The Angel of the North was looking out at Birtley. It was dusk, and he was aware of a glorious sunset to his right.
Then out of the wind there was a swooping noise and the Archangel Michael materialised in the air before him in a glow of supernatural light.
“Hi, Geordie!” says Michael. (Did you know the Angel of the North was called Geordie?)
“Haway, Michael. Long time no see”.
“You know how it is,” says Michael. “Been getting ready for the End of Time.”
“Relax, man,” says Geordie. “I’ve been standing here for nearly 18 years, and I don’t see any signs that the end of the world is any nearer. Mind you, things are changing. I am really worried about the impact of the recession on the poor people of Gateshead. They are struggling now and things will get worse when the Benefit changes come in next year, especially for people with disabilities. I can see that things will get so bad that it will feel like the End of the World.”
Michael says, “you’ve got to remember that nothing in this world is permanent. Nothing. I’ve been around for maybe 18,000 years, never mind 18, and I’ve seen it all come and go. You’re nothing but a teenage angel. You’ve seen nothing.
“Twelve miles ahead of you is Durham Cathedral. Three miles behind of you is St Chad’s Church, the Cathedral for the working people of Bensham. Durham Cathedral is more than 1,000 years old. St Chad’s is only 112 years old, but it’s still been there a lot longer than you. They are wonderful buildings, great works of art – just as you yourself are, Geordie, we know that – but even they are not permanent. Even they will come to an end.”
“I know that in theory,” says Geordie. “I just want to enjoy myself for a little longer. I stand here with this fantastic view, and people come to visit me. When I first came here, the traffic slowed down so that people could take a gawp. There was an accident, one car drove into another, I watched it happen. But I made sure there was no damage. Not that time any way. Just a little miracle, an insignificant miracle, but I enjoyed that.
“And I help people pray, you know, just by being here. There’s this woman who comes on the bus every day, and she looks at me and she remembers to say her prayers. And the people who visit, they speak to me in their heads and tell me their troubles. I love that. I really care for these people and I want to be there for them. I want to help their prayers and their dreams and their visions. I don’t want to go just yet.”
“Don’t get yourself in a state, Geordie,” says Michael. “You’re not going anywhere just yet. It’s because you care about these people that I want you to help them. I want you to give them the strength to cope with lies ahead. There will be trouble ahead, and you need to understand why.
“The financial situation will get worse. The people have been in love with money for a long time. Its been one thing after another. There was the banking crisis because the bankers who guarded the financial institutions have put their own interests first. Now the government in Britain is trying to curb spending by reducing benefits to people who are already struggling. People who are so hard up, it’s like their dignity has been taken away. Your people here in Gateshead haven’t seen the half of it yet. I’m sorry, Geordie.”
“You’re not bringing me good news, are you?” says the Angel of the North.
“No. I’m sorry about that,” says Michael the Archangel. “But you’ve got to help them. Encourage them to trust in God and to pray. You’re doing that already, but you could hot it up a little. A lot of them believe in God, even just a little bit. Help that little bit to grow. At the moment, they expect money to solve their problems. It ain’t going to happen. The dream of a lottery win isn’t going to save them. Help them build up a sense of community. If they work together, if they help each other, they will survive the worst of the troubles.”
“This is a massive responsibility you’re putting on me,” says Geordie.
“I know. I haven’t even mentioned some of the other problems in the world, such as poverty in Africa and the fighting in Syria and and the tensions throughout the middle east. Not to mention Afghanistan. And these wars do spill over and affect the planet as a whole. That’s the point – on this planet, what affects one nation or people affects the whole earth. You’ve seen that with the whole refugee situation, the people who urgently need to get away from violence and persecution. A starving child in Somalia is the responsibility of the whole earth. Even the people of Gateshead end up with the backwash. And it just keeps escalating. Look at the business in Paris and Beirut on Friday. Trouble in one place triggers more bother somewhere else.
You must help the people of Gateshead not to panic, not to respond inappropriately out of fear. Give them strength and courage to face the future and cope with all the difficulties. They’ve got a great sense of humour. That will help.”
And with that, the Archangel Michael, Prince and Protector of the people, did a grand swoop around the Angel of the North in a great flash and disappeared into the ether, just as the final rays of the setting sun faded into dark clouds. A homeless man was nestling into his sleeping bag under a bush with a can and a cold burger. He put the can down when he saw the lights in the sky. Perhaps he’d had enough after all.
“If you’re not having that drink,” says the Angel of the North, “give it here. I’ve just had some bad news.”
The homeless man fainted.