Prophets and Evangelists

One of my recent pleasures has been listening to a radio dramatisation of Arnold Bennett’s novels.  Born in Hanley in 1865, the background to his novels are the five towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent.  He weaves beautifully together the lives of those making money, the poverty and the grim conditions of the pottery industry. 

The local industrialists – always men, of course – are also the local politicians and some are elders in the Methodist church.  They run the town and, from their viewpoint everyone has their station. 

You can sense movement and change are not only possible but coming.  Bennett introduces us to some strong, independent and capable women.  One of them appears  when the Primitive Methodists ‘hit town’.  Not only a threat to the Wesleyans, but to the fabric of society. 

What really upsets people, especially the men, is that their main spokesperson is a woman – and she preaches.  Out loud in the open air, for everyone to hear.  Drawing people to their cause.  She is saying that Jesus’ teaching is about justice, fairness and equality.  It’s about looking after each person as if they matter.  Mysteriously their wooden chapel gets burnt down.

Chris Dawson

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