Lloyd Cooke speaks to City Vision

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Saltbox Chief Executive Lloyd Cooke speaks to national Christian charity City Vision about his life, background his thirty years working with Saltbox.

City Vision’s aim is to support and facilitate city transformation, holistically for God’s glory by bringing leaders together across the business, church, civic and para-church arenas.

To find out more please visit their website.

Yours Faithfully – Known to God

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In his latest ‘Yours Faithfully’ column, Saltbox Church Liaison Officer Tim Lucas looks at Armistice Day and recounts the story of the ‘Unknown Warrior’


On this day in the year 1920, four bodies were exhumed from a battlefield in France and presented to Brigadier L.J. Wyatt and Lieutenant Colonel E.A.S. Gell of the Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries. Each of the bodies was placed in a plain coffin and covered with a Union Flag. Brigadier Wyatt then closed his eyes and rested his hand on one of the coffins. The other three were reburied, and this selected body was transported to Britain and, on Armistice Day, placed in Westminster Abbey.

The grave of the Unknown Warrior is today one of the most visited war memorials in the world. The original design for it was that it should serve ‘to represent the many hundreds of thousands of Empire dead’, and should rest among kings as a sign ofhonour and respect.

The man responsible for finding a suitable body was the Revd George Kendall, who served as army chaplain in France during the First World War. He never revealed whether he knew the identity of the soldier, and even kept a secret of which field the body was exhumed from. In some of his final thoughts he wrote, ‘The location can never be revealed, but again I stress this great fact – the soldier lying in Westminster Abbey is British and unknown. He may have come from some little village or some city in this land, and he may be the son of a working man or of a rich man, ‘Unknown to man, but known to God’.’

For the Revd George Kendall – that is to say, for Christians – this is a resonant truth. Though a person may be unknown to people, they are still known to God.

There are many people in many circumstances, and certainly relating to war, of whom we could say this.

There are many soldiers who fought and died in the First and Second World Wars, and in all conflicts since. There are many innocent civilians who will have died as a result of wars and conflicts. There are many who live in fear of their own home because of a regime that has taken all it can and given nothing. There are many the world over who are displaced and fearful because of wars taking place all around them. There are many concerned family members and friends who anxiously wait to hear some news about a loved one fighting in the Forces. There are many broken families who have had to live with the great pain of grief after a loved one has been killed.

Some of them we will know, and some of them we could name. But others are unknown to us, and perhaps always will be.

As we approach Armistice Day, which this year falls on Remembrance Sunday, we might want to take a moment to thank God that nobody is truly unknown. Whoever they are, whatever they have been through, whatever they have seen, whatever effects it had on them, he knows. To him, all hearts are open, all desires known, and from him no secrets are hidden.

As we think about the dreaded effects of war, we might think of the Unknown Warrior and Revd George Kendall’s words, and be grateful that even when our knowledge reaches its limits, when names evade us, when details are not firmed up, when we cannot imagine what it must have been like for those people, the eternal truth is that even when details or people are unknown to man, they are known to God.

Tim Lucas (Saltbox Church Liaison Officer)

Mark’s Gospel – A dramatic Solo Performance

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Mark’s Gospel – A dramatic Solo Performance by Howard Jones. Directed by Frank McGregor.

Longton Central Hall   32b The Strand, Stoke-on-Trent ST3 2JH
7.30pm Wednesday October 31st, Thursday November 1st and Friday November 2nd
Tickets: Adults – £5    Concessions – £3 (OAP, Unemployed, Children and teens 18 and under)
To book tel: 07952 318685
For more info visit

Don’t miss this possibly once in a lifetime theatre experience of Mark’s Gospel – created in Cobridge and now touring the UK – but stopping off in Longton at the end of October.

Howard Jones, a Baptist Minister has spent the last two years learning Mark’s story by heart, firstly as a personal challenge but then wondering if he could turn his learning into a performance. He shared his idea with Frank McGregor,a Stoke-on-Trent based actor, artist and evangelist, who offered to direct the show.

