Vicar leaves Pulpit to Shadow local MP

Day by day and Sunday by Sunday the worshipping community at Halifax Minster, together with numerous visitors, come to worship God and try to make sense of their lives. These are lives lived out in a vulnerable world, where the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. God’s unconditional love is for everyone, and for the Church, it includes standing up for the poor and the oppressed, and speaking truth to power. Time spent shadowing others and intently listening gives a narrative in which the church can offer back to God the concerns of the world, and to offer advocacy on behalf of communities.

Holly Lynch is 31 and is the Labour Member of Parliament for Halifax and the Shadow Flooding and Coastal Communities Minister. Elected in 2015 with a majority of 428, the Conservative Prime Minster, Teresa May, chose Halifax to launch her new Tory manifesto in the snap election of 2016. With the Prime Minister’s sites firmly fixed on taking Halifax, Holly Lynch in her first year of Office, won over many of her constituency, with a number of Tories voting Labour for the first time, and increasing her majority to 5,376 with an increase of 11%.

Holly had arrived back in her constituency at 1.00 am whilst I was happily fast asleep. This was her first time back after two weeks, having seen through the first stage of her new Parliamentary Bill Protecting the Protectors, a bill designed to protect the emergency services as they go about their daily work, following an increase on personal attacks on the Police, Fire Service and Ambulance Crews.

I arrived in her Office for 10am, where her team were already hard at it. Two clients were booked in to meet with Case Workers, and both were seeking help in navigating Universal Credit and Visa Applications with the Home Office. Both needed help with Appeals, with a sense of helplessness. The Case Workers need to be experts in Immigration, Benefit Claims, and skilled Social Workers, as they attempt to bring real help to vulnerable constituents. While I sat in on these interviews, Holly was the other end of the Valley at Gorpley Reservoir, planting Trees with Craig Whitaker, her Conservative neighbour MP, in her Front bench role, as part of a scheme to reduce flooding in the Calder Valley.

Holly arrived just in time for her first case review, a client with a court summons relating to unpaid Council Tax on a number of properties that he owned, and a dispute with the Local Authority. By 1pm it was time to grab some lunch. Holly explained that she usually works a 12 hour day, travelling down to London on a Sunday afternoon, and usually back again on a Thursday evening or Friday morning. Her Office receives about 250 emails a day, divided between Constituency work, Front bench work, and the Labour party. Things had built up locally as she hadn’t been in the constituency Office for two weeks, so her office colleagues had piles of cases to discuss, letters to sign, and people to see. For Holly, it is her constituency work that is the most important, as she tries hard to improve peoples lives.

After lunch a group of well organised women from one particular street came to tell their story of a local property which they suspected was being used as a brothel and drugs shop, and from which a vulnerable woman roamed the street, clearly suffering from mental health issues, sometimes brandishing a knife, and on occasions exposing herself to children. The women were frustrated that none of the statutory authorities seemed able to deal with the situation, and could she bring some weight to moving the situation on?

Now we were in the car, heading for a Sheltered Housing complex, where staff and residents had written to express their unhappiness concerning antisocial behaviour and drug dealing in their street and outside their homes. Here a group of older people expressed their anger and unhappiness about the lack of protection from the Police, and the frustration of ringing 101 and getting no support. Holly had been well briefed and arranged for a local Police Sergeant to join us, and to listen to their stories and their experiences.

Back in the office staff continued to deal with a range of issues: an elderly couple had been paying £30 per month on energy bills, and suddenly they were told it would be £130? They were unable to make sense of the bill they had been sent – and after investigation it was clearly a mistake on behalf of the energy company, but the effect on an elderly couple had been distressing and frightening; local schools had been struggling to cope with the governments funding formula, and Holly had presented a petition with over a 1,000 signatures to the Education Secretary, as she and others pilled pressure on the government for an improved settlement; a few weeks ago a fisherman had died at sea, with the local RNLI there raising concerns about the ability of the Coastguard, whose budget had been slashed over numerous years, and in her front bench role, she was being petitioned for support. As I left Holly’s Office at 5pm, she had two more client groups booked in, and her Constituency Party AGM that evening.

I’m grateful that Holly allowed me the chance to enter her world for a day, and for me to be able to reflect on what I have seen and heard. It was inspirational to see her and her team at work, dedicating their lives to making the world a better place in which to live, and providing empathy and advocacy to the people of Halifax. Members of Parliament have no statutory powers, but by being available to her constituents, Holly and her team, make every effort to find solutions to difficult problems, and to support and improve the quality of life for many people.

I now have much to pray about, and to reflect back to God different people, situations, and places, that I have encountered today. It will take time to process. 

Hilary.

Next time, Im shadowing Andy Lockey at CRH, more to follow

 

Where did last month go – the weeks are flying by? Suddenly its November, and those endless weeks of Sundays after Trinity come to an end (hooray) and just as the seasons turn so does the Church’s calendar. All Saints, All Souls, Remembrance Sunday, and Christ the King, herald the end of the Church’s year, as we prepare for Advent and the celebration of Christmas.

