From the Vicar

January sees the New Year in. Where has 2017 gone – the answer seems to be very fast! So rather than looking back, how about looking forward, and making plans so that visions and dreams can come true?

In the Minster, there are a number of tasks waiting to be dealt with. Firstly, the Minster Development Team, will continue to work with the Architect and build up a new business plan to take the Minster forward. There remains a number of things on our shopping list that are outstanding: the new proposed Treasury and Exhibition space; to re light the Minster and reveal the heritage; improve access to the West end including the introduction of some toilets and improved kitchen area; repair and protect the windows; and the overhaul of both the organs.

Secondly, with the increase in visitor numbers we urgently need to review our tourism strategy, which includes a fresh look at how we interpret the building, The Welcomers, and the shop, all which contribute towards the Benedictine hospitality we want to offer more effectively.

Thirdly, I want to have a campaign that encourages people across the town and beyond to become Minster People, and help us both become ambassadors for the Minster, but also ambassadors for Christ, and help us to grow the congregation and make it stronger. We have some lovely new badges in the Minster shop, which look nice to wear, and can be a great evangelistic tool: I go to the Minster because I am a Christian; I enjoy the liturgy, the music, and find the preaching challenging for the week; I can volunteer to support the Minster in my spare time; why don’t you come with me and try it?

There is plenty of evidence that tells us people love to be invited to come to the Minster, but as Vicar I can’t invite all your friends because I don’t know who they are! So that means you need to think of friends, neighbours, and family, who you could invite to come with you. Imagine if we all brought someone with us – the congregation would double overnight. Making the Minster secure for the future isn’t just about money and bricks and mortar, its about ensuring that we hand the Christian faith onto others, and that the church truly reflects society in an intergenerational way – for God calls everyone to come and follow him.

As we enter the season of Epiphany, it’s a good time to reflect on how God makes himself present to us in the people we meet, through his Word, and in the Sacraments. Epiphany is about knowing Christ, and making Christ known! The New Year is a good time to invite people, as they try to live out their lives under new resolutions and to help make the coming year one that brings happiness and joy. We’ve seen significant growth over the last 12 months with new children joining the choir. We still urgently need help with running Sunday School, supporting and nurturing these children not only to sing, but in their Christian faith. Please let me know if you can help – the more we have, the more we can share it out!

Here’s wishing you all a very good New Year and God’s blessing on all that it to come in 2018!         

From the Vicar

The last few days have been dominated by Christmas Trees! It’s the first Christmas Tree Festival the Minster has planned, and currently there are 32 trees all in place, with over half already decorated, and the others to be done before tomorrow night’s Preview Evening. All the trees have been sponsored by different organisations across the town and borough, and it’s been wonderful to have such support from all sectors towards the Minster. Tomorrow BBC Radio Leeds will broadcast their Breakfast show from the Minster and we look forward to welcoming hundreds of people over the coming Weekend celebration.

This Tree Festival comes as winter takes hold, and temperatures plummet and the days get shorter and the nights longer. As human’s we crave for the light and the warmth of the sun. Scientists recognise the importance of regular intake of Vitamin B. In recent month’s there has been a strong sense of the world living in darkness, with natural disasters, civil wars and ethnic cleansing, large scale migration from terror and oppression, and terrorist attacks across Europe and on mainland England.

It can be no surprise that the Pagans chose this time of year to have a Light Festival which other faith communities soon adopted. As Christians, the Bible uses the image of Light as a reference to the Word of God, and of the birth of Jesus as The Light of the World. At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of God as a human being in the person of Jesus – or as he is often referred to as Emmanuel – which means God with us. In the birth of this vulnerable child, God brought about a fulfilment of the promises he had made to the ancient Prophets, and the renewal of the Covenant made between God and humanity. Society had turned away from following God, and placed their hopes in their own ability to reach their potential – sometimes they even tried at playing God themselves.

The birth of Jesus as Lord of All, provides humanity with the opportunity to choose a new way of living, and to place their trust once again, in the God who created the world and everything in it. Each Christmas we are reminded that this opportunity to come and worship the Christ child is offered freely to the world, to hear God’s Word afresh, and to respond in love of God and to the world around us.

The Minster is uniquely placed to offer this love for God and neighbour, as we provide significant hospitality to hundreds and thousands of people throughout December, who come for Carol Services and Events. Its remains a real privilege to shake the hands of these people as they leave, and to wish them a Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year. I’m thankful to everyone who shares in this calling, as December at the Minster is a team effort, with lots of people volunteering on a daily basis. Hospitality is a key plank in our Benedictine Spirituality – it’s one of our Unique Selling Points – it’s part of how we see ourselves and how we are viewed by others. The challenge for us, is to welcome visitors not just at Christmas, but all year round, and to welcome all those who are lost, confused, grieving, the lonely, the stranger, all as if we were welcoming Christ himself, into our family home.