Howard says, ‘Sadly, we have often taken this incredible story about a dynamic and amazing man and made it sound religious and boring. This is real shame, because so few get to really experience it as a story.’

The audience will experience Jesus in a way they might not expect. Howard comments, ‘I decided quite early on to give Jesus a ‘Northern’ accent. This wasn’t just a whim; Jesus was a working-class bloke from a small village in Galilee – “up north” in Israel – and I wanted to reflect that. For centuries church art and culture has tended to “poshify” Jesus, so I think it’s nice to hear him as an earthy, common man – that’s how his first followers would have heard him’.

Frank adds, ‘We took the text and started by thinking of it not as Holy Scripture but as a theatrical script waiting to be brought to life on stage. Howard has risen magnificently to the challenge of the solo performance, moving effortlessly between the many characters we meet along the way. We are convinced that as people watch, something of the awe which struck all who heard and met Jesus will be experienced by our audiences – and perhaps some will go away asking the same question many asked at the time – just who is this Jesus?’

In recent months the performance has been seen by hundreds of people young and old in Stoke-on-Trent, Stafford, Manchester, Birmingham and Taunton. Here are just some of the comments received from audience members:

“…Thank you for a truly exceptional and powerful performance. Unforgettable!…”

“…All I can say is that it was awesome…”

“…An amazing performance, God inspired. Thank you for all the hard work…”

“…Very interesting throughout the night from start to finish. Could sit through it again…”

“…Really brings the gospel alive. Glad I took the ‘risk’ to bring the kids – think it will fuel good discussions and encourage them to read their Bibles. Fantastic way to spend the evening. Looking forward to the next book!…”

Friends of Stoke Minster – From Pagan Worship to Stoke Minster

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This one-off day seminar is the first lecture of its kind to be held in Stoke. The seminar draws from the extensive archive of Dr. Richard Talbot, covering a period when Pagan worship and possible sacrifices were held in Stoke – up to present day Stoke Minster. Dr. Talbot’s full press release for the event can be found below:

The seminar commences in the morning with coffee followed by a tour of the churchyard where once a moated druid-circle may have stood, to the early first stone Saxon church, the Saxon cross and font to the Norman Church, its demolition and the creation of the present stone arches. Only recently Dr. Talbot has discovered the location of many other stones relating to this Norman Church – in a garden at Hartshill! The facts behind this stunning discovery after all these years will be fascinating to hear and to see the pictures.

The churchyard contains numerous stones and tombs of many of our famous potters. Dr Talbot will locate those now hidden of Thomas Whieldon, the father of the pottery industry and his family. Many new facts have been gathered regarding the ancient traditions of the Wake, how the old church was organised and importantly discussing the old churchwarden’s accounts and Bishops visitations which present a new insight of life in a different time-zone. The list of Rectors forms an integral part of Stoke’s history as many never even came to Stoke but were appointed by the Patron because of favours thereby in return to receive an almost Kings-Ransom.

The growth of the Potteries brought with it pressures upon the church and as a result in 1807 the church was divided to create several separate Rectories based upon the old Churches of Ease leading to in excess of twenty parishes stretching from Norton in the Moors to Caverswall which in the 13th century was the most-wealthiest parish in the country. This wealth extended into the 19th century as the rector received annually an income from Tithes amounting to what would be today several tens of thousands of pounds. By the early 19th century the old church found itself impossible to maintain services as it could not contain the huge influx of workers to the Potteries. The 14th century leper hospital and the parish first poor house are to be discussed.

In 1830 the present church was built on glebe land to contain more than 2000 persons which was the turning point for the parish whereby the custom of church tithes was re-implemented to the fury of local residents with protests, petitions and posters against the plan notably those from the Duke of Sutherland. These were to finance other churches such as St. Marks, Shelton and St. James Longton but somehow the church ended up £9000 in debt. The churchyard itself has its own story on where to bury and importantly how to stall grave-thieves.

