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The Reverend Tom Greenwood 1940 – 1946

The Reverend Tom Greenwood 1940 – 1946

No sooner had Tom Greenwood moved into his parish than it must have seemed to be dismantled before him. The Assembly Rooms had gone, now the stained glass win­dows were all removed from the church and put into the care of parishioners who had cellars where they might be safe from bomb damage. The chandeliers were taken down and a white line was painted down the aisle of the church to enable the congre­gation to find their way out in the event of an emergency. The spaces left by the win­dows were filled by varnished glass and netting.

When Mrs. Coombs (sen.) had died, her son Edwin had become Verger. Now he was called up. His wife, Elsie, undertook to clean the church for 25/- per week.

Tom Greenwood's previous ministry had been in Arctic Canada. Not only was Hale a total contrast but, like everywhere else, there were all the distractions of the war. How would he manage?

He managed by putting the furtherance of God's Kingdom first and foremost in every way. If Milner Swift had made his people active, Tom Greenwood made them thoughtful. From being brisk, newsy comments, the Vicar's letter in the magazine be­came a treatise, helpful, comforting and inspiring. Unhappy about having to present for Confirmation young people he scarcely knew, he invited them to attend post-Confirmation courses on a revolving, three-year basis. At least five of them were sub­sequently ordained.

Long before Ecumenism became an aim, Tom Greenwood instigated a series of visits from other denominations to speak of their faith. Methodists, Congregationalists, Quakers and even Unitarians came.

Together with the Congregationalists, a Parish visitation was undertaken by St. Peter's, calling on every house, expressing goodwill and giving information about services. Tom's wife Isabel remembers arriving at one house and introducing herself as a member of St. Peter's church. The lady who opened the door immediately said, "But I can't stand the Vicar!" Without saying who she was, Isabel asked the lady the reason for her dislike. It was because of an open-air service in which the Revd. Green­wood had prayed for 'our enemies’. (The lady and Tom subsequently became firm friends.) Isabel recalls other incidents of those wartime days like the time, at eleven o'clock at night, long after every glimmer of light had to be suppressed by blackout screens (the fixtures are still there in the Choir Vestry), when suddenly, the whole of the church was flooded with blazing light shining through the huge, unscreenable clear glass of the temporary East window. When Tom Greenwood went across ac­companied by the Police constable, everything was in order, nothing disturbed and all doors locked. A short-circuit? Nobody knows.

Fortunately, it was not the result of an incendiary bomb. At that time, ladders had to be kept on hand, unpadlocked, so that the fire-watchers could immediately get onto the church roof to deal with any. Isabel remembers her five year old son, Michael, taking advantage of this to climb right up to the ridge by the clerestory windows. With great calmness, Tom talked him down and took him into the church until the watching crowd of children had dispersed.

Isabel writes

‘because of the war. Church bazaars were outlawed. The St. Peter's bazaar had traditionally raised money for Missionary Outreach. The Vicar, having been a missionary in Arctic Canada before his Hale incumbency, was not about to omit entirely St. Peter's outreach to the wider world.

‘So, instead of the Annual Sale of Work, he instituted what was called the Gift Day. On St. Peter's Day, June 29theach year during the war, the Vicar sat in the porch of the Church to receive the free will offerings of the congregation. From 9am to 3pm members of the congregation presented un­marked envelopes bearing their offerings, and at 3pm there was a short service when all these were of­fered up in thanksgiving to Almighty God. And it is interesting to note that never during those years did the offering fail to be a larger amount than that raised previously at bazaars. And the Vicar happily made contact and was able to enjoy a chat with his flock, especially the menfolk, many of whom were at work all day and less apt to be at home during more usual pastoral visits.’

Of all her memories of Hale, though, the happiest was the birth of her daughter Sally, in the Vicarage on Christmas Day 1944.

It was during Tom Greenwood's incumbency that St. Peter's celebrated 50 years since its dedication. During that time, the world had changed greatly in many ways. In its early days, St. Peter's had a very firm social structure, as readers will recall. Had that changed? Shortly before she died, Elsie Coombs recorded an interview recalling the days just before and during the war when Ted was Verger and then when he was called up.

‘In those days we had the Mothers' Sewing Party on a Tuesday and the Ladies' (and there was a dif­ference) Sewing Party on a Thursday. My own Mother was in the Mothers' Sewing Party, but not the Ladies’. On a Thursday I had to make their tea, the kitchen was in the cellar then. The small assembly room was known as the Square Room then because it was half the size it is now - and that is where the sewing parties met. There was a full-sized billiard table, with a top made to go over it and a cloth on top of that and the ladies sat round this table to do their sewing. I had to carry up the heavy trays, through the Bible Class room, behind the stage, then down the steps into the Square Room. I used to feel so self-conscious and scared of falling or dropping something.

