It’s been quite a marathon the first weekend of July, with the Minster hosting BBC Radio 4, the Choral Society 200th anniversary Concert, the arrival of Jane Finn, the new Curate, and a large celebration event for the Archdeacon of Halifax.

This all comes within the Minster Festival, which runs for another week. Someone asked me the other day how the Minster was, and I had to answer manic! It’s wonderful to see the Minster so full of life, and such a cultural hub for the town, alongside our partners. Its seems only yesterday that the Piece Hall re opened, and ever since, we’ve seen a significant increase in visitor numbers, and more and more requests from organisations to make use of the Minster.

I’m very mindful of the pressure this puts on staff and volunteers, and some of us are working very hard to share out more equally those tasks that need to be undertaken, and not to over burden particular individuals. This presents an opportunity for us to be more inclusive by inviting new people to help, enabling them to make their contribution to the community alongside our own. There are no areas of the Minster which are privatised to an individual or a group of people, the whole of our community life belongs to everyone. In this business we try to pause three times a day, to remind ourselves of God’s presence with us, and to offer our prayers and petitions to God, and to hold the town and borough, and his world up to God. The Minster is the spiritual centre of Calderdale – the Mother Church. Our core business is to pray, and to represent the world to God. Sometimes the Minster is so busy we forget why we are here. Morning Prayers are at 9am, and we come to pray when the building is quiet, and before the day gets going. If you come into the Minster to volunteer, please remember that Morning Prayer is taking place, and help us keep the Minster quiet until after 9.30am, when prayers are over and the kettle is on! All of us need time to rest and recreate. Choir term finishes on Sunday, and then many families go on holiday, and term begins in September. This year the Choir will tour East Anglia at the end of August, visiting Bury St Edmunds, Norwich, and Ely Cathedrals. But all of us need to slow down a little, and make time to re energise for the autumn term. In September we will begin preparation for this year’s Initiation Service on the 4th November, when the bishop will come to baptise, admit children to communion before confirmation, confirm, and re affirmation of faith.

Each year a small group of people feel it’s the year for them, so over the summer please think about any of the above, as together we seek to grow in holiness. As well as people taking the plunge to make a first commitment to God, it’s also an opportunity to renew one’s faith publicly, re asserting those confirmation promises made all those years ago. Every year I pray that more people will want to re affirm their faith, setting out an example to all of us, about commitment and what it is to be a role model. Wouldn’t it be great if the whole Minster Council decided to re affirm their faith – it would send out a powerful message? Here’s wishing you all a lovely summer, and time to rest and slow down!

As the Lent, Holy Week, and Easter Season reached its climax at Pentecost, so the warmth of the Summer months arrives and the Minster Parochial Church Council enters a new season. Last Monday the Minster Council met and had a large agenda to consider. Under Matters Arising was a further discussion about the Minster Tourism Strategy, as we observe a continued increase in visitor numbers, both casual visitors and from events. Through the Minster Development Board and Lloyds Banking Group all our wonderful Welcomers have been trained in Customer First skills, looking to ensure that our hospitality is consistent and of a high quality. One only has to look at Trip Adviser to see how good some of our Welcomers are when hosting visitors. We’ve been successful with an application to the Bishop’s Development Fund for a small amount of money to improve signage and interpretation around the Minster, match funded, we hope, by Lloyds Banking Group. Many of you will have seen new signs outside the Visitors Centre at the new Library and outside EUREKA car park. Last month 12 Guides were trained to provide Guided Tours of the Minster, interpreting both the heritage and the Christian faith. We have seen a significant increase in the number of groups requesting guided tours, and it our intention to provide guided tours throughout the summer to visitors, in partnership with the Visitors Centre and refreshments provided by The Friends. Gary Knapton has taken over from John Hardy as Shop Manager, and we have both new stock on Order and following a visit from Design and Display, we hope to provide some new display units, improving the entire visitor experience of the Minster. By the time visitors leave we hope they will want to tell others just how good the experience was and to return another day.

On Monday the Church Council approved the introduction of new Choir stalls in the Nave, which are being given to us by Ely Cathedral, who no longer have need of them. They were first designed by George Pace for St Alban’s Abbey, and then later transferred to Ely, and now hopefully to Halifax. They will require modification before they arrive, and a Faculty Application is being submitted. Drawings will be on display at the back of the Minster. Having put the new floor in place along with the new dais, it’s time now to finish off the project with new choir stalls, altar, and lectern. The design of the choir stalls will now dictate the design work of the altar and lectern, which we hope will follow on shortly.

The other major discussion item came from the Minster Development Board, with a proposal to submit a new application to the Heritage Lottery Board. This would include repair to the fabric of the building as identified in the Quinquennial Report, re-lighting the building, the introduction of the Treasury, (now to be in the tower) and additional toilets and new Kitchen area at the West End. Approval in principle was given so the application can be worked up, with a draft to be presented at the next meeting, and a submission made in August.