The seminar is wide-ranging and places should be reserved in advance as numbers are limited. Sign in 10.30 a.m. with coffee commence prompt at 11.00 a.m. Bring own lunch from 12.30 with tea or coffee provided. Recommence at 1.15p.m. close approx. 3.00-3.30 p.m. Cost £5.00. Reserve your place now at: More information Tel: 07962143131

Yours Faithfully – Ode to Autumn

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In his latest ‘Yours Faithfully’ column for the Stoke Sentinel, Saltbox Chief Executive Lloyd Cooke talks about the changing of the UK seasons and how they can reflect life and personal experience.

I love autumn. While I also like the new-birth expectancy of spring and sitting outside in the summer sun, it is autumn which is my favourite season. There is nothing quite like going out early in the morning and smelling the freshness of an autumn day.  John Keats, one of the greatest English poets, wrote his famous poem Ode to Autumn which begins with those familiar words “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”.

One of the good things about living in the UK is that we have clearly defined seasons, something that isn’t true in other parts of the world. This means that while we may not like the dark and cold of winter or April showers, we know that change will come and something more pleasant will appear.

This ebb and flow of our UK seasons mirrors life. For all of us there will be ups and downs; times of happiness and celebration as well as times of sadness and difficulty.  In the Bible, this is famously referred to in the book of Ecclesiastes: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3v1-4).

In our lifetime, we will all experience the wintertime of loss, the springtime anticipation of new things and the sparkling joy that summertime brings.  However, autumn is different. It is fresh and pleasant and mellow. Traditionally, autumn points towards harvest time. It is the time when new school terms begin. It is the time when clergy friends in the Methodist Church commence new appointments.

Life always feels better when we can find balance and rhythm.  Sometimes we can plan for this but often it can be the result of a change in circumstances. Last year, I found that one of the results of losing my wife to cancer was that I reflected afresh on my life and what I wanted in the future. While I didn’t make any major changes, bereavement gave me an opportunity to take stock and make some alterations. I decided that I wanted to lose some weight, take more exercise and become fitter. I decided I wanted to read more and so began working my way through a list of “101 fictions books to read before you die!”  I also decided to become a Stoke City season ticket holder (I will avoid any comment about the start to our season!).

So, what season of life do you feel that you are in currently? If you feel happy and blessed, then savour and enjoy it for all it is worth. Share your happiness with others by being gracious, kind and generous. However, if you are lost, lonely or sad then remember that life doesn’t have to remain that way. Try to avoid becoming morose. Consider if there are some positive changes you can make (though I understand that buying a Stoke City season ticket might not be the answer for everyone!). Ultimately, make time to seek God. His son’s death on the cross means that He understands pain and loss. Perhaps go to church, try listening to inspirational music. You could try praying and if you don’t know what to say try the words of the Lord’s Prayer. My prayer for all Sentinel readers is that the arrival of autumn’s mists and mellow fruitfulness will signal a time of blessing for you & for our communities.

Lloyd Cooke (Chief Executive – Saltbox)

Yours Faithfully – St. Columba and the Loch Ness Monster

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In his latest ‘Yours Faithfully’ column, Saltbox Church Liaison Officer Tim Lucas explores Adamnan’s account of St. Columba’s encounter with the Loch Ness Monster and how the power of the cross can overcome sin. 

According to the biographical account of Adamnan, on this day in 565 St. Columba encountered the Loch Ness Monster. The story goes that Columba was contemplating how to cross the loch, when he saw some Picts mourning the death of one of their community. They spoke of how a great “water beast” had tried to eat the man, but they had managed to save him from its grasp, although unfortunately he was too injured.

In response, Columba did two things. Firstly, he placed his staff on the man’s chest and raised him from the dead, and secondly, he ordered one of his monks to go for a swim.

