GAZING to the heavens the special guest at Saddleworth’s legendary Whit Friday united service was absolutely determined it would not rain on his parade.
The charismatic Archbishop of York beseeched the audience, huddling under a glittering sea of umbrellas, to join his plea.
John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu came to the edge of a stage, waved his hands at the sullen clouds and said: “Tell the rain to go away… go away!”
Just seconds before the Archbishop began his interactive address, the intense outburst simply evaporated to be replaced by sparkling sunshine.
I joined the Most Reverend and Right Honourable man of the cloth when he first arrived and hailed scores of villagers in Dobcross.
He marched into the square to the inspirational tune “Hailing smiling morn,” part of the traditional Whit Friday fabric.
His entourage included his chaplain, the Rev Dr Daphne Green, Saddleworth’s new team rector, Rev Canon Sharon Jones, and members from Holy Trinity church whose officials invited him to the celebration.
They were backed by members of Saddleworth ATC, Sandy Lane Community Church and Dobcross Silver and Youth band.
And with a few well timed jokes linked to his deep seated beliefs, the Archbishop captured the hearts and minds of the locals who thronged to see him.
Addressing the congregation outside the pub in Dobcorss, he said: “We love a smile, of belonging together. We love a sense of community celebrating all that is good in one another.”
Then, accompanied by Sunday school children, a swell of villagers and a swirl of proud banners, they processed to Uppermill.
When the open-air service with other villages got underway, he involved the clergy in the rhapsody of the event. A collection was taken during the service for Oldham Young Carers.
The Rev Dr Andrew Lunn, Methodist chair of Manchester and Stockport, Fr Bernard Bickers, Sacred Heart and St William Uppermill and Rev Hilary Edgerton, from Saddleworth Team helped throw handfuls of brightly coloured balloons to the crowd.
Then the crowd were encouraged to blow into the balloons before releasing them skywards.
Said the Archbishop: “While the breath of life was in the balloons they were able to fly… the spirit lives in us.”
And, at one point, he invited on stage six-year-old Thomas Le Marrec, who was visiting the area from France with his Uppermill-born mother Sarah.
His delighted mother said: “Thomas was very brave going in the stage, particularly as his first language is French.
“But he loved the experience and it was wonderful to have such an emblematic figure to take the service.”
Other clergy taking part included the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, who hails from Mossley, and Rev Duncan Rhodes, celebrating 75 years of making the walk from Diggle.
Later, after sharing lunch with the children at Holy Trinity CE Primary Dobcross, the Archbishop took stock of his visit.
“Saddleworth is a beautiful place – I particularly liked the walk along the river.”
Elsewhere in other villages, locals thronged to the streets despite the heavy rain to process with banners and bands around the area.