that wherever I go, it's a story greatly loved by children. Here was  Zacchaeus, a man so small that he couldn’t see over the heads of other people.  And so he climbed a sycamore tree just to get a glimpse of Jesus.

The people hated Zacchaeus, but Jesus noticed him hidden in the branches of the tree, and he called him down.

“Zacchaeus, come down.  Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.”

Well, every child knows that somebody can be your friend in the classroom and playground, but when they come to your house and eat with you and your family... they really and truly are your friend.

So it is with Jesus today… he wants to come and be at heart of every family. He wants our family table to become his table, and that is exactly what he continues to do as we come here week by to share his table in holy Communion.

And what of the future, the next fifty years in the life of this community. Well, we must be humble and confess that we don’t know what the future holds.

But, just as Ezekiel long ago gave God’s people a vision for the future, so St. John, in his Book of Revelation, gave us a vision for the future.

“ I saw the holy city and the new Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband.

"Then I heard a loud voice.  You see this city. Here God lives among men.  He will make his home among them, they shall be his people, and he shall be their God.  His name is GOD IS WITH THEM. He will wipe away all the tears from their eyes.  There will be no more death, and no more mourning and no more sadness.”

Let that be our prayer for the future… that the parish of St. Mary’s might truly continue to become a place where God lives with men.

Photo Gallery 

St Mary's, Norton-le-Moors, 50th anniversary