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.

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.

 

I’ve been Ordained for nearly twenty five years, and during that time I’ve done a number of professional development courses in my time, and some of the best have been delivered by Common Purpose, an organisation that brings leaders across towns and cities together, in order to build up strategic networks and to see models of good practise at work in different contexts. I’ve had the opportunity to work shadow a number of other professionals across Manchester, Calderdale, Kirklees, and Wakefield.

For the last few years I’ve tried to set up my own work experience as part of my journey through Lent, spending one day a week in the shoes of someone else, watching, listening, learning, from the challenges they face and the way in which they work. These experiences I’ve found help to inform my understanding of the world of work outside of the Church and to which I can refer when speaking truth to power, and in my preaching. If the Church is to remain relevant to society, its really important that the Church understands the challenges and the pressures that ordinary people face on a daily basis, whether you are a blue collar worker or a Manager, work for the private, public or voluntary sector, it doesn’t really matter, because who ever you are and whatever your job, God is interested. In fact, Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, encouraged Clergy to go out into the world and find out what God is already doing – and that is precisely what I hope to find during Lent 2020.

This year I will spend a day in the House of Lord’s with Lord David Shutt of Greetland, a local Calderdale Working Peer; with Chief Constable John Robbins whose father Lt Colonel Walter Robins I buried last year; Catherine Rutter the new Managing Director of Lloyds Banking Group who employs over six and a half thousand people in Calderdale through the Halifax Community Bank; Smart Move the Homeless Charity; and finally Calderdale and Kirklees Women’s Centre, who support vulnerable women through domestic violence, prostitution, and prison release to name a few of the things they do.

Tuesday morning my alarm went off at 6am as I took the 7.10am train from Halifax to London. By 10.40am I was walking into the House of Lord’s to be greeted by David Shutt, a Liberal Democratic Working Peer for some twenty years now. David has had numerous roles over the years, including being Deputy Chief Whip during the years of the Conservative Lib Dem Coalition. I often meet David at numerous events across the year in Calderdale, but I’ve never seen him at work. I was certainly ready for coffee, and we quickly joined the Welsh Peers celebrating St David’s day, with hot coffee and welsh cakes, and some introductions to some of David’s colleagues, including Dick Newby whose wife is a Residential Canon of Ripon Cathedral, and Tim Razzall, whose brother Charles, was a Vicar with me in Manchester, and whose daughter presents Newsnight regularly for the BBC.

David has his Office at Number One Millbank, across the road from the House of Lord’s, and was formerly owned by the Church Commissioners, until they sold it to the Lord’s a few years ago. The rest of the morning was spent in a Briefing meeting with policy advisers and other Civil Servants, in preparation for a Select Committee meeting which David was Chairing that afternoon following Questions in the Chamber.

Over Lunch I sneaked out across the road to catch up with Lord Keith Bradley of Withington, my former Member of Parliament in Manchester, whose sister and brother in law were both killed last year in the Shri Lanka killings, and who had been a great support and ally in my previous post.

At 2.30pm the Procession of the Speaker came swiftly into the Lord’s Chamber, and the doors firmly shut whilst Prayers were led by one of the bishops on duty that day. In the Church of England twenty-six bishops sit in the Second Legislator, representing all the people and communities whom they represent across their Diocese, be they people of faith or none. Today the Bishops of Salisbury, Peterborough and Worcester were on duty.

I sat in on three questions before leaving the Chamber to attend the Select Committee:

Lord Storey to ask her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the costs of clinical negligence?

The Earl of Clancarty to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve the provision of arts and cultural services at local and regional level?

Baroness Hussein-Ece to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to tackle radicalisation in prisons in England and Wales?

At 3.15pm in one of the Committee rooms David Chaired a Select Committee on the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013. This was a review of the Act to see if it was still fit for purpose? The committee received aural evidence from Virginia McVea, Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, followed by evidence from three Local Authorities – Watford Borough Council, Braintree District Council, and Woking Borough Council. Each Local Authority organised elections in a different way: one used Poll Cards that each elector had to present; another simply kept a Registration List; and yet another used photo identification to try and prevent fraud. Northern Ireland has had eight elections in five years, and there is a sizable minority percentage of people who chose not to register to vote at all. Much discussion revolved around good practise, and the introduction of Voter ID cards, something the Government is clearly considering for the future. The Select Committee are due to visit Northern Ireland later in the month. The Committee sat for two hours and was live on BBC Parliament.

David and I then met my second son Joshua, who lives in London, for some food, before David headed back to the Office to pick up emails and I took the train back to Halifax.

