In Autumn 2001, something began to stir in North Staffordshire. Over the previous few years, the Saltbox's director, Lloyd Cooke, had occasionally brought together a handful of church leaders for meetings to share in fellowship together. On the morning of 31 October 2001, these leaders met together with several others to pray at Shallowford House Retreat Centre.
In a spirit of honesty and vulnerability, there was a recognition that the area was in dire spiritual, political and economic need. The church leaders observed that churches in the area were struggling both spiritually and numerically, and that many church leaders were themselves discouraged and under pressure. Also, the national Experian Report, published earlier in 2001, which had used criteria based on housing, education, crime, health, and other information, had placed Stoke-on-Trent at the bottom of a list of 376 towns and cities throughout England and Wales. In the light of these desperate times, the leaders prayed together expressing a desire to see a new spirit of support and encouragement, and asking God for a transformation of the area.
Interestingly, some months earlier, Lloyd Cooke had felt led to plan an evening prayer meeting which would also take place on 31 October at the Bethel Christian Church in Abbey Hulton. Unusually, Lloyd felt it right not to 'market' or even publicise the event in the preceding months, and that plans for the event needed to remain 'hidden'. Indeed, the meeting was first announced right at the end of September at a meeting of Christians who had come to watch the premier of the Transformations II video. People were told that this would not be a celebration, but would be an occasion to seek the Lord.
31 October, 2001
Prior to the evening of Wednesday 31 October, and because of the lack of publicity, only about 50-80 were expected. Amazingly, over 200 people turned up! Alongside this surprising attendance, the meeting contained a real sense of the Lord's presence. As leaders from the morning meeting shared their heart, there was real honesty and a willingness to admit our failings and difficulties. Sharing, worship and prayer was interweaved throughout the evening, with various types of creative praying being employed. The key scripture for the evening was 2 Chronicles 7 v14.
At one point, a local church leader came forward to offer a public apology for any past hurt or offence that his congregation may have caused. Other leaders also came forward and humbled themselves before the Lord. This united act of submission and repentance powerfully affected those attending. As the evening came to a conclusion, it became apparent that follow-up was necessary and so a second meeting was announced that would take place on the last day of November. There was a real sense that something very significant had just begun.
After 7 years of monthly prayer meeting, a "pause" took place in October 2008 to give space and time for reflection.
It was felt right to lay down 2C7 meetings and to encourage local churches and prayer groups to pick to the specific prayer baton of intercession for the city.