When the swimming monk raised the attention of the beast, the crowds at the side of the loch were hugely distressed. They shouted to the monk to swim back to safety, aware that the beast had surfaced and opened its mouth. But Columba remained calm. He walked to the edge of the loch, made the sign of the cross, and said, “You will go no further! Do not touch the man! Leave at once!” The Loch Ness Monster fled as if terrified, “more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes,” and was not seen for centuries after that.

While we could sit and debate the veracity of such a story, that may be approaching it from the wrong angle. For me, the question that arises from this story is not whether I believe the Loch Ness Monster to be real, but whether I believe in the power of the cross.

The leading New Testament scholar, Tom Wright, highlights that throughout the scriptures sin is written and taught about as though it is a living thing. It’s like it is a being that has found a way into the world and has set out to destroy, damage, and devour whatever it can. But when Christ was crucified, he took sin onto himself. Taking it further, Paul writes that Christ “became sin”. When Christ was nailed to the cross, God was punishing sin for all it had done.

You can, do doubt, see the link. Sin is like the great water beast of the Scottish loch, wild and untamed, and hugely destructive. That may cause some to panic and be in distress, but the message of the cross is that through Christ, we are able to say, “You will go no further! Leave at once!” and sin has to retreat.

This is truly good news. Sin will always lead to death, but the story of Christianity is that God has overcome sin and death, and through his resurrection he has also raised us into new life, so we can be free of the great beast of the world. Sin is rendered powerless when confronted with the truth of the cross, and death is rendered powerless when confronted with the truth of the resurrection.

So, if someone asks you in the future whether you believe in the Loch Ness Monster, remember the story of St. Columba and the Picts; remember the story of Christ and the cross; and remember the story of his resurrection, through which we are also raised from death.

I pray that, like Columba, you make Christ your focus. The issue for so many of us is that we focus so much on the beast that we forget the power that overcomes it.

Tim Lucas (Saltbox Church Liaison Officer)


Yours Faithfully – The World Is Much Better With You In It

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Reaching out with a simple act of kindness can make a huge difference to those who are struggling in life. In his latest Sentinel ‘Yours Faithfully’ column, Saltbox Church Liason Officer Tim Lucas takes a look at the theme of ‘hope’ and an inspirational story taking place up in the North East of England. 

Last week, a teenager called Paige Hunter from Sunderland was given a commendation certificate from Northumbria Police. They described her actions as an “innovative way to reach out to those in a dark place”. The interesting thing is that her actions were remarkably easy, but have saved the lives of at least six people.

Miss Hunter simply attached around 40 uplifting messages to Wearmouth Bridge at various points, saying things as simple as “You’re not alone” followed by a helpline telephone number.

Hope is a profoundly resilient thing, and yet at the same time it can be a very hard thing to get a hold on. When a person is struggling with lack of hope, the world becomes an even darker, more difficult place, and breaking that cycle by oneself is a near impossibility.

There is a story in the Bible of a man named Job. His story is complex and interesting, but the simple outline of it is that Job is massively afflicted with family deaths, loss of everything he owned, and suffering with terrible disease. At one point he asks, “Who can see any hope for me?” That is quite a telling question.

Those among us who are enduring the most difficult of times often cannot see for themselves a way out. For them, the pain feels like it will last forever, the affliction seems like it will never end, and the sorrow appears to be bottomless.

In those times vision can be obscured, and it can feel like there is never going to be an end to all that they are experiencing. In those times, they rely on someone else’s eyes, someone who can “see hope for them”. And in seeing hope, to do what they can to give it to them.

The actions of Paige Hunter shows that all it takes to inject some hope into a person’s situation is one moment. There is a moment between a person having a destructive thought, and following that through. It is often a very small window of time, but hope is powerful and does not need a huge amount of time to make the strongest of impacts.

