Ascension Day comes 40 days after Easter and is yet another milestone in the greatest narrative the world has ever known in the story of Jesus. As Christians we celebrate Jesus birth at Christmas, and then travel with him through forty days and nights in the wilderness during Lent. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, when we enter into the drama of Jesus arrest and crucifixion. By the end of the week Jesus has risen from the dead, and we recall his first resurrection appearance on Easter Day in the garden.


In these weeks of Easter, Jesus makes several appearances to the disciples: in the garden to Mary Magdalene; on the road to Emmaus; in the breaking of bread; behind locked doors with his disciples; to doubting Thomas who refuses to believe that Jesus is alive unless he can see him.


In Jesus resurrection from the dead, he fulfils the ancient Jewish scriptures and the early Church is getting ready to be born at Pentecost, 50 days after Easter, when the Holy Spirit comes as the third person of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. But first Jesus needs to ascend to that other place, to take his seat at the right hand of the Father that has been especially prepared for him. Luke writing in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, recalls the scene of Jesus being with his disciples, and how a cloud came and took him out of their sight as they were gazing up towards heaven.


One could be forgiven in thinking that this was the end of the story, but as we all know, 10 days later the disciples witnessed something in the wind and fire, that convinced them that the promised Holy Spirit had arrived, and would be their strength and inspiration for the foreseeable future.


The question for Christians is where do we see Jesus at work today if he’s now up in heaven? I’d like to suggest three particular places:


Firstly, in the Liturgy. Jesus said when two or three are gathered in my name, I am there amongst them. When we meet to worship God he comes among us. He confronts us in the words of the Gospel, he meets us in our prayers of intercession, he meets us in the bread and wine, and he blesses us at the end as we are sent out into his world to love and care for humanity and the creation.


Secondly, he meets us in acts of service. This has been particularly evident during the last few weeks and months, when many people have performed acts of generosity and kindness towards others during this Covid-19 pandemic. For some it is performing their vocation to serve their local communities through Public Service, be it through the NHS or Local Authority, for others its about being a good neighbour, supporting those who are isolating or shielding, and helping to feed the nation. For some the motivation to serve has been their Christian vocation to serve as Jesus served amongst us in his earthly ministry, for others its about Human values and morals.
Thirdly, Jesus comes to meet us in the silence. When everything has stopped, and words and noise fail us, when we lie awake in the night, or wake up early in the morning before the birds start to sing, there is Jesus, behind us, before us, above us, beneath us. Sometimes its only in the Silence that we can simply be with him as our saviour and redeemer and hear that small voice of calm as we bring to him our worries and fears.


These last few weeks the Minster like many other places has been closed because of the virus. Some folk have coped remarkably well at home, others have continued working. I long to re-enter the Minster as that is the place where I go to meet with God. It is the building set a side in the community to go and be with him. It is the place where community is made, where we come from hill and dale, homes and streets, to make community with the Community of the Trinity, joining heaven and earth in our sorrow and lament, and in our joy and worship of the Godhead, with a great shout of Alleluia!


Most of you will not have had the Sacrament of bread and wine for some considerable time. For me there is an urgency to restore this for us all, as soon as it is safe to do so, and as soon as we are given permission to hold public worship. The Fraction, the moment when the bread is broken, is the defining moment of the entire Liturgy, when we recall the broken body of Jesus on the cross, with all of our own brokenness, as people, as community, as nations, as the cosmic order. For it is in our brokenness that Jesus, by his body turned into spiritual food, feeds us and heals us into a renewed Easter people, who are forgiven, loved, and set free to serve the world and the Kingdom of God. It is the Sacrament that sustains the earthly journey for me with its twists and turns, through the storms of life, and times of calm and joy.


Axel Schneider, former Head of the Victorian School in Aachen and I have been in close communication over the reopening of Schools in both Germany and England these last few weeks. He texted me this morning saying we need normality. He then quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pray and do good works. So I pray that on this Ascension Day we can soon be together in the Minster once again with the ascended Jesus amongst us and before us.

This is the strangest of circumstances in which to write a Blog for VE Day with much of the world in lockdown following the Coronavirus Pandemic.


The Minster had great plans to mark the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day on Friday 8th May with a tea party in the afternoon followed by a Civic Service for the whole Borough led by The Bishop of Huddersfield and the Band of the Yorkshire Regiment in the presence with the Mayor of Calderdale and the Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire.


Victory Day otherwise known as VE Day, was the day of the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II, of Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender, of its armed forces on the 8 May 1945. The country had been at War since 1939, five long and hard years, with the loss of life to both Armed Forces and Civilians. Life was disrupted in ways that some will find familiar today with the Pandemic.


VE Day resonates for the people of Halifax and Calderdale through the recruitment of the Duke of Wellington Regiment, whose Chapel and spiritual home is located inside the Minster. Recruitment for the Regiment, whose headquarters was here in Halifax at Wellesley Barracks, was across the West Riding, Many a War Memorial in the towns and villages, schools and churches, record the names of those who went to fight and never returned.


The Regiment played its part in the Second World War as part of the British Expeditionary Force in France, forming part of the rear-guard at Dunkirk; in North Africa; Italy and in France, following the D-Day landings, and as Chindits in Burma. The Colours carried in battle can be seen hanging in the Chapel in memory of those who gave their lives for their King and Country, and their names are recorded in a Book of Remembrance in the Chapel. They remind us of the relative peace we have enjoyed across Europe ever since.


The Royal British Legion also remind us, each and every year, on Remembrance Sunday of the enormous sacrifice made by everyone at home who contributed to the war effort, including the Royal Family.


Here in Halifax our thoughts are also with the people of Aachen, whom, after the War we befriended through acts of reconciliation. In recent years we have come together in Halifax and in Aachen to mark the end of World War One, and we shall look to mark the end of hostilities between our two nations again, as we begin to mark the significant anniversaries of World War Two in the years to come. The German people continue to live with the memory of what took place and part of the healing for both nations comes from friendship, dialogue, and time to forgive, but never forget.


I grew up in a house where both my parents lived through the Second World War. My father spoke of the black outs and powdered egg; my mother of the incendiary bomb that landed on their house and being evacuated from the Isle of Wight to Monmouth in Wales. Children of today have never lived through such an experience, or their parents either. This current Pandemic is the closest we’ve ever experienced such disruption to our daily lives.


VE Day provides an opportunity to give thanks and remember those people who gave their lives for our freedom, but also to mourn the loss of life on both sides that any war will always bring. When the present lock down restrictions begin to be lifted, many will not throw a party and want to celebrate, they will continue to mourn the loss of those who went into hospital or care home and never returned, both young and old, doctor and nurse. Unfinished business and unresolved grief will stay with us for many years to come, and the process of healing will begin all over again.


After the War many economies were shattered, and the people of Europe came together. The people of Halifax went to Aachen, which had been so terribly bombed, that beautiful city the home of Charlemagne, and the Kings of Germany, to help rebuild the city. Coventry did the same with the people of Dresden.


Only this week have I been talking to the Schools and the University in Aachen about how to manage the lifting of restrictions, as Schools and Churches re open in Germany who are weeks ahead of many countries in Europe following the Pandemic. VE Day should inspire us to ask once more, what sort of world we want to live in, and how we educate our children and allow older people to complete their lives with dignity and fulfilment? The Second World War was defeated by nations coming together to defeat the evil in their midst, and the Pandemic will be the same, as Boris Johnson, as Prime Minster, hosts a global meeting of leaders this week to support a plan to find a coronavirus vaccine.


VE Day Commemoration should have brought us all together as Christians, as people of other faiths, and people who have no faith, in the Minster as the Mother church of Calderdale. Like those who lived in hope through the Second World War, so too do we live in hope, that the Coronavirus Pandemic will be overcome and that humanity will be able to emerge out of lock-down, into a new free world where wars may cease, care for people and the environment take their rightful place, and kindness and generosity are the priority for individuals, governments and nations.


Lord God our Father,

we pledge ourselves to serve you

and all humankind,

in the cause of peace,

for the relief of want and suffering,

and for the praise of your name.

Guide us by your Spirit; give us wisdom;

give us courage; give us hope;

and keep us faithful now and always.

Amen.

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.

Dear Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we come to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we do so in these exceptional circumstances. In these days of darkness during the Covid-19 world epidemic, we are reminded of how precious life can be and how vulnerable we all are as human beings. The death of loved ones stares us in the face, as friends and family become unwell. The story of Easter reminds us that as Christians death is not the end, and death does not have the final word. Through Jesus we believe in life after death, and in everlasting life in a place which we call heaven, reunited with the God who made us, and who came to save us in the person of Jesus. Whilst some of us have been personally infected by the coronavirus, others are carrying out their Christian vocation to serve and care for others, particularly in the NHS, the Local Authority, and through the Voluntary Sector. We pray for all those who are trying to bring healing and hope to communities across the world. In this Holy Season we pray too for the other faith communities, and especially for Muslims keeping Ramadan, Sikhs celebrating Vaisakhi, and Judaism keeping Passover. May the risen Christ bring us hope for a brighter future, when the earth may be more generous towards all its people, having equal access to the earth’s resources that we have available to us, and the hope that Easter brings to the Christian community. Alleluia Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

God of glory, by the raising of your Son

you have broken the chains of death and hell:

fill your Church with faith and hope;

for a new day has dawned

and the way to life stands open

in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Canon Hilary Barber

St Cuthbert Day 20th March 2020

Dear Minster Friends,

I’m writing this letter to everyone associated with The Minster as your Vicar during this global pandemic which is now affecting all our daily lives and has now resulted in the government restricting movement and the way we order our lives until the Coronavirus is firmly under control.

Following Government advice and instructions from both the National Church of England and our own Diocesan Bishop, I now write to confirm, that with the support of the Church Wardens and other colleagues, we have taken the decision to close the Minster until further notice. This decision is to support the government in trying to limit unnecessary travel and communal gathering, in order to protect the whole community and try to slow down the rate of infection until such time as we are told we can reopen with confidence.

This is a painful restriction on us all. This means we can’t be the gathered church at this time, and that we will need to pray at home as a dispersed community.

This situation leaves The Minster with a number of challenges: Worship, Pastoral, and Financial.

These I will take in turn with advice.

The Worship of the whole people of God is one of the main spiritual things we do as Christians that sustains our daily living and existence. I encourage you to pray at home, and we shall be putting some material on the Minster website to support this. I also encourage you to join in worship broadcast on the BBC, both daily worship on Radio 4 and the proposed televised service on BBC One on Sunday mornings. The Church of England website will also provide you with material for praying each day under the heading of Daily Office. Presently, for those of you with smartphones the ‘Time to Pray’ App has now been made available free of charge; see https://www.chpublishing.co.uk/apps/time-to-pray it is also available on Google Play and the Apple Store. Baptisms will be put on hold. Weddings and Funerals will be subject to Government guidelines at the time.

David, Jane and I intend to meet together for prayer and the Eucharist. Therefore, we are asking you to send through to the Office your prayer requests so that we can include them in our offering to God. This will continue for the duration unless illness or lock down prevents us from doing so.

Pastoral Matters: one of the great strengths of attending Church is the Pastoral Care that each worshipping community provides for one another. Many people living on their own suffer from isolation and loneliness, and families are struggling with work, mortgages to pay, childcare, and now Schools closing indefinitely. The Revd David Carpenter, the Lecturer and Chaplain to the congregation, will head up our new Pastoral Care system, that aims to keep in touch with as many people as we can who are part of the Minster community, whether you class yourself as congregation, choir family, welcomer, bell ringer, Civic Leader across the town and Borough, member of staff, or simply a Friend of the Minster. We shall be dividing people into groups, and key leaders both Clergy and Lay, will be phoning and emailing people, in order to stay in touch, and provide a listening ear and support. As Christians, we take up the mantle of being Christ’s feet, his mouth, his ears, his healing hands. I encourage all of you to care for your neighbours in your street as well as your friends. Please leave messages on the Minster phone (01422 355436) and via email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the Office will be open daily Monday-Friday 10am-1pm to pick up messages and respond to requests for prayer and help.

Financial: Over the last twelve years since I’ve been here, we’ve turned around a £50,000 year on year deficit, and for the last three years we made a small surplus. We are now planning to stay closed until the middle of the summer, when we hope some restrictions might be lifted. This means we need to somehow stay financially afloat, paying staff, paying the Parish Share each month so that the Diocese can pay Clergy Stipends, and our monthly bills towards insuring the building and other committed expenditure. We’ve had to cancel lots of events and bookings, and with the Minster closed there will be no visitor donations and revenue from the Minster shop. Many committed members of the Minster community contribute financially monthly through Planned Giving: either by Standing Order, the Envelope Scheme, or by cash donation, and all Gift Aided. For those who already contribute by Standing Order we remain hugely grateful for the knowledge that your money will arrive each month. For those of you who contribute by Envelope or cash donation, I enclose a Standing Order Form that will enable you to continue making that vital financial contribution, but without the need to physically place your Envelope or cash in the plate, whilst the Minster remains sadly closed. We want to reopen as soon as we are allowed and in the knowledge that we remain financially a going concern. If you would like to talk to our Treasurer Peter Naylor about setting up a Standing Order and Gift Aiding your contribution, please either ring the Office or email Peter This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If you want to send a cheque to cover your donation then please send to Mr Peter Naylor, Causey Hall, Causeway, Halifax, HX1 1QL.

I’ve never had to write a letter like this before and it all feels very surreal. Some will liken it to the Great War years, but for a younger generation, we’ve never had to live through a time like this, and for many people, there is an uncertain future. As Christians we place our hope in God through Jesus, who by the power of his Spirit encourages and enables us to Keep Calm and Carry On! Julian of Norwich that great mystic from East Anglia, professed her faith by proclaiming that through faith in God All Shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well. And that is my hope and prayer for all of us. Stay safe, Stay in touch.

Keep us, good Lord,

under the shadow of your mercy

In this time of uncertainty and distress.

Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,

and lift up all who are brought low;

that we may rejoice in your comfort

knowing that nothing can separate us from your love

in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This letter comes with my love and gratitude to everyone associated with The Minster, and that of my wonderful colleagues, David and Jane, Mick and Sheila, Church Wardens.

Hilary


The Revd Canon Hilary Barber Vicar of Halifax Minster

Important contact details:

Canon Hilary Barber 07905987089 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Revd Jane Finn 07709222591 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Revd David Carpenter 07460443368 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Minster Office 01422 355436 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Peter Naylor Treasurer 01422 355436 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.