At our Big monthly Staff meeting we carefully looked at the diary for November and December – its huge, and that means we need everyone to offer help, as we look forward to welcoming hundreds and thousands of people through our doors. Hospitality and welcome is one of the planks of our Benedictine foundation, and requires all of us to take our place in welcoming the stranger into the Minster as if we were welcoming Christ himself. As I write, Sheila Stoppard one of the Wardens, has fallen and will be operated on tomorrow morning with a new hip. This means we are one down before the month has begun. We are still having increased numbers visiting the Minster, particularly on a Saturday – the one day we struggle to keep open. Sheila had just volunteered to Welcome on Saturdays between 2pm – 4pm and now she can’t attend – who in the community will step forward while she recovers?

Last month Calderdale Council went out to consultation on its Social Cohesion and Integration Policy. The Faith Communities have a huge role to play in knitting the community together and helping new people arriving settle in, and helping local people understand the cultural differences between different people of ethnicity and faith. The Minster together with Calderdale Interfaith Council has a huge responsibility to hold the community together, and to find ways of enabling people and communities to live happily side by side and to share the earth’s resources equally. Sadly, census information tells us that large numbers of people in Calderdale don’t like their next door neighbours, and much of this is about immigration and the arrival of people from outside Yorkshire. International events result in spikes of Hate Crime locally and much work is being done to try and help all of us value diversity and the richness that brings to our community life. This month includes National Interfaith Week and we shall be welcoming our brothers and sisters from the other faith communities on Remembrance Sunday and for a meeting of Imams and Clergy.

During this month I shall be doing some work shadowing: firstly with Holly Lynch MP, and trying to understand some of the issues resulting from her current case work; secondly with Andy Lockey, the A and E Consultant at Calderdale Royal Hospital, and understand more of the pressures of the NHS at the acute level; thirdly and lastly I shall spend a day with West Yorkshire Fire Service, learning about the challenges they are currently facing as cuts to public sector budgets continue to bite. Finally two poignant services this month: the Oak Leaf Service on Sunday 19th at 4pm when we remember victims of Road Traffic Collisions – preacher Assistant Chief Constable Angela Williams; and the Hospice Service on Sunday 26th 2pm Light up a Life, both of which represent the Minster bringing people together and holding the town and borough before God.    

 

Hilary  

The Minster has moved up a gear in the last few weeks: Summer Dinner, Patronal festival, Heath Founders Day Service, Deanery Synod Eucharist, and this week the Summer Festival begins on Thursday. This morning I did an interview with BBC Radio Leeds promoting 10 days of arts and culture. Christianity has always used the arts - both visual and performing – as windows onto God. Like iconography, they give a glimpse of what God is like and of God’s glory. The Trinity Academy Art exhibition which runs through the summer, will be replaced with an exhibition by the Halifax Art Club, and then a project coming out of Square Chapel. Our newly re ordered space is already being put to good use, and enabling different sections of the whole community to come and claim the Minster for themselves.

Music is fundamental to making worship sour, and in the Festival there everything including the Minster Choir Concert, Black Dyke Band, the male and women’s barbershop evening, and the Senior Citizens Orchestra, and the folk music of the Suitcase Dwellers – hopefully something for everyone!

Two new additions to the Festival this year: is the Sans Illuminere – an evening candlelight tour of the Minster, where visitors get to meet some Living History characters from the Minster’s past; and the School’s Poetry Festival sponsored by the Bearder Trust and organised by the Minster Education Department.

In recent weeks I’ve been busy consulting on the proposed road changes and the station gateway project. It’s an exciting time for the whole town as capital money is made available to support the economic growth of the community, securing jobs and the future. Look out for the Public Consultation in the Town Hall in the new few weeks.

Next month the Minster Choir will head off to Germany and our twin town of Aachen, the Eifel Region, and Dusseldorf. The invitation was to join in the commemoration events of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The choir will sing at concerts and services across the region. Holly Lynch the MP for Halifax will join the group and will share in discussions with me and the German authorities about plans for 2018 and the end of WW1. If we are to achieve anything like 2014 we need to get planning now!

Last Saturday I had the privilege of attending the Ordination of Simon Scott as a Priest in the Church of God. Simon is a great addition to the ministerial team, and as well as being a Head Teacher, has much to offer the Minster and the whole church. A few weeks ago I was able to announce the appointment of Linda Maslen to come and live in the Vicarage at Siddal, where she will complete her training working across the Minster (her day in residence will be Monday) and at St Mark’s Siddal, and leading The Saturday Gathering – the new congregation that has emerged out of the Food Bank Project. The intention is that when Linda finishes her training she will stay in post as an Assistant Priest in the new benefice!

Here’s wishing the whole community a wonderful summer and hopefully some rest!         