Happy Christmas and New Year to everyone!          

Vicar exchanges Pulpit to become Firefighter Sam for the day

There has always been something exciting about a Fire engine and blue lights with a noisy siren. Uniforms and high levels of adrenaline accompany those whose vocation is to be on standby for the 999 call that there is a fire and that help is urgently required. Sadly, Images of the Grenfell Tower bring to the forefront the painful reality that fire can cause death and often it’s at home, in the work place, on more commonly on the busy roads which we drive on.

Red Watch came on shift at 8am. A few years a go there would have been 22 firemen on duty, now it’s down to 5 with one appliance and another engine with a combined aerial Rescue ie long extending ladder! The Station at King Cross Halifax is large and includes the District Offices, with Commanding Officers and the Prevention Department. Inside the station are beds to sleep, a kitchen for preparing food, rooms in which to study and relax, and outside additional rooms, including the gym, rooms with firefighting equipment, and finally the sheds in which the vehicles are kept at the ready. Having been shown around, the next important task was to organise my kit, just in case the call out came quickly. Boots with trousers attached, a luminous jacket, and a helmet.

The next hour was spent in the gym working out as Fire Officers try to stay fit and healthy at all times. Often they need to carry heavy equipment as they try to put out fires and rescue members of the public or occasionally animals. Red Watch is a close nit group of men who work together when on duty and encourage one another through good times and bad. By working out together the camaraderie is strengthened.

Much of the time when waiting for a 999 call is spent in training, ensuring that all the kit is working properly and that firefighters know how to safely use it. Not only how to use fire hoses appropriately, but electrical cutting equipment at a road traffic collision, or the use of ropes to get down a tunnel of some kind, or how to wear a harness to go 100 feet (30 metres) on a ladder to a highrise block of flats, or below a bridge where someone has fallen. It’s crucial that when the call arrives, all the equipment is in good working order and everyone knows how to use it safely.

Today Fire Officers from nearby Illingworth and Rastrick Stations were carrying out a joint exercise under close inspection by local Commanders. Red Watch had planted a dummy at the bottom of the tall tower – imitating someone who had fallen a long way down a shaft and required rescuing. Those on the exercise had to appoint their own Officer in Charge, and carry out the drill and routine required for the incident. While this was going on, Red Watch went off to carry out their own exercise with the appliance that carried the aerial rescue. One of the Fire Officers was learning how to control the ladder, and this provided me with a chance to take a harness and take the trip 100 foot high as the exercise took place. The views of Halifax were stunning over the town and out to the hills and moors around, with a cold wind and rain! Whilst the experience was exhilarating, I was glad that I didn’t have to man handle a body or navigate a hose or any other equipment, as that would have been seriously challenging!

After a couple of hours understanding how to prepare the appliance before extending the ladder, it was time to warm up and have some lunch. The local Fish and Chip shop did us proud with our cans of Dandelion and Burdock! After lunch there was a list of home visits to make, from people who had requested a visit to check on smoke detectors and other fire advice. Joined up work with other agencies now means Fire Officers advise on general security of the property and act as eyes and ears for any safeguarding issues they see, be it vulnerable children or adults. Often when visiting a street, Fire Officers knock all the doors to let the wider community know of their presence and to offer help and advice.                 

Towards the end of the shift it was time to return to the Station and a chance for Officers to complete administrative tasks. All the exercises completed that day have to be filed on line as part of their ongoing professional development, providing evidence of their commitment to training and being ready for what any emergency might require of them.

At 7pm Red Watch had fulfilled their duty, and on this occasion there had been no emergency call out – disappointing for me, but good news for the people of Halifax! I’m hugely grateful to the men of Red Watch for allowing me to gate crash their day, and for making me feel so welcome and for sharing with me an insight into their commitment and professionalism as Fire fighters in the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service.   

Vicar swaps Pulpit for the A and E Department

The Accident and Emergency Department at Calderdale Royal is part of the Calerdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, covering principally Calderdale and Kirklees. The Trust currently operates two A and E departments located in Halifax and Huddersfield. I had the enormous privilege to spend some quality time with Mr Andrew Lockey, A and E Consultant at Calderdale Royal.

The Health Service has become somewhat toxic in the media, with competing claims made by politicians and sensational headlines in the media. Whilst the sound bites are written and political decisions are made or not made, health professionals simply try, as hard as it may be sometimes, to simply get on with the job of providing Accident and Emergency Services 24 hours every seven days. From the canteen staff and cleaners, to porters, Nursing staff and Radiographers, to junior doctors and consultants, they all work their socks off day in day out, providing the best care that they are able to give to patients who present themselves at A and E.