There were many faces across the Chamber I recognised, mainly ex ministers from the Other Chamber and now looking somewhat older. It was good to see some Cross bench Peers like Lord Robert Winston, the eminent medical scientist, and Baroness Floella Benjamin, actress and television presenter. The Lord’s is a strange mixture of people from many walks of life, who collectively bring much wisdom to ensure that the Government of the day makes laws that are sensible and not from the hip. They share with the Commons some interesting characters who make our political life that much more interesting, and I’m in favour of retaining an unelected House, and think the present system isn’t all that bad, even though it will never be perfect. To reduce the number of members would be no bad thing, although the reality is that there is a core number who do the majority of the work, whilst the others turn up on dressing up days! To elect members would make it more of a political animal, and we already have the Commons who provide a weekly pantomime at PMQs, we don’t want or need another one.

The role of the House of Bishops is an interesting one: many in the House value their contribution, whilst a noisy minority outside pour scorn on their involvement and cry for disestablishment. I’d like to think the bishops provide an opportunity to speak truth to power, to speak from the constituents within their Diocese, be it rural communities to the inner cities of our major conurbations. Without being party political, and representing all people, whether of faith or none, they bring a neutral voice to important debates, and reflecting the spiritual dimension of our national life and within society as a whole.

Much of the Old Testament contains information about Jewish Law, and in the Gospel’s we begin to see how Jesus came to over throw the Sanhedrin’s obsession with obeying the Law before anything else, and in healing the sick on the Sabbath, Jesus begins to fulfil the promises of the ancient Prophets. Religious authorities have been involved in law making for centuries, and we are reminded that laws that Political masters are often worth nothing, but laws that bring us closer to one another, that provide security and respect for the created order, finally bring us closer to God, our creator and redeemer.