Hilary


October beckons and that means its autumn and Conference Season is upon us. This month John Hardy and I will be attending the Greater Churches Network Conference at Christ Church Priory in Dorset. This year there will be site visits to Romsey Abbey and Wimborne Minster. Both John and I sit on the national Council, which brings all the Greater Churches of England together in a loose association. It was back in 2008 that John Hardy, Anne Coldwell and I went to our very first conference near Bath, when we first applied to join the Network, and two years ago the conference was held in Leeds, and the site visit was to Halifax Minster. Each of the Greater churches ministers in its own context, be it rural, suburban, or inner city. Whilst each is uniquely different, there are things we all share in common: usually a large ecclesiastical building; open most days of the year; a significant civic ministry; employed staff and large volunteer base; huge opportunities for mission that are usually totally under resourced!

Unless you have ever worked in a Greater Church, most clergy and bishops find the Greater Churches a strange beast to understand? Certainly local parishes often look with envy at what resources they perceive we have, with little understanding that most of the time we have to beg, borrow or steal, and we are always trying to punch above our weight in order to achieve the major contribution we make to the life of the town and diocese. My experience after ten years is that it’s a roller-coaster, and not for the faint hearted!

As the town continues to regenerate its self all around us, so too we need to look to our future? Last month we began to openly discuss the possibility of a permanent exhibition space where we could display all our treasures, and try to tell the story of our faith more effectively. The 900 Trust, the Friends, and The Minster PCC have come together to form a new Campaign Team, to build a new Five year Business Plan for the Minster and tackle some of the projects we have long wanted to achieve. Following the set back from the last two failed HLF Bids, we have needed time to lick our wounds, and regain strength to gird up our loins and have another push.

Caring for the heritage of the building takes a huge amount of time and effort, and I’m always left frustrated about the time we need to build up the community of faith. Is it me, or are people worshipping less frequently than they used too? There is no point restoring the Minster unless we have a community that worship in it – otherwise we become a museum piece? The Association of English Cathedrals have a useful Self Evaluation Tool Kit which the staff are looking at. This helps to balance out fabric and mission and evangelism. There can be no doubt we need to grow our community and whilst its my job to lead, I can’t do it on my own, we all need to work together. One of our volunteers, Oli Burgage Hall, has made some attractive Minster badges – if we all wore one, maybe we could initiate conversations with our friends about coming and supporting the Minster on a Sunday? Buy one in the shop next time you pass through – it might just be the start of something?

Hilary  

Dear All

June beckons, and summer is on its way. The nights get longer until the 24th June, and then we start the journey the other way.

June the 8th is General Election day. Many people are somewhat fatigued by election madness, but there is no doubt that the outcome will shape the next five years. I’m grateful to those who have had the courage to stand for both the Halifax, and the Calder Valley constituencies. For the past nine year’s I’ve worked alongside both MPs, and they have all worked hard for people here locally. When we look at many other parts of the world, we begin to realise how important it is to cherish our democracy, and how important it is to have both a strong Government, and also a strong opposition. Whatever the outcome, I shall work alongside whoever is elected, and make sure the Minster is able to serve them and their needs as we all serve each other and the wider communities of Calderdale.

The Manchester bomb brought close to home the realities of the dangerous world we now live in. The question for me, is to try and understand why? If we have some comprehension of what drove a young 22 year old, with life ahead of him, not only to kill himself, but to also kill and injure others at the same time, then just maybe, we can begin the process of re building a society, where everyone is loved and valued, and try to make the world a kinder and better place for everyone to live in, and stand up for the great injustices of the world, where the inequalities between peoples and nations seem to grow year on year?

Towards the end of the month the Minster Summer Festival begins, with 10 days of arts and culture. We’ve tried to up our game this year, as we look forward to the opening of the Cornerstone Project, at Square Chapel, and The Piece Hall. The Industrial Museum is also having a new look, as the Cultural Quarter begins to really take shape. Please come and support the Festival, we need this to be a financial success as well as a great opportunity to provide good Benedictine hospitality to many artists and visitors. One event is the Minster Choir concert on Saturday 1st July. This concert is to help raise money for the choir tour to our twin town of Aachen. I have no idea when the Minster choir last gave a concert in the Minster, but as the choir has gained in confidence, so they are now able to provide an evening of popular music, drawing from their expanding repertoire, and music for their German tour.

Before the Summer Festival there are numerous other activities: the Minster Summer Dinner with Hannah Cockroft DL MBE; Heath Founders Day Service; The Ordination to the Priesthood of The Revd Simon Scott at Dewsbury Minster 11am on Saturday the 24th; the following day we shall keep our Patronal Festival, with the Bishop of Leeds as President and Preacher, in the presence of The Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire; a special Diocesan Service for Year 6 Leavers; and a celebration event for Ackroyden Academy.

With so much going on in the Minster I look forward to seeing hopefully more of you tha usual, before we all go off for summer holidays. Have a great June!

Hilary