‘During the war the Thursday ladies kept on meeting and they met in the Choir Vestry in church, which was awfully cold at times, only a tiny gas-fire under the clock. Again I had to use the cellar - there was just one gas ring there. I used to boil one kettle full, put the hot water into a jug, then fill and boil another kettle to make the tea. Then I had to carry the heavy tray up the outside cellar steps, put it down on the ground to open the door, go in and put it down again to open the other door. It was hard work and no-one helped. The ladies had plain barm cakes, they had to be sliced down and buttered, and cake. A proper tea.

‘During the war Ted was in the forces. I carried on by myself. You look back and you wonder how you did it all! The one thing that was really hard work was Harvest time when the church was decorated by the Ladies Guild. Even the altar rails were decorated with woven wheat and when the ladies had done it all, off they went! 'The choir vestry was full of straw, and berries and leaves, the porches were running with water, you just didn't know where to start!’

An Annual Report in the Parish magazine records:

‘We are all very conscious of the beauty of the church on Easter day or at Harvest Festival time with their massed decorations, but the regular care of thie altar flowers and ornaments is so quietly and unos­tentatiously maintained at such a high standard that we may fail to appreciate it, until we visit a less fortunate church.’

True, but something else nobody appreciated was what was left to do - and to do alone. Elsie again:

‘Just to get the church straight was enough, the choir vestry was unthinkable! When Harvest or Christmas was over I had to strip the church, and get all the produce in the vestry. We were given lists of the recipients for it from the Churchwardens and the Vicar and we had to make up the parcels. As time went by, they started to clear up a bit. I think that due to the war they had got used to doing without maids, and they realised what there was to do.’

Whether the rich and famous would still have continued to arrive in chauffeur-driven Rolls Royces to be met and escorted to their seats by the Churchwardens, as Fred Prestwich remembers them being, is perhaps unlikely. Such a lofty approach could hardly have survived Tom Greenwood's more cheerful one: at an Annual Parish Meeting he asked everyone to turn to the person next to them and introduce them­selves if they didn't know each other already. He had a lovely tenor voice and would come down the aisle to conduct the congregation if he didn't think they were singing properly.

In July 1946, he announced his resignation. Soon he and his family were to travel for ten days across the Atlantic by ship and then five days across Canada by train to reach Fort McMurray, Alberta. He had been Vicar of Hale through traumatic times. During those times, he had made the whole Parish his family - and the whole Parish seems to have looked upon him and his family as their own. Fifty years on, he is still remembered with love and respect. It is perhaps significant that, in spite of having served in many parishes, his Pectoral Cross and the crozier he carried as Bishop of the Yukon are today upon the Altar Cross and behind the pulpit, respectively, in St. Peter's Church, Hale. 

The Revd. Maurice Ridgeway saved the day. Tom Greenwood had met him at the Missionary Council and invited him to come to Hale as Curate which he had done in May 1944. Now, with one incumbent literally over the horizon and no sign of another upon it, he took charge of St. Peter's during the interregnum.

In addition to his many duties, he ran the Sunday afternoon Youth Group which met at Ada Pearce's, conducted tutorials for the Bishop's exams and organised the Deanery inter-parish challenge competition for the Stamford Plate. (This was a trophy which he had persuaded Lady Stamford to present for the winners of contests cover­ing areas as diverse as Reciting and Toy Making, Ballroom Dancing and Keeping a Minute Book. The names of the winners were inscribed upon it. Where the Plate is today is a mystery - it simply disappeared.)

With an involvement which touched the lives of just about everyone in the parish, it is not surprising that the sight of the Curate making his rounds in his 1934 Austin 7 'with mica windows so discoloured they looked like stained glass" was as welcome as it was familiar, nor that his departure was deeply felt. The Annual report for 1948 said:

‘Whether it has been as a leader of youth, or as a much-loved visitor of the elderly, as an evangelist...or as a cultured scholar..., no one has encountered the charm of his vigorous, eager personality without being enriched,’

The Report for the following year ended the story on a happy note:

‘A memory shining out of the winter darkness of January will always be the brightly-lit convoy of coaches strung out over the Cheshire countryside bound for the induction of the young Vicar of Bunbury. Over 200 Hale people swelled the congregation which packed the ancient church of St. Boniface and helped to give Maurice Ridgeway the send off he so richly deserved, it was not until June that Hale bestowed upon him its richest gift when he returned to claim his bride and become the curate to be mar­ried at St. Peter's altar."

Later still, he was to return again, as Vicar of Bowdon and, thereby, patron of the living of St. Peter's.