In addition to all of this, a major discussion took placed with regard to the Harrison Organ, following a visit by an independent Organ Advisor, whose report we are awaiting. It was clear that he viewed the organ as a Rolls Royce of an instrument, and that we were so lucky to be custodians of such a fine instrument. The organ will feature several times in the Minster Summer Festival – I hope everyone will come enjoy what will be on offer over 10 days of visual and performing arts.
From the Vicar

As May beckons the Minster has certainly gone up several gears in terms of activity. Record numbers of visitors are pouring through the building since Easter, and we urgently need more people to offer to train as Welcomers, especially for Weekends. Training is about to be delivered by Lloyds Bank, and their Customer First trainer, who will help us ensure that what we offer is more systematic across the whole week, and that we can all learn something new about making people feel welcome and looked after, and that a visit to Halifax Minster will be high quality and long lasting.

The Minster hosts many Services for different organisations: this month sees The Archdeacon’s Visitation, when Church Warden’s from the local area are sworn into Office; Ascension Day on Thursday 10th at 7.30pm, when the Lord Bishop of Leeds will preside and preach at the Sung Eucharist attended by the parishes of Ripponden, Rishworth, West Scammonden, Barkisland, Greetland and West Vale, Siddal, St Augustine’s and Christchurch Mount Pellon; Sunday 13th May The Loyal Georgian Society will attend Evensong, as will Rotary Clubs across Calderdale on Sunday 20th; Thursday 24th we shall be hosting a Banger Rally for Rotary International, with cars coming from John O Groats and Land’s End, to support the campaign End Polio Now.

The newly elected Church Council will meet for the first time in May, and as well as appointing the Officers of the Council for the coming year, they will be discussing some proposals from the Minster Development Board concerning improvements to the West End of the Minster. These will include the proposed Treasury being sited in the tower rather than the Holdsworth Chapel, a reconfiguration of the kitchen area to include some toilet provision and new kitchen arrangements. Once the Church Council agrees the scheme in principle, then a full and public consultation process can begin, as we look to work up another Heritage Lottery Application to help pay for the work, and includes fabric repairs from the latest Quinquennial Inspection Report.

Plans for a new Nave altar, Lectern, and Choir Stalls, are quietly making progress in the back ground. It remains our hope to have a new altar in memory of Lindy Tatham, and a new lectern in memory of Nellie Thompson. We are being given some choir stalls from Ely Cathedral designed by George Pace, which will require modification before they can be installed, and further modification to the doors of the Rokeby Chapel, for that is where they will live when not in use.

Finally, last week saw 12 newly trained up Visitor Guides prepare for the summer, with Guided Tours of the Minster becoming a regular feature of Minster life, and in partnership with the Visitors Centre in the new Library, a new means of providing hospitality to the hundreds who are now coming to visit the town.

Look out for publicity about The Minster Summer Festival – due out first weekend in May for the Tour de Yorkshire Weekend: it should be the best festival we’ve had yet!

With every good wish,

On yer Bike

Wheels are turning and we’re all gearing up for another Tour de Yorkshire Festival.

Cyclists will compete across the region from Richmond to Barnsley, from Beverley to Halifax, with everyone ending up in the city of Leeds.

Come rain or shine, folk will be out in full force to enjoy the spectacular event, roads will be mended, the bunting hung high, and thoughts of Brexit and the local elections, firmly locked away for this Bank Holiday bonanza.

The Tour celebrates not only the geography of Yorkshire, be it hill or dale, but also its great heritage, such as the two Minster towns of Beverley and Halifax which both host start days and are located in both the old East and West Riding.

Beverley boasts not only the Minster but also a fine parish church in St Mary’s.

Halifax too has its Benedictine Minster, with the start of Sunday’s race nearby at the newly revamped Piece Hall.

The Tour encourages all of us to get behind the race, either on the television or more importantly to get out doors and literally cheer those taking part.

Easter joy has brought an end to winter, and as the resurrected sun climbs higher and the trees blossom and we can all come out of hibernation and embrace the strong Yorkshire air.

Churches across the Anglican Diocese of Leeds will open their doors to join in the cycling celebration.

Refreshments and toilets for visitors, prayers for the cyclists and bells will ring out.

The Tour brings communities together, as they reach out to welcome and offer hospitality to the visitor.

This is what churches do so well for their communities, providing community spaces where everyone can gather for significant occasions, be it in the lives of individuals, on days of national significance, or on this occasion, to show the world that Yorkshire is the place to be, and that the churches across the region are alive and out wood looking.

Halifax has become one Yorkshire’s newest tourist destinations.

Well actually it’s not all that new – a tenth century tomb stone in the ancient Minster demonstrates a pair of Croppers Shears, that inform us that the weaving trade was already common place.

Having made their cloth, The Piece Hall was built in 1779 as the place to sell your wares, and remains the only Cloth market in Europe that has survived.

