Many of us will have visited the National Trust property of Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, Cheshire. The National Trust describe it as 'one of Britain's greatest industrial heritage sites, home to a complete industrial community'.
The mill was established by Samuel Greg in 1784. According to (the I am sure very reliable!) Wikipedia entry, 'He and his wife Hannah Greg took their responsibilities to their employees seriously, building a model village alongside the factory'. In this vision they were very much influenced by their faith, Unitarianism. The village provided solid housing for the workers, a shop, school, chapel and Sunday School. Like me, I imagine many others growing up in this area visited this model village on a school trip to learn about the Industrial Revolution! (1)
One of their sons, the imaginatively named Samuel Greg Jr., who lived in Bollington and managed the mill there upon his father's retirement, was also active in the Church and wrote a hymn, published in 1854, that made its way into the Methodist Hymn-Book (1933) as well as Hymns and Psalms (1983). This is the hymn:
STAY, Master, stay upon this heavenly hill
A little longer, let us linger still;
With these two mighty ones of old beside,
Near to the awful Presence still abide;
Before the throne of light we trembling stand,
And catch a glimpse into the spirit-land.
Stay, Master, stay! We breathe a purer air;
This life is not the life that waits us there:
Thoughts, feelings, flashes, glimpses come and go;
We cannot speak them—nay, we do not know;
Wrapt in this cloud of light we seem to be
The thing we fain would grow—eternally.
“No”, saith the Lord, “the hour is past,—we go;
Our home, our life, our duties lie below.
While here we kneel upon the mount of prayer,
The plough lies waiting in the furrow there;
Here we sought God that we might know His will;
There we must do it,—serve Him,—seek Him still.”
If man aspires to reach the throne of God,
O’er the dull plains of earth must lie the road:
He who best does his lowly duty here,
Shall mount the highest in a nobler sphere:
At God’s own feet our spirits seek their rest,
And he is nearest Him who serves Him best.
Samuel Greg (1804–1877)
The hymn is about the transfiguration of Jesus, a story told in the gospels of Matthew (17:1–8), Mark (9:2–8) and Luke (9:28–36), and mentioned in the Second Epistle of Peter (2 Peter 1:16–18). when Jesus is transfigured and becomes radiant in glory upon a mountain. It is a story some churches around the world will be remembering over the coming two Sundays.
The gospels tell how Jesus and two of his disciples, Peter and John, go to a high place. There, Jesus was transfigured before them; 'the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white' (Luke 9:29). They see visions of Elijah, representing the prophets, and Moses, representing the Law, appear and talk to Jesus. Peter asks Jesus if they should build three dwellings for Him and the two prophets (Luke 9:33), perhaps either as a way to worship them or an attempt to keep them there longer!
The account is fantastic and one easy to misunderstand. Indeed we are expressely told by Luke that even Peter, in suggesting the building of the dwellings, has also misunderstood the event. The true signficance, we are told, is found in the heavenly voice that is heard, assuring the disciples that the Jesus they are following is indeed the Son of God, not despite his coming passion, but because of it. And, furthermore, they are to obey Him - and Him alone: "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" (Luke 9:35). A reminder for us in our time as well.
Here is a video of that hymn performed on the organ of Edgworth Methodist Church near Bolton:
(1) On the other hand, and we should not proceed without mentioning this: for all Samuel Greg's enlightened views, practices we find abohrrant today were also used. If we visit the mill today, we can take a guided tour of the Apprentice House to step into the lives of the pauper children who worked in the mill. Children as young as eight years old were apprenticed at Quarry Bank, working 10 hour days in the mill and living cramped together under the control of the Apprentice House superindentents. Furthermore, in my research I have read that Samuel also part inherited a plantation in the West Indies from his uncle, and this would have included slave labour. A local overseer was appointed to manage this estate. From the sources, we do not know what he or his family thought of slavery.
The reflections here are written by members of our congregation.