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?
Easter is the most important Festival for the Christian community in the whole year. The week leading up to the Festival, called Holy Week, recalls the drama surrounding the arrest of Jesus, his trial and his execution on a cross, and his burial in a stone tomb afterwards. The week begins on Palm Sunday, when the worshipping community recalls Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem for the Jewish Festival of Passover, riding on a donkey and being greeted by his friends and followers waving palm branches. A few days later Jesus meets with his friends for the Last Supper, and during this meal, washes his Disciples feet, and breaks bread and pours wine, and asks them to do this in remembrance of me. This day is called Maundy Thursday and is the day when our own Sovereign comes to visit her own Subjects and hands out the Maundy Money to local people – she came to Wakefield Cathedral a number of years ago now. Our own Queen, like Jesus, has her own vocation in life to serve God and her neighbour, and like Jesus washed the Disciples feet and served them, so too does the Sovereign on this day.

The Maundy Thursday Service finishes with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane waiting for his arrest and trial the next day – Good Friday – the day that Christians remember Jesus crucifixion on the cross – the tree of shame. This is the most solemn day of the year, with special services and music inspired by the story of Jesus performed and heard. One might ask why the day is called Good Friday, when it recalls the death of a faith leader, and the answer lies in the fulfilment of God’s plan, and how Jesus enabled God to come among us as a human being, and to radically change the world for ever, through his dying and three days later, his resurrection from the dead.

The Sunday after Good Friday is called Easter Day, and for Christians marks the day of resurrection when Jesus rose from the dead. There are numerous stories that follow Easter Day of how Jesus appeared to his followers in the days that followed: at a meal with his Disciples; on the road to Emmaus; at a meeting behind locked doors; and to Thomas, one of his followers, who said he wouldn’t believe that Jesus has risen from the dead unless he could put his hands in his side, and then Jesus came and allowed Thomas to acknowledge his unbelief, and claim Jesus as My Lord and My God – the climax to the whole of John’s Gospel.

Across our society for some period of time, there has been a debate about the effect of multi culturalism and immigration of our nation. There has been a fear that certain British values have been eroded and that our moral compass is under threat. Christianity has been the major influence on our moral compass and the laws that govern our nation for hundreds of years. The Christian values that Jesus promoted have held society together through times of war and suffering, and times of joy and plenty. Yet today in society, hundreds of adults no longer seem to know the Christian story of Christmas (Jesus birthday) and of Easter, which is why we urgently need to make sure that Religious Education in this country is recognised as essential to understanding British culture, history, and values.

If we are to promote a healthy and stable society, then respect and tolerance of all faiths and none, has to become more of a priority in our schools and in the public square. Much hate crime comes out of ignorance and fear, and in a modern Britain, we need to promote our diversity as something that enriches our lives and our nation, and something to celebrate together. May Easter be a time of happiness for everyone, and may God continue to bless this town and Borough, people of faith and none, in the same way he has always done since time began.

Canon Hilary Barber
I spent today with the Halifax Opportunities Trust where I am the Vice Chair of the Board. This Social Enterprise Company delivers government work programmes and Sure Start Children’s Centres, and is based in Hanson Lane Enterprise Centre and the Elsie Whitely Innovation Centre. It’s a two way process – I bring my own expertise to their Board and I bring back things I have learnt from them, and how we might use this experience within the Minster. Alison Haskins is the new CEO, and brings a wealth of knowledge from working across the Third Voluntary sector both in Leeds and Wakefield before coming to Halifax. One of her real strengths is getting the right structures in place so that everyone including their staff, Board, Clients, and the local community know why they exist as an organisation, what their values are and what their aims might be. This is then fleshed out in the setting of their objectives which result in the delivery of their aims and core business. It sounds so simple but few organisations sit down and remind themselves why they exist and what their values should be and their principal aims. I know from the Minster how easy it is to get into the delivery phase on a daily basis, and forget why we do what we do. Lent provides a good time to reflect on what we do and why? Our mission statement reminds us of how we see ourselves: Seeking God: Sharing Faith: Serving Halifax. As a faith community we are called to follow in the way of Jesus, and to adopt his values and his aims and objectives of love of neighbour and the environment, justice for all, healing and wholeness for the creation. This experience of God in Jesus propels us to share our faith with our families and friends, and with the wider community in which we live. This is expressed through our ministry of Welcome, both as new members of the worshipping community and as casual visitors to the Minster, be it as tourists or for events. As a community of faith we serve the community both at home and abroad: be it the use of our building and the use of our time and talents across the town and borough, OR through our support of the Church in our twin town of Aachen in Germany or in Tanzania, through our mission partners at the Cathedral church of St Peter at Kowack, or the neighbouring diocese of Mara. Recently we sent a cheque to Mara Diocese for £750 to support the Safe House at Musoma, where girls are received escaping Female Gentital Mutilation. As a faith community we are in the middle of a Stewardship Campaign, in which we are asked to reflect on the use of our time, our talents, and our money. It’s not so much about what we choose to give, but what opportunities we have to give back, that which God has already given us? It’s also not about what I want to give, but what the needs of the Minster might be, and if I can serve the Church with a joyful heart? There is a parable about giving in secret, so that only God knows what we are giving, and that we don’t become pretentious and egotistic. Much of what we do is in private and not in public, and doesn’t require constant public recognition, other than knowing that we are serving God. As a Minster community we need to grow: numerically, financially, and most importantly of all spiritually and closer to God. Good luck with your reflecting, and make sure you fill in the returns and bring them back to church by the 18th March! Hilary Barber Vicar
As I sit to write we are in the middle of Holy Week. This is the most holy time of the year for all Christians, as we enter the drama of Jesus passion and death on a cross, and his resurrection on Easter day. It’s the greatest story the world has ever known, and yet in this generation, so many children and adults have either forgotten or never really heard the story? That’s why it’s so important to begin the service in the Woolshop Shopping Centre on Palm Sunday, leaving the security of the Minster behind, and daring to step out into the world which Christ came to save and redeem, and to proclaim our Christian faith afresh in the public square.