Fortunately, there were only some 35 patients in the system when I arrived, and mostly were minors and not majors. This meant Andy Lockey had a few minutes to talk before the day took off. When a patient presents at A and E, they book in and head to Triage, where they are immediately assessed. Category 1 – 4 with 1 needing life saving immediate intervention, and 4 to be seen within 2 hours. The Sister in A and E has the joy and challenge to ensure the system works efficiently and effectively. There are 10 A & E Consultants in the Trust, with 5 on each site. It’s difficult to attract staff to work for the Trust as it has A&Es on two sites, and the stress generated by the nature of the job. Consultants cover 8am - 10pm Monday to Friday, then it’s On Call and Weekend Cover. Sundays and Mondays are generally the busiest days of the week.

The staff manage a jigsaw of administering medicine, quality care for the patient, and managing the finances. Everyone is aware of the challenges, as the number of patients seems to be growing. Andy has worked at the Trust as a Consultant for 15 years, after training in Leeds, York (as a GP), South Africa, and now in Halifax. Andy finds the Trust an inclusive organisation with a ‘can do’ attitude. His length of tenure demonstrates his vocation and ultimate job satisfaction in the career he has chosen.

The Sister in charge has her desk suitably positioned to be able to see most of what is going on. Aided by computer systems, she can monitor each patient who is booked in, and ensure that they are seen appropriately. She tells me that often they are short staffed, which means longer hours and longer waiting times. The Red phone rang – this was the Stroke Line – a patient was on its way and would arrived in 10 minutes. The Sister then alerted the Stroke Team that a patient was on its way. By the time the patient arrived, they were met by two Stroke Consultants and the specialised Stroke Nurse, the patient was taken by the Paramedics straight to Radiology, where a team of six staff were ready with a scanner, to see what was happening in the brain. This patient was local, and the hospital had their file on their system, had the patient been visiting the area, this would not have been so. The patient had other complications and other long term conditions, all essential information for medical assessment. Back into Resus more observations could begin, and for Stroke victims, the speed of medication is hugely important in having the best outcome. Here a well drilled routine was actioned, and the very best of patient care was provided. The NHS working to its strengths. A bed in the Stroke Unit was available and arrangements were made to transfer the patient to the ward.

I now had a chance to spend time in Triage, observing patients arriving and being assessed and prioritised. First in was a patient with a sore foot, followed by a septic finger, followed by a pregnant woman with stomach pains, followed by a mother with a sickly child, followed by an older patient slightly confused. The patients came in all day and the majority were minor complaints, most of which should have been dealt with by the local GP. A separate Triage deals with Ambulance arrivals.

Here lies the conundrum, with regard to the large numbers attending A and E. We now live in a society where we demand instant access to everything including health. Gone are the days when the GP would see us in a day or two, and we would happily wait for something non-urgent. Today the mother with her child came straight to A and E, and when the Triage Nurse enquire if the child had been given any Calpol, the answer was no! The breakdown of family life has left a number of parents with little resilience to deal with basic health care, both for themselves and their offspring. We want medical care and we want it NOW!

This plays into the drama over the proposed closure of one of the A & E departments. The decision has gone to the Secretary of State with a Judicial Review pending. Sensational headlines outline all the negative arguments over improved health care, better use of resources, more effective and efficient financially. I’m no expert, but the staff at Halifax A & E are convinced that by having one A & E department, where ever it is located, is a significant move forward in the right direction. Whilst the final decision drags on and on, it becomes harder and harder for the Trust to recruit and retain staff, and the real fear is that Kirklees and Calderdale could end up losing both A and E Departments, with everything being centralised in Bradford and Leeds. The large conurbations in Urban Britain have become used to accessing hospital care on the door step, and the honest answer is that those days are now over, for medical reasons and improved patient care, never mind the financial implications. This vision of the NHS needs to be carefully spelt out by honest politicians and civic leaders across communities, making sure that the energy of opposition and protest, can be challenged into positive action for increased spending and quality care, and improved hospital environments for the sick and dying.

Generally, the media reports of doctors and nurses when something has gone terribly wrong. Rarely do we read about the amazing vocation and commitment of large numbers of men and women, who work hours of overtime, and who haven’t had a significant pay rise for years now, in caring for thousands of patients year in year out. The NHS certainly isn’t perfect by any means, but for those who work at the coal face, the professional care and attention to detail cannot be faulted, and of their vocation there is no question. Many doctors and nurses had come from abroad to support our local hospital, and for them to experience one of the best health systems in the world, and to them I’m truly grateful. Goodness knows what effect Brexit will have on our health service – I shudder to think? It was immensely humbling to spend a day shadowing Andy Lockey and his team, and it leaves me with much to reflect and pray about, and in good faith, to know that people who work for the NHS really do care about the communities they serve.  

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. 


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