THE Vicar of Oldham led the delivery of the message of the Parish Church’s televised Christmas Day service towards focus and helping the town’s vulnerable and rough sleepers.
As the historic church looked magnificent during the BBC broadcast, the Rev Derek Palmer, shared the stage with Oldham Street Angels and OL1 Community Association and Nasim Ashraf, who was instrumental in opening up local mosques to the homeless during last year’s harsh winter.
Street Angels medic Jemma Heap told the millions watching on TV how the organisation has been operating in the town for the last seven years, volunteering every Saturday night, helping the vulnerable and those in need, including rough sleepers.
“We work with Oldham Council, the NHS, police and other local churches.
“My role as one of the medics is to prevent unnecessary visits to accident and emergency departments and to ensure visitors get home safely. As a member of this church, it’s a very practical way of demonstrating Christ’s love to all people.”
Andi Gregory from OL1 told how last year the homeless were fed in the church and slept in the community centre.
“Volunteers from the church help us with the bread and butter things and our food share scheme is providing 150 families with groceries at a nominal cost. We are a community and a church linked together.”
Mr Ashraf, meanwhile, called for unity across faiths in Oldham.
He said: “The things that we can do together are far greater than the things we can do while we sit divided.
“Let’s all unite as one human kind and make that difference.”
Mr Palmer told how the night shelter at the church is running for three months this winter.
He told the congregation: “Christmas is about us – it’s about opening ourselves up to what God is trying to do today, and that even if we don’t fully understand what it means, there is room for Him in our lives. That want to be part of what he is doing. Christmas invites us to be part of the story.
“Our part of the story is the night shelter running for three months and sleeper drop-ins.
“The real test of Christmas is whether we’ve opened our hearts to God and let His love fill us so we become part of His story and be angels to people around us. May that be something we do this Christmas and always.” Also leading the service were The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker, Canon Jean Hurlston, and the curate of Oldham Parish Church, the Rev Charlie Annis. The grade II-listed Oldham Parish Church dates back to 1830, but there has been a church on the site since 1280, when a small chapel served the townships of Oldham, Chadderton, Royton and Crompton.
Following the service, Mr Palmer told The Oldham Times the church had been asked to host the live broadcast back in June.
He said: "When I got the initial email, I thought one of my friends was scamming me. But it was an incredible privilege to be asked to do this. It was a chance to show what an incredibly diverse community we serve.
"The church looked amazing on television thanks to the extra lighting that was brought in and this may be something we will look at."