By George! – vicar celebrates 25 years

PHILIP Brierley, vicar of St George’s, Stalybridge, has celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

Yet the Rev Brierley’s association with St George’s stretches further back – 65 years in fact – when he first attended Sunday School.

Rev Brierley, born a stone’s throw away from St George’s on North Avenue, was four years of age when he began attending Sunday School.

The 69-year-old was later in the choir, server, sancristan and lay reader before he got the reading from God.

Rev Brierley, who trained under a new Ordained Local Ministry scheme, was ordained as a deacon in 1992 and to the priesthood the following year.

He remained at St George’s, where he assisted the minister, while still working as an industrial chemist.

Rev Brierley was assigned pastoral care including providing communion to parishioners who were unable to get to church.

He was licenced as a priest in charge in 2013 and three years later became vicar incumbent.

Rev Brierley, who lives off Mottram Road, admitted it is highly unusual to remain at the same church for so long.

“Usually most vicars spend five or six years in a parish and leave, but I have been here all my life,” he explained.

“The church is special as my parents are buried there, as are my wife’s parents.”

But it will be the end of an era next year when the Rev Brierley must retire at the age of 70, though he will still be able to provide ministerial cover, either at St George’s or elsewhere, to conduct services, weddings and funerals.

In his time in the ministry, Rev Brierley says today there is more lay involvement.

“It used to be a case of the vicar being the main man and he told people what to do whereas today it is more collaborative ministry,” he explained.

While congregations are dwindling elsewhere Rev Brierley, who is married to Irene and has a son Michael, says St George’s is healthy with Sunday morning services attracting around 80 people, including around 10 who are in the junior church, which is the former Sunday School.

St George’s is also a thriving community hub as it hosts Rainbows, Brownies and Guides, Slimming World classes, Tuesday café, mums and tots while Tameside Community Voices rehearse at St George’s.

They also host social events like a monthly Fairtrade afternoon tea and quizzes.

Rev Brierley says the biggest challenge is raising £300,000 for a new roof. They have secured money from the Heritage Lottery Fund, although they do not know the exact sum, and work could begin later this year.

Looking further ahead, a renovation of the Renn church organ is also needed and this will cost about £20,000. It was last upgraded in 1986.

Sunday, June 24 was a day of celebration at St George’s to mark the 178th anniversary of the consecration of the church and the Rev Brierley’s 25 years.

There was the usual Holy Communion followed by morning family worship to which godparents of children christened were invited, a total of 134 families.

In the afternoon there was a sparkling strawberry cream tea and the day was concluded with choral evensong.

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