As I sit at my desk in my study at home, the Minster is firmly shut to visitors and Public Worship for what we suspect will be the next four months. This decision is in line with Government regulations and instructions from the Church of England in response to the Coronovirus pandemic, sweeping across the world.

The Minster built some 900 years ago by Benedictine monks from Cluny would have worshipped some seven times a day – even through the night! For the last ten years, since the ancient Parish Church was re designated one of the new Urban Minsters, there have been three public services every day other than Saturday, which has its own rhythm. So, to be closed for Public Worship feels very much at odds with why The Minster exists and its purpose? For thousands of years, humanity has built Houses to meet with God, be they Mosques, Temples, Gurdwaras, Synagogues, Churches. Humanity has a deep built in need to create places of pilgrimage – spaces where worship to a divine order can take place, and because of the worship offered they become holy, consecrated, set aside in each community. Here in these Memory Palaces, life is celebrated in its fulness, be it near the beginning of life after birth, or the offering of life after death. These rites of passage have existed for thousands of years and have evolved into the cultural practices we have today.

The Minster is bound up with the whole town of Halifax and the Borough of Calderdale. One only has to come inside and begin to look at the Memorials: Nathanial, and John and Dorothy Waterhouse; The Rawson family; The Lister family; John Cayhill; The Loyal Georgian Society; the Holdsworth family; Archbishop William Rokeby; Sir William Herschel; John Favour; The Duke of Wellington Regimental Chapel. All these memorials tell the story of the people and families of Calderdale, how they survived the Black Death, the Civil War, The Two Great Wars. How Halifax was a town of a hundred trades, with evidence of a Croppers Shear cut into a 10th century tomb stone, from the very early beginning of the textile industry on the hills of the Calder Valley. In the Sixties and Seventies, many northern towns had the heart ripped out of them, and trendy concrete monstrosities built in their place. One only has to visit many towns on the M62 corridor to see how soulless many have become, and to realise, that Halifax and the geography that surrounds it is one of England’s best kept secrets.

The last major crises came in 2008, when the Banks crashed around the world, and suddenly the future identity of Halifax was unknown. The town had been known for Financial Services, in the Halifax Building Society, and then bought out by HBOS. If the bank went under, how would the town survive? Of course, we can look back over the last ten years, and see that the Bank was bought out by Lloyds Banking Group, and suddenly, the town has diversified the economy with new creative industries in some of the old mills, and thousands of people coming to create a new economy of heritage and tourism. Who could have imagined the Piece Hall being restored or Calderdale becoming an iconic filming paradise for television?

Last year the Minster saw just under 53,000 visitors who came to worship, to events and concerts, as casual visitors. The Minster has become a very different place since it became a Minster: now it boasts a thriving Music and Education department, a place of Culture and Heritage with rising visitor numbers, and more recently following the BBC Gentleman Jack Series, a place of Pilgrimage for those following the life story of Anne Lister, who was baptised, worshipped, and buried in the Minster.

The Coronavirus is a new challenge to us all, and the world and Calderdale will never be quite the same. But this pause in our normal everyday life, gives us space to reflect on what we really value as human beings, and what materially is in the end really not important. When the restrictions are lifted, instead of going back to the way things have always been, just maybe there is a window of opportunity to say, now we need to do things differently, to re prioritise what we think is important? 2024 sees the 50th anniversary of the creation of Calderdale as a Metropolitan Borough. The Council have already begun to reflect on the future and given us a clue as to what some of those critical priorities might include – kindness and resilience, distinctive, talented and enterprising. All these and more besides will be needed to overcome this latest crisis.

And in the midst of all the uncertainty about the future, The Minster stands proud and firm, these solid stones of mill stone grit, that have witnessed 900 years of human endeavour and success and disaster. I’m drawn to words taken from Psalm 121 that bring reassurance and comfort in times of insecurity and uncertainty: I lift up mine eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. The Lord shall keep watch over your coming in and your going out, from this time forth and for evermore.

Whilst the Minster is closed to the Public, the Clergy of the Minster will continue to hold the people, the town and borough in prayer as they have faithfully done for hundreds of years.