Many northern towns on the M62 corridor pulled down their heritage buildings, but Halifax in its wisdom has managed to retain many fine buildings, including The Town Hall (Charles Barry), The Borough Market, The Square Chapel Centre for the Arts, and the newly reopened Industrial Museum, located next to the New Library, with a wow factor that incorporates glass and heritage.

EUREKA, the National Children’s Museum, is a must for families and the Minster sits close to the railway station and the Piece Hall.

St Benedict, whose community founded the Minster, inspired his followers to embrace Hospitality as if they were welcoming Christ himself into their homes and it is open all year round to visitors - none more so than over the TDY Bank holiday weekend.

Its Friends will be providing refreshments for everyone, guided tours of the Minster promoted through the visitors centre in the New Library and an organ recital by Yorkshire’s own Dr Simon Lindley on the Monday afternoon.

Halifax Minster simply reflects all the activity of Church communities across our huge diocese as we lift up our hearts and celebrate all that’s good in our local communities.

Events like the Tour gladden the heart.

Life has been tough for so many people this year: with Universal Credit hurting many vulnerable families, foodbanks growing in number and providing more and more food for those in need, the nation still divided by the Brexit referendum.

It’s been a bleak winter with emergency services and gritters working through the night to keep roads open and rescuing people, many are struggling under the weight of debt and crippling interest payments from loan sharks.

Others wait for surgery as the NHS wobbles through the heavy weight of demand, the inequality gap continues to widen, leaving those who seem to have everything, and others who have so little in comparison.

But sport is a wonderful way of bringing different communities together, and provides us with signs of hope in the same way Churches across the region do so week by week and day by day.

Many great sporting fixtures begin with the singing of hymns, gathering everyone together into a common humanity, and uniting people in their common quest for stability and community life together.

For Christians, their whole life is a race, looking to Jesus who is the pioneer of their faith. Somehow sport and religion seem not to compete on this occasion, as they do most Sundays, but maybe find a commonality, and sharing of aspirations and potential for individual lives and whole communities.

Let hope the Tour de Yorkshire will be the tonic we’ve all been longing for and that blessings abound throughout God’s own county!

Canon Hilary Barber
April Opinion

Do you remember the New Labour mantra Education, Education, Education? This was part of a whole scale re modelling of Education including revision of the Curriculum, the launch of the Academy program, and the capital program Building Schools for the Future – with a long term aim to rebuild every secondary school across the whole country over time. This academic term sees young people across Calderdale taking public examinations be they GCSEs or equivalent, and A Levels. For many they will be using the new specification for either the first or second time. It’s a nervous time for young people and also for teachers and Schools, for exam results are a critical way in which schools are judged as Outstanding at one end or placed in Special Measures at the other.

Every Secretary of State for Education likes to leave their mark on the Education system – hence many teachers are exhausted by endless changes and tinkering. Having been Chair of Governors in two State Schools and now in the Independent Sector, my observations are that teachers just want to be left to get on with the job, to engage with young people and help them learn the subjects they have chosen, and to develop those important life skills. This doesn’t mean that Schools don’t require inspection because of course they do, it’s the BUT, in that OFSTED no longer seems independent of Government, and regularly one senses they have already decided what the outcome will be before the inspection has taken place? I think it’s really hard on schools that serve vulnerable communities with young people who experience many challenges and obstacles both at home and in the learning environment, and yet are all judged equally by a national standard. I recall one vulnerable school which was being supported by a University, where first a much loved member of staff died of Cancer, to be followed secondly by a Year 8 pupil who took his own life, leading the Head Teacher to have a nervous breakdown, and for OFSTED to question why the School wasn’t achieving rapid improvement? There was no recognition that the School had been rocked to its core and that it would take time to turn the school around to more calmer waters and pupils reaching national levels.

Many Head teachers are struggling to manage the current Funding Formula. Money is scarce, teacher’s pay has declined, many are leaving disillusioned, and many school buildings are now in a poor state of repair, because the Building Schools for the Future Program was scrapped following the Economic crash in 2008.

Here in Calderdale instead of wallowing in pity about the state of Education, there is a vision for a New Sixth Form College in Northgate House, the old Council Offices. There are a number of positives about this proposal: firstly many of our young people leave Calderdale and go elsewhere and we need to retain them here; secondly, Secondary Schools 11-16 have been subsidising Sixth Form provision for years because the funding is so appalling and this might help some of our smaller schools with sixth forms; thirdly, it will also release some extra space for schools who are already oversubscribed and with expanding admissions for places; fourthly, the Council has a real challenge to know what to do with the Northgate House site – Retail Developers don’t want to know – with Brexit looming investors are nervous about the future and retail on the High Street has never been more challenging. The danger is to bull doze the site and end up with a hole in the ground for ten years like Bradford? So what can be done with the site? Mixed use – A Sixth Form provision, with some housing, and small retail alongside, sounds like a plan, and deserves support across the political spectrum. Surely, we all want a vibrant town centre, and the best Education for our young people we can offer?