My name is Stephen Kneale. I am married to Rachel and have two children. I am the pastor at Oldham Bethel Church, an FIEC church in the Greater Manchester area of the UK which is also affiliated to the North West Partnership.
I hold qualifications in History & Politics (BA, University of Liverpool), Religious Studies & Philosophy (PGCE, Edge Hill University) and Theology (MA, Kings Evangelical Divinity School).
My theological convictions can be described as Modern Reformed Evangelical. I hold to the doctrines of grace, credo-baptism (significantly informed by my Grace Baptist/strict & particular baptist background) and subscribe to the traditional tenets of Evangelicalism.
My political convictions can be described as Democratic Socialist and are largely in line with the Calvinistic Socialist tradition (particularly the Welsh and Scottish forms). I favour public ownership, wealth distribution and a regulated economy. I believe in fairness in the markets and freedom for the individual.
I minister in the Glodwick area of Oldham. Oldham has previously been labelled by the Office of National Statistics as the most deprived town in England. We are frequent flyers in the list of England’s most deprived towns. According to the Church Urban Fund, our area of Glodwick is among the most deprived wards in the country. Glodwick is overwhelmingly populated by Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims, with the largest mosque in the borough about 300 metres behind our church building.
Historically, Oldham was at the centre of the industrial revolution and was once the largest cotton producer in Europe. Many of the original Victorian mills are still standing and were in use until the 1990s. However, since the last mill closed, the town has faced high levels of unemployment. With large numbers of South Asians brought over to work in the once thriving cotton industry, coupled to the loss of the mills, racial tensions run high. The town is highly segregated with almost exclusively Asian areas separated from wholly white estates. Such tensions led to the 2001 race riots centred on our area of Glodwick. The worst rioting took place on the road where our church building is sited.
The name of this blog has been taken from William Blake’s poem Jerusalem. Blake references the ‘dark Satanic mills’ that are ubiquitous in Oldham. The poem, set to music, became a Socialist anthem due to Blake’s reference to building Jerusalem in ‘England’s green and pleasant land’ and was used as a slogan by Clement Attlee at the 1945 Labour conference. Others interpret the ‘dark Satanic mills’ as referring to the Church of England and the power held by the Protestant Ascendancy in the Victorian era. Given my political and ecclesial backgrounds, you might consider the title apt.
However, we are at work in this deprived mill town because we want the people of Oldham to become citizens of the New Jerusalem. We really want Jerusalem to be built here. We long for people – regardless of nationality, ethnicity or class – to come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and saviour. Whether we view the mills as emblematic of people ensnared in poverty or not, there is a greater slave master; the problem of sin. We long for people to know the freedom from sin that comes only in and through the person of Jesus Christ.
Hopefully, these things will help you make sense of what is written here.