The actions of Paige Hunter shows that all it takes to inject some hope into a person’s situation is a simple sentence. Words of affirmation and encouragement, even between strangers who do not know each other’s situations at all, go a long way. It may be the only encouraging words they have heard that day, or it may be the same as they have heard but said in a different way; but either way they are vitally important words to say.

Are there people you know who need to use your eyes to see hope? Are there simple ways in which you can create moments of hope that will benefit others?

Are you struggling? Does life weigh down upon you? Please pause. Take a moment. Breathe. And perhaps one of Paige Hunter’s messages will help you today: “Even though things are difficult, your life matters; you’re a shining light in a dark world, so just hold on.”

The world is better for having you in it.

Tim Lucas (Saltbox Church Liason Officer)

Yours Faithfully – Mental Health Awareness Week

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Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, this year Mental Health Awareness Week takes place between 14 – 20 May. Research has shown that two-thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes. Saltbox’s Church Liason Officer, Tim Lucas, shares his thoughts on mental wellbeing and what more we can do to support those in times of need. 

Last week, the popular TV soap Coronation Street followed the storyline of three characters: each of whom struggled with a form of mental illness, and one of whom committed suicide.

A few weeks earlier, at the end of March, ITV placed 84 statues at the top of its building in London to highlight the harrowing truth that an average of 84 men a week commit suicide, making it the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45, an average of one suicide every two hours. Male suicide makes up 75% of suicides for this age bracket, meaning that an additional 28 women per week commit suicide.

At some point in their lives, 1/3 of all people will struggle with some form of mental health issue, the intensity and outcomes of which will vary for each person.

These are important statistics to mention, especially since this week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Throughout 14-20 May, we are being encouraged to make ourselves aware of mental illnesses, and the effects that they have on so many people throughout the world. It is imperative that we do not overlook this.

In my experience, we as Christians have not always been very good at talking about mental health. Many times, we find it far easier to debate the theology of a condition, thinking that if we can ‘just find out’ the source or purpose of it then all will be well. Or alternatively, we look at the statistics and think that somehow that will be enough.

Both fall short of recognising that behind the illness, behind the statistics, are people. Yes, knowledge and understanding of poor mental health is necessary, but it should not stand alone; it must be teamed with a care and concern for each individual affected by those mental health conditions.

During Mental Health Awareness Week, I encourage you to find out more about mental illnesses and some of the things you can be aware of when it comes to helping those who struggle with poor mental health. Read statistics and stories (there is an abundance of both online), and make yourself available to people, especially those who have nobody else.

That may mean being an ear to talk to, a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, or a friend to sit in silence with. The simplest of acts can make all the difference to someone.

If you are struggling with how you feel, please talk to someone. There is a great deal of help available, whether that be CALM, Samaritans, Mind, or a GP; or perhaps a good starting point for you is simply to talk to a friend or family member. Nobody will think any less of you for it, and you will have taken a huge step towards help and recovery.

The world is better for having you in it.

You are not alone.

Tim Lucas (Saltbox Church Liason Officer)

Dealing with Bereavement – An interview with Rob Kellett

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The loss of a loved one can often feel unbearable, leaving behind a huge hole in our lives.  For the past seven years, Swan Bank Church in Burslem has hosted a special Bereavement course, tailored to support individuals through times of mourning. Last week, Saltbox sat down with Rob Kellett, Swan Bank’s Pastoral Co-ordinator, to learn more about his role in the church and how their bereavement course is supporting those affected by loss.

Thanks for inviting us down to Swan Bank, Rob. First up, would you like to tell us a little about yourself?

Sure. My name is Rob Kellett and I’m 47 years old. I was originally born in Yorkshire but never lived there. Instead, I was bought up locally in Alsager before moving to Harriseahead. I’ve been married for the past fourteen years and we have a twelve-year-old son. I’ve worshipped at Swan Bank for nearly twenty years and have worked here for the past seven years.

