The living chosen for Richard Jenkins by the bishop was in the parish of Michael, Gabriel and John at Middleton-on-Would, or Middleton-on-Wouldn’t, as the parishioners liked to call it. The church, not much bigger than a 4-bedroomed house, sat perched on a hill overlooking the river. It had pew spaces for no more than 50 and a congregation that never managed to fill more than 30.

The bishop warned him that the people were simple people, impoverished in both material means and spiritual resolve. The previous incumbent had lived a life of frustration and died of despair, his every effort at reaching the hard hearts of these farming folk falling on deaf ears.

The church building was located on the site of a monastery razed by agents of Henry VIII in 1540 – 41. It was built at the turn of the century using debris salvaged from the earlier edifice. This stark, grey building had seen better days. A masonry crack at the front of the church ran all the way from ground level to the spire, showing signs of half-hearted attempts at repair. All around the church, ancient tombstones protruded from the ground at crazy angles, the names of those buried beneath worn away by wind and weather and long since forgotten.

Inside, it was dark. The atmosphere smelled of damp and mould, the lukewarm fervour of the religious devotion of the congregation the only form of heating. There was no organ; hymns were accompanied by pre-recorded music played on an old tape recorder.

The day that Richard Jenkins first viewed his church, his heart filled with joy. He knew his life in this place would be hard, but the ugliness of the building, the modesty of the living, sent ripples of delightful anticipation through his veins. He could build something here. Starting from such a low base, the only way was up, right? How could he fail?

The windows on each side, six in total, all consisted of plain leaded glass. He set his heart on acquiring stained glass. First, he would attend to the spiritual needs of his congregation, but however long it took, he would replace the six windows with the most beautiful stained glass. Each window would celebrate some aspect of Christianity unique to this location, to its origins and its history.

Years went by. The living was hard, the congregation dour, unyielding, unresponsive to his sacred message – and poor as church mice. Diligently, he turned his attention to his sermons. Surely, it was just a matter of striking the right note to reach the hearts of these people.

Decades passed. Approaching his seventy-fifth year, and feeling the end of his life approaching, the Reverend Jenkins decided to invest the few pounds he had saved in the windows. He paid a visit to a well-known artist who quickly disillusioned him: He had nearly enough for one window. As a special favour, the artist said he would build one window for the funds available.

The Reverend Jenkins provided a sketch. It showed the Archangel Michael slaying Satan in the form of a dragon.

Six months later, the window was delivered. The artist oversaw a team of fitters who lifted it carefully and fitted it in place. The rector stood back to admire the art work and the words under the picture: “Melius sero quam numquam” (Better late than never).

The Sunday after that, when the congregation arrived, they were awestruck by the stained glass window. The canon conducted a stellar service, but his best efforts failed to keep their attention; the congregation spent the entire time gazing at the new window.

The collection that day was double the usual paltry sum. The following Sunday, it was doubled again and continued at that level every week for the rest of the year. By Christmas, he had enough money saved for a second window – St John the Baptist, with the caption “Duorum Melius esse quam” (Two is better than one).

Year 2 saw the addition of three more magnificent windows, the Archangel Gabriel with Mary and Josef, and the caption “Ecce venient magnorum” (Great things are coming), Christ the redeemer with his apostles, “Lux mundi” (The light of the world), and the Crucifixion at Calvary “Omni bonum finum” (Every good thing must come to an end). The congregation grew, hymns were sung with gusto and his sermons were received with ever-increasing enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, Reverend Jenkins fell ill before the last window could be completed. The church congregation made a special collection, the artist completed the work in record time, and the last window was lifted into place, and the rector was wheeled into his church to view the last window. He died with a smile on his face, the image of the window imprinted on his mind. In elaborate letters, it held the message: “Solum fac id” and above the words a large black Nike tick.

(C) Copyright JJ Toner