In recent years Religious Education has been taken out of the Baccalaureate and demoted as a subject for which Schools will not be judged. This means that many schools no longer have RE on the curriculum and thousands of young people are growing up with no knowledge of Christianity or of Church. Then we wonder why in our nation we find issues associated with social cohesion and fear and prejudice across West Yorkshire in particular. In these days of Brexit, we need a vision for our nation that preserves what Great Britain had always stood for: tolerance, hospitality, social justice, fairness, Christian values that influence our moral code and our laws. Never has there been a time when the importance of Religious Education was needed, as we try to create a safe and tolerant society for our old age and for our children’s future?

Here in the Minster we are committed to promoting Christianity through our Education Department. Last term alone some 860 children came through our doors, 520 of whom were learning about both Christianity and Islam. Benedict taught his communities not only to be places of hospitality, but also place of teaching and learning. The Christian journey is all about Life Long Learning, learning what it means to be human, learning more about God, and for us to become more and more Christlike in our thoughts and actions.

During Lent we had a Stewardship Campaign, the end of which was somewhat knocked off course by the effects of snow and the terrible weather. If you haven’t returned your Response forms, then please do so urgently, so that we can coordinate your help in Volunteering and your generous financial giving.

This month we host a Celebratory dinner for the RAF as they mark their centenary. It’s a privilege for us to host this event, and I know many tickets have been sold. The Regimental Chapel in the Minster is a constant reminder of the Armed Forces, and the sacrifice made by men and women over the years for our freedom. There has certainly been a continued increase in visitor numbers in these last few weeks, and we need as much help as you can give in welcoming visitors to the Minster on a daily basis, and being faithful to our Benedictine foundation.

Last weekend we celebrated Candlemas, when the whole church celebrated the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and good old Simeon and Anna recognised Jesus as being the long awaited Messiah. This Festival brought to an end the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle, and as we stood at the font and blew out our candles, we turned away from Christmas towards Lent and Holy Week.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday which this year falls on the 14th February (Valentine’s Day!). The Midday Service will be at 12.30 at St Mark’s Siddal, with the evening Service in the Minster at 7.30pm. Please come and begin this season together as a worshipping community. Lent is an opportunity for spiritual growth and spending time with God. You are encouraged to DO SOMETHING as part of your Lenten journey: read a book – we are recommending a Lent Book you can buy; come to Compline on a Tuesday at 8.30pm; come to one of the daily Eucharists and spend extra time being with and listening to God; make Holy Week a priority by attending the Triduum: Maundy Thursday Liturgy; Good Friday Liturgy; Easter Day. Lent should not be about giving things up – it’s about doing something extra!

This year there will be a Stewardship Campaign during Lent. This will be launched by The Archdeacon of Halifax and will enable us to reflect on the giving of our time, talents, and money, to further the work of God’s Church here in the Minster. There are a number of people who have recently joined the community and this provides an opportunity for them to sign up to Planned Giving, which means they can give their money to the church in a tax efficient way, and make a real contribution to our ministry and mission. Everyone will receive a Stewardship Pack inviting them to respond to God’s generosity in all that he has given us. Katia Shoesmith will come to end the Stewardship Campaign as our new Area Dean, giving us encouragement and hope for the future.

Last night at the Church Council meeting we received reports form the Friends of Music and the Education Department. The Friends of Music reported on the growth of the choir, and plans to travel to both Bury St Edmunds and Norwich Cathedrals in the summer. The Education Department reported on the 860 children who visited the Minster in the Autumn term alone, and the 560 children who throughout last year came to explore Christianity and Islam. The Minster takes on a marvellous atmosphere when the building is full of children experiencing both awe and wonder, and we are so very lucky to such good quality staff to enable this to happen.

The new Calendar for 2018 comes out this month, giving the whole community a thumb nail sketch of what to expect throughout the coming months. Make sure you pick one up and put dates in the diary, otherwise you might miss something!

Hilary Barber