What does your day-to-day role involve?

I’m the Pastoral Co-ordinator at Swan Bank. I love doing what I do. My focus is mainly on people. We have a large congregation here. In my role, along with a few other volunteers, we go out and visit people in their own homes, or in the hospital when they aren’t very well, providing comfort and support.

Before joining Swan Bank I used to work for John Johnson Funeral Directors in Tunstall. From a Christian context, there are elements from my old job which I’ve been able into adapt to Swan Bank’s bereavement course. Saying that, the course is just as applicable to those from a non-faith background.

How did the Bereavement course come about?

About seven or eight years ago I was shopping at Tesco in Kidsgrove and saw an A4 leaflet on their notice board. It was advertising a bereavement course that was taking place at St Martin’s, Talke. I went home wondering if it was something we could adapt for Swan Bank. My wife then mentioned a lady from our congregation, Margaret, who’d recently lost her husband. In the end we all went along to St Martin’s. Margaret was able to benefit from their support while I was able to learn more about how the course operated.

The people running the course were lovely and it was certainly something we could replicate in a Swan Bank context. We’ve been doing it ever since and this is now our seventh year.

What does the Swan Bank course involve?

It’s very much a group session. Everyone who attends has had a significant bereavement. Generally, we have two speakers who faithfully run through the presentation material. The course is done over six weeks. We use a venue upstairs in Swan Bank. It’s a fantastic, comfortable, modern space to work in.

The first week of the course is a little shorter and acts as a taster session where people can see what the next five weeks are going to involve. There’s no obligation to do the next five weeks, although of course we’d like everyone to stay for the duration. There’s also group work and activities involved where people can share experiences. It’s fair to say that the course isn’t all serious, there are some laughs within it – we do want to lighten the mood where we can. Rapport and friendships soon develop. The great thing is people are all in the same boat and there’s a commonality in that.

Who is the course suitable for?

I’d say all who have suffered a bereavement and feel they’d like some support to get through it. Death is a common experience for everybody. When you lose someone special it often leaves a large and untimely gap, so you want to help at a very vulnerable time in people’s lives. We support people from both faith and non-faith backgrounds.

Thanks for your time Rob. Do you have any final words on how people can get in touch?

I think it’s a wonderful course with a proven track record of helping people who are really struggling with elements of bereavement. About 50 people have been through the course since it first started. If you’d like to find out more then please contact me, Rob Kellett, either through the church office on 01782 575129, or send me an email at

Welcome to our new site!

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Welcome to our new look Mission website – Saltbox’s Christian outreach and support service for Church and Community Groups. Mission is dedicated to encouraging greater unity amongst Christians and local churches, in addition to focusing on the practical benefits that faith groups provide within local communities.

On our new website, you’ll be able to read about the History of Mission, which can be traced back to the beginnings of Saltbox in 1983. We also include a timeline, spanning from 1987 to present day, documenting many of Saltbox’s spiritual outreach landmarks.

You’ll also be able to meet the Team behind the service. Here you’ll find detailed role and bio information on Saltbox CEO Lloyd Cooke, and our Church Liaison Officer, Tim Lucas.

The reach of Mission is extensive. Our new Landscape section provides some of the numbers behind approximately 500 groups of various faiths that meet regularly for worship and prayer.

We’ve also added dedicated pages around Faith and Action. Here we look at the statistics behind our Faith Action Audits. You’ll be able to see our first audit from 2006 as well as our most recent 2017 report. Away from the numbers, you can also keep up to date with the latest on our annual Civic Prayer Breakfast – our next event scheduled for Friday 20 April at Kings Hall, Stoke.

Elsewhere we’ve also built a searchable Directory of local faiths and churches found within our local area. Here you can view their locations by map and even filter out by denomination.

There’s plenty more to explore on our new Mission website so feel free to take a look around. If you have any questions or feedback then please don’t hesitate to get in touch via our Contact Us page.