During the weeks of Lent, I have decided to try and spend a day a week in the shoes of someone else, watching, listening, learning, about the opportunities and challenges, people I regularly meet have in their everyday life and place of work. How can the church speak truth to power, and make the church relevant if it doesn’t immerse itself in the lives of ordinary people, and make a compelling case for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
John Robins I’ve met on a number of occasions in his role as the new Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, but also as the son of a man whose funeral I took in the Minster and subsequently buried his ashes. John is a dignified and humble man just like his father was. He is married with children, and has a strong vocation to serve not only the people of West Yorkshire, but has spent his whole professional life working his way from being a local bobby to becoming Chief Constable in the Force and County he’s given his life too.
John works long days – usually twelve hours, from around 7.15am – 7.15pm. My alarm went off at 6am and I was in his office in Wakefield, the Headquarters of West Yorkshire Police, by 7.30am. John was already in a meeting, being briefed by a Senior Officer on events that had taken place during the previous night, and seeking permission for surveillance activity that only the Chief Constable can give, in relation to a series of police investigations involving firearms. These investigations carry high risk for Officers, and the criminal fraternity across the nation and now across the world are very sophisticated in their operations. Some of the information shared was too sensitive for me to know, and I only joined the meeting towards the end, and after John had the opportunity to make a number of decisions, which hopefully means we can all sleep happily in the knowledge that West Yorkshire Police go above and beyond the call of duty in keeping us safe day in day out.
By 8.30am we were joined by other Senior Officers to keep the Chief Officer Team up to speed with operational matters, and to clarify the day a head. 9am John was opening a conference for the British Association for Women in Policing on diversity and inclusion. This subject is close to John’s heart, and later in the day I was able to see his leadership in this particular area of police work. The conference was hosted by Assistant Chief Constable Angela Williams, former Divisional Commander for Calderdale, whom I know well. After John opened the conference, up came Lisa Winward, Chief Constable of North Yorkshire, who gave an inspiring and moving account of her career, and of the obstacles she has faced through her professional life, simply because she was a woman.
10.30am We arrived at a meeting of the West Yorkshire Partnership Executive Chaired by Mark Burns-Williamson, the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire. Mark I’ve met on numerous occasions, both in the Minster and elsewhere. The main topic for discussion was around Violent Reduction and Serious and Organised Crime. As you can imagine, funding was a constant issue, and exploring how resources could be brought together to achieve the best outcomes for everyone. The Partnership brings together the Crime Commissioners Office, the Police, the five Local Authorities of the County, Public Health, the NHS, Probation and the CPS combining to make up the Partnership Executive Group for West Yorkshire. Towards the end of the meeting there was a presentation on Adverse Childhood Experience, drawing on good practise from Young Offender Institutions and Prisons, and how evidence suggests that these childhood experiences can lead to issues of domestic violence in later life, and a lack of personal resilience, and the need to reduce violent behaviour. I found this pretty depressing to be honest, as these same issues have been discussed for years, and as a society, we don’t seem to have made much progress?
John needed to get back to his Office, and following a sandwich lunch for 20 minutes, I had the opportunity to be taken round Carr Gate, the West Yorkshire Police Training Centre, located just off Junction 41 of the M1. Here is a ‘state of the art’ training centre for a modern police force. Inside are hangers, not with aircraft but literally streets and houses, with buildings erected so that police can learn how to enter property, manage domestic violence, deal with protest situations, and a whole list of other scenarios that the police deal with on a regular basis. After ten years of austerity, at last West Yorkshire Police can once again begin to recruit new Officers, and this training centre is being put to good use. Alongside the hangers, are the horses, dogs, helicopter, and firing range, where officers new and experienced, train together in using some serious weaponry in pursuit of armed gangs and robbers and giving confidence to the public at times of threat. Every Officer in the firearms unit undergoes constant and regular training to keep them fresh and alert to the tasks they face.
Back at HQ John is Chairing a meeting of people concerned with BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic people) within West Yorkshire Police Force. This is a subject John feels passionate about, and he’s determined that as part of his legacy this area of recruitment and retention will have significantly improved. If the people of West Yorkshire are going to trust the police in their work, then the Force needs to look like the people they serve. This was a theme throughout the whole day – beginning with the diversity and inclusion conference earlier in the morning. I could sense John’s desire to improve this area of policing, and his determination to get each of the five command centres to go out and recruit people from these communities. The meeting included others via skype across the County, including Dickie Whitehead, my own Divisional Commander in Calderdale.
It was Friday, and the time was nearly six, when most people would be looking to finish early. But not with John, for after this meeting, he took me to visit those answering 999 and 101 calls and, making sure that all the staff were aware of his support and presence in the building, when others has gone home for the weekend. I myself have been hugely critical of the 101 response, or lack of, and I was able to see first-hand how its organised, and the level of new investment to try and provide an improved and efficient service to the people of West Yorkshire.
By 6.30pm there was just time to drink a cup of tea and to reflect together on the day we had just shared. It was not an untypical day for John, long, demanding, at times frustrating, and challenging. John displayed confidence and wisdom that he has learnt through his many years in serving West Yorkshire Police, and I was truly grateful for the privilege of walking alongside him and having a snapshot of his professional life and vocation.
From the Vicar Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and Lent has now begun! I wonder what it is that you have chosen to do this Lent? Read a spiritual book? Attend one of the Daily Offices? Book into the Quiet Day in Holy Week? What ever you have chosen to do, do it with a cheerful heart and enjoy some extra time with God and the opportunity for some reflection. Last week a group of us from the Minster returned from visiting Africa. Many of you will know that The Minster is linked to the Cathedral Church of St Peter at Kowak, in the Diocese of Rorya, on the Tanzania/Kenya border. I think for all of us who went, it will take time to process what we experienced and to recover from our exertions. For me it was both exhausting and emotional. Exhausting because travelling around Tanzania is very hard work, with few metalled roads, and constantly rolling around in a 4 x 4 can be literally quite bruising. Emotional because of what we witnessed and experienced: absolute poverty, child cruelty, corruption, as well as joy, generosity, and something of the created Order when we visited the Serengeti Park for the Safari at the end of our visit. Coming home I’ve felt quite angry about some of the priorities that we have here in our own country: given we are supposedly the fifth richest nation in the world, I find it difficult to accept that Food Banks are now the norm for most towns and cities, and that we allow people to live in relative poverty, when we have the means to support the most vulnerable and weakest members of our society. Tanzania on the other hand, is one of the poorest nations in the world, with many people living off the land and not in any position to pay any form of taxation, and hence the government has very little money to provide any form of safety net for people, let alone for roads, schools, and hospitals. The human condition is an interesting animal to observe. What is it that brings us true happiness? For the people of Tanzania it certainly isn’t the material things we enjoy in The West? Just like us they are vulnerable to the misuse of power over others, be it in the government, in the Church, or gender violence. The hope I saw with my own eyes was found through faith: faith in God and faith in the Church. These often, malnourished communities rock up to Church and sing and dance, and truly give God the glory. Sometimes their theology and experience of evangelism is too simplistic to translate across Europe, but the hope they bring to local communities means the Churches are growing and being planted, and the Diocese of Mara has now divided into three, whereas we have just joined three Diocese together to create the new Diocese of Leeds. Its hard to compare the two because the contexts are so different, and our experience of God is so different too. I was delighted to present the Cathedral with a Chalice to go with the Book of the Gospels I took last time I visited. In the Sunday morning service Canon Henry, the Vicar of the Cathedral consecrated the new Chalice, and after I had preached the sermon, we used it for the first time. The Cathedral presented us with some bowls in which to place candles in, and we shall bless them in the Minster and find a suitable home for them. Its good to be part of the Anglican Church both at home and abroad, and for the Minster to have an international ministry. In Holy Week we shall welcome Jens Peter-Bentzin, Vice Superintendent of the Diocese of Aachen, to be our Visiting Pilgrim, and to share with him both the death and the resurrection of our Lord. May Lent, be time for all of us